Design and architecture can and should be more than a matter of story and look

We keep hearing phrases like: “This design is good!”, “They did a good design!”, “Their design is not as good, as…” How do we judge a good design, how do we differentiate it from a bad one and how I have changed the way I see and understand design in the last years.

Studying for 6 years in a conceptual oriented University, I was always fascinated by “the story” that I can formulate through architecture and design. I loved telling those stories, even if I struggled in the beginning, since I was coming from a mathematical and computer science background. For several times I found myself lost in reading poems, history facts and quotes, just to be able to incorporate them in my design, to be able to find that common line between poets and my architectural proposals. I was bored with topics and questions regarding the position of the toilets or how to solve the traffic flow. I saw architecture as the ultimate art, the evolved one and the best from its genre, with the perfect balance between creation and knowledge. And how wrong I was!

I was becoming perfect in telling stories, mixing the emotions, I was aiming for people to cry or feel intense happiness just by watching my designs. I wanted to talk about it, to make notes, sketches, explain it several times, until I was convinced it worked perfectly ( from emotional point of view, of course). I used to spend weeks just trying to find that perfect concept that will move people in such a way that will make them speechless. And every time when I reached that point, I was in reality so far away from the actual purpose of architecture: it’s FUNCTION. After weeks of poems, sketches, stories I was always left with two, three days for solving the actual problems that were the functional ones. I was convinced every time that my part was almost done, since I have the story, the emotion, the feel of my building in a certain place. The rest was only a matter of human trial and error in order to put the feelings on paper and later maybe into the real world. This is how all those years passed, with me going more and more towards my completely wrong approach and being so sure I was on the right path, since my projects were successful from an academic point of view. They were considered good and this always made me dig even more and extreme into the story, the emotions, the so called CONCEPT.

5 years after graduating and working in both architecture and interior design fields, with short trials of package design, I ended up changing my opinion and view towards story telling in design, 360 degrees. Connecting architecture and design with our emotions and stories isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, inventing a story in order to connect with our design, forgetting the importance of its function and leaving it on the last place is not only wrong, but it’s damaging our surroundings and the design itself. We tend to say that the story sells, which is something I don’t plan to argue about, but architecture shouldn’t be considered as any other object that can be sold. It appeared in our everyday life since humans started to live in caves and its purpose was greater than selling stories. I will exclude museums and memorials for now, since they really involve a lot of emotions and stories, given their scope and for me they represent the supreme translation of feelings into architecture. But even in those situations, they will eventually have to follow their functionality and care about environment, surroundings and future as a total.

Architecture and design, both have in common great purposes which are solving problems, improve people’s lives, help those in need and protect the environment as much as possible. When we focus on the story, we tend usually to forget those purposes, we tend to “use all our weapons” to achieve the emotions and we end up overdesigning or overbuilding unnecessary “objects”. It’s the same situation as buying obsessively thing we don’t need or use. Overdesigning affects not only our everyday life, it affects our health, mentally and physically, it destroys the planet and it makes us question and judge the people around us. Design has become a social convention, a norm for “fitting in” in certain groups. Ultimately design and architecture have been reduced to only one simple, yet superficial characteristic: its look.  As long as in the society, the middle class becomes stronger and larger, design is seen as a way to show off and differentiate ourselves from the others. Less people talk about a problem that was solved by a design project, about the community that was helped by that project, about buildings that are necessary or not. Everybody talks about how all of them look, how fashionable or eye-catching they are. And this, for sure, it’s the shortest way to transform architecture, from a helping profession to a destroying one.

Highly decorated or just minimalist, colorful or monochrome, are just matters of preferences, highly connected with the environment that formed us and have nothing to do with design purpose. As long as our design solves a problem, improves someone’s life, protects the environment and embrace a style that lasts for years, regardless trends that come and go every year, we can call it a good design. If, on top of all this it manages to transmit emotions and move our soul, then it’s an amazing design, but only after completed its main purpose.

In the end, my personal lesson from these years of moving from one belief to another was and hopefully will be:

Use design wisely, don’t overdo it, keep the mystery and take care of how it affects everything around.

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