Sunday, April 02, 2006

Fundamental Principles of Design

There is an article in Seed about the influence of science on modern :
No shift in architectural practice in recent times has been more fruitful or astonishing than the profession's current embrace of scientific models and ideas. While the Modern movement of the last century famously incorporated the latest advances in technology and industry, there were remarkably few attempts to come to terms with the more radical scientific developments of the era, such as relativity or quantum mechanics.

Today's architect, however, is increasingly schooled in cutting-edge developments in science and mathematics, from neuroscience and computation, to complexity theory and embryology. Indeed, there has been a surprising turn in architectural thinking during the last 15 years that has brought it far from its ancient roots in mechanics—say from the post-and-lintel methods that remained nearly unchallenged for 3,000 years—to what one might call a biological habit of mind. Today's architect is more likely to study problems of form in the natural world than those within the history of his or her own discipline. [...]
The article got me to thinking that I should share with the world all that I know about design.  I learned this from my brother-in-law, an architect and web designer, who used to make furniture.  I learned that the application of scientific principles in design can not only lead to improvements in form and function, but can have significant practical implications as well.  Understanding of these principles can be intellectually enriching.

Before he married my sister, my brother-in-law used to make furniture out of concrete.  Yes, concrete.  The heavy stuff.  When my sister graduated from MSU, she had concrete furniture in her apartment.  There was a lot to be learned from that furniture:
  • Use of unconventional materials adds visual and tactile interest
  • Interesting design stimulates interesting thought processes
  • Concrete furniture is cool to the touch, which is beneficial in warm climates
  • Concrete furniture has high thermal mass, which promotes energy conservation
  • Bold, geometrical designs can be integrated successfully with traditional design elements
 Elaborating on the theme of geometry, the Seed article discusses the importance of geometry in the evolution of architectural principles:
While building science remained essentially the artful deployment of columns andSalisbury Cathedral detail beams, the Greeks could not help but add exquisite refinements such as the famous entases--the artificial bulges near the middles of columns that counteract the concaving effects of vision. This beguiling idea was derived from complex calculation systems based in geometry. Later, the Age of the () Cathedrals would bring an unprecedented virtuosity and expressiveness to bear on the production of architecture, as well as new techniques of templating stones in order to master the very subtle mathematics required for progressively-changing angles and massing of material.
The thing is, when my sister graduated, it was time to move that furniture.   Her husband-to-be conveniently had to be somewhere else.  So, it was I who had to move that concrete furniture.  This leads to the final principle of design:
  • If you make furniture that weighs hundreds of pounds, get someone else to move it for you