design

The Upright Creator

Sue Vincent’s comment on The Name of the Cloud That Ate The Sun has me thinking about a creator and its motives.

The idea of God, the creator, of the Abrahamic faiths has Him creating us in his image. This is understandable as we readily create imaginary beings in our own image, or partly so. Intelligent alien life is usually bipedal, with limbs and a head on top with eyes and ears and a multi-functioning mouth – and many of them speak fluent English in an American accent. The popular idea of a robot is also a bipedal machine.

Given that bipeds came last in line, whether it’s creationism or evolution, what gives with all the other stuff which came before? Well, robots might be the clue. Getting the things to stand upright and walk. It’s not easy and with a lot of robotics, this is an unnecessary fancy but it doesn’t stop a lot of technicians struggling with the concept. They will succeed but more because of god than being good designers, I think.

But why would a creator be bipedal, being, as it were, out there in space and existent throughout all time? Why would it need to stand up when there is no up in which to stand?


image from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

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Useless

In those few minutes between sleep and full wakefulness, sometimes strange, random thoughts emerge. I suppose they may be remnants of a passing dream though no dream can be recalled. Most mornings, for me, those random musings disappear to join the forgotten dreams once the distractions of the waking day demand our attention. Not so this morning.

My prominent thought on waking was an interview I’d watched, some ten or more years ago, with the environmentalist and magazine editor, Satish Kumar. The interview was one in a series filmed by a regional radio and podcast group, and its signature question, always coming at the end, was to ask their subject what they thought was the purpose of life.

As I remembered it, Mr. Kumar at first seemed taken aback by the question. Then he burst forth with an answer. The purpose of life is to LIVE! Everyone seemed overjoyed with this, not least Mr. Kumar.

Now what I was thinking this morning was, though it is a good answer in the context of end of interview drama, it is also quite a useless one. Useless, that is, for anyone seeking a meaningful answer to the profound question.

Now the speed of thought travels close to the speed of light, and I apologise that it travels faster than it takes to read the above, but what can I do? As quick as that, I was thinking about Haiku, the Japanese short-form poetry. The rules of haiku seem disproportionate to its length, and are quite specific and demanding. Transposed to English, and I suppose western languages in general, it takes the form of three lines comprising precisely 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. The whole poem must at least imply an momentary aspect of nature and a season.

After all these imposed complications, it may seem funny that Matsuo Bashō, the Japanese master of the form, said that Haiku is, or ought to be, useless. I’m not clear what he might have meant by this; pointless, mundane, banal, perhaps?

No time to hang about this one, only seconds away from wakefulness, racing on, my thoughts settled on an old derogatory turn of phrase, a put-down, likely picked up from an older relative,

“…neither use nor ornament”.

As someone involved in solving design problems and now being casually interested in most aspects of design, I find the words sum up what I feel is wrong with most stuff. Stuff being all that is manufactured and therefore, you would think, made for a purpose, whether that purpose was purely practical or aesthetic, or a proportion of each of those. Of course, there’s too much which satisfies neither and for those items the phrase is most apt.

At this point I decided there was no point lying in bed and got up, washed and dressed, had breakfast and then typed this up. I’m wondering whether a new post category is in order – Useless.

Offices

Luckily, my current contract has me sitting at a desk next to a window on the first floor. I stare out frequently to rest my eyes from the screens. It’s not skiving, it’s within health and safety guidelines. So there.

The office is in one of those out-of-town, so-called business parks. I know these “parks” come in for some stick in certain quarters, regarded disparagingly as having neither the buzz of the city nor any sense of being in otherwise pleasant surroundings. I guess the rents are lower.

Also you’d probably hate living next to one. From the window, I see the back of a row of terraced houses, old enough to have higgledy-piggledy groups of chimney pots on their roofs. In spite of the weather, there have been moments of beautiful cloudscapes passing along, and the pots make an interesting foreground to these scenes. Couldn’t you look at clouds all day?

So it’s not too bad an office, as these buildings go. I’d never really thought of my career, as a freelancer, in terms of a series of all the different buildings I’ve worked in. I jotted down a list and, unsurprisingly, most of them were common purpose-built offices and only one of these was a tower block; there too I had a desk by a window but it made me nauseous looking straight down onto the tops of moving cars, buses and pedestrians. Give me passing clouds and looking up any day.

Amongst the more unusual were an ex-cinema (we had the projection room – no windows unfortunately), an ex-primary school on a housing estate (a good local pub though), an ex-Victorian hospital, an ex-riverside mill and an ex-factory. They all shared one thing: no amount of money was spent making them appear any different from their original purpose. This included functionality which made them poor places to do work. Though some like it; they romanticise about the building’s original use; they commune with the ghosts of its previous workers.

The ex-factory was by far the worst. It was as if the lathes, drills and milling machines were sold off on a Friday, a man employed on the Saturday to go swiftly about with a broom and on Sunday someone delivered a lorry load of secondhand desks for work to start on Monday morning. The place was a filthy disgrace. I quit on the seventh day.

If you must work in an office then, in my view, it has to be designed for that purpose. I’m a design nut, there’s no compromise. But if I could reach back in time and tell myself something, it would be – steer clear of office work. Ha ha, I hate the damn places!