Good Design is Good Business
What criteria shall define good design?
Good architectural design can save energy and generate a greener environment; can bridge between groups of different value-systems and facilitate their interactivity; can diminish dependence on cars; can bring people closer to the arts and artists closer to architecture; can maximize the economic value of architecture. Why then, out of millions of buildings built, can so few be defined as good design?
There are no shortcuts to attain good design: it is a time-consuming process. At a minimum, three sets of values must be included in good design’s evaluation: meaning, knowledge and emotions.
Meaning is a human need: no person can live without it. The more the meaning of a certain design product becomes common to a large number of people, the greater the value it is assigned. This is why a product lacking artistic value can became meaningful to many. New York’s World Trade Center won’t be remembered for its design quality, but for its meaning as an anchor of our collective memory.
The possession of knowledge while observing a landmark adds value to our judgment: Was it the first of its kind? Did it open an era? Was it significant in relationship to the place in which it was conceived, to the knowledge that existed at the time of its conception? How does it compare to other works created during the same time? Knowledge allows us to distinguish between an original product and an imitation or a nostalgic revival. Yet knowledge is not only a tool for judgment; it can also become an important tool for creativity. Knowledge gives the creator a larger vocabulary of concepts, a wider palette of colors from which to choose, without which his/her design may remain limited to good intentions.
When we enter a Gothic cathedral, or turn up our heads towards a Renaissance’s dome, or strolls along Paris’ boulevards, or walk along the ramp of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, we don’t need previous knowledge to understand that we are confronting “good design;” it is “a feeling,” an instant knowledge that one is facing a place of great value. Yet, is every building capable of stirring emotions also good design? We may at first sight be impressed by the scale or flashiness of some projects of questionable design value. Generating feelings, although an important component of good design, must also be coupled with meaning and knowledge. And more.
Concepts such as place, space, human scale, continuity, technical correctness and historic truthfulness demand long training and practice before they become second nature to an architect. To these, programmatic, legal and budgetary requirements must also be added to a project’s comprehensive conception.