Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Where Design Ends and Living Begins

There is nothing, absolutely nothing in our lives that hasn't been designed. Whether you are thinking about the chair in front of your TV or the fire in front a cave 10,000 years ago, our lives are designed. Someone, somewhere has already been there. Consider, who made the chair? The TV and most of all, who created and then made the TV show you want to watch? How was that fire made? Who decorated the cave? 

The newest edition of WIRED magazine is touting its 20th anniversary and wow, what a ride that has been. At least they acknowledge that what they predicted on the whole was wrong, terribly wrong. I might add, they at least tried to point us in the right direction.

In 1986, if memory serves me right, William Gibson wrote a book called the NEUROMANCER, that like Kubricks "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1968, changed forever the way we looked at Science Fiction and hence, for all intents and purposes the future. They both wrote about things we had never really dreamed of before. Calling on AT&T from the International Space Station, the shuttle ride on PanAm, the dirty, alien Asian invaded Los Angeles, they portrayed a future most of us couldn't even imagine yet now completely understand. 

However, they also when talking about design, and the importance it makes in our lives, they credit a German, Walker Gropius, and the Bauhaus School of Berlin, of making changes in our lives that effect us still today.

Who would ever believe this factory was built in 1911? It is like one of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie homes built about the same time in Chicago. Where did they come from? Why were they so different? And they WERE different. We have seen so many variations of this theme it looks merely modern. Can you imagine how this compared to some older Victorian factory? Just down the street?

This exact feeling hit me when we went to the ruins of Saqquara in Egypt. The Step Pyramid, widely credited to be a prototype to the pyramids of Giza, had all the mortuary temples required of a Pharaoh. However, there was no decoration. It looked, well, post modern. Simple, smooth, almost severe in shape and execution. And this was older? Like 2800 or 2900 B.C.?

I will never forget the day my wife told me she got a new student from Viet Nam. He was from the hill country and didn't even speak Viet Namese. When she gave him an iPad to use for the class project he looked at it like it had come from, well, Mars. To him it had. Amazingly in a short time he was able to use it and much better than he could speak English. THAT is the measure of good design.

Our guiding principle was that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society.
Walter Gropius 

F-15 Sofa Designed in 1920
It is people like Gropius that shape our destinies. Each and every day. They raise our sensibilities, our ability to function is an increasingly complex world; or they try to.

Here is another example of Gropius and how he changed the playing field. This is the F-15 Series, designed as a sofa and chair in 1920. I think that if you were to wander Living Spaces today, looking for a contemporary sofa you might find something just like this. As modern as this may look, the design is nearly 100 years old.
We tend to forget the importance of design in our lives. I want to point out that we are wrong. Design IS the key to our lives. In each and every person, in each and every day, no one exempt. The next time you pick up that beer and sit in your Barcolounger, or a women picks up that needlepoint and threads away, remember that someone, somewhere designed it and just about everything else in our lives. The key to good living, one that we often brush aside, is to reward the ones that make our lives easier, simpler without demeaning us and to cast aside those that have yet to learn the lesson.

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