Debasing Design

Design can be stale.

Some designs seem to be driven by a market interest while others have a deeper cultural ethos and are driven by passion, expression of values, or ideation.

One of these is inspiring…the other…not so much. I’ll let you decide.

I don’t think one is more right than the other, but I do think one is more right for me than the other.

I am learning that I operate more from inspiration than logical conclusions and technical influence. The expression of cultural processes, beliefs and romantic gestures can be extracted into the everyday. These may not always be translated into a literal one for one iteration of materials and spaces. Most, however are watered down to a degree that they can be digested and understood by the majority…to a point where they can be experienced by the majority.

So having the ability to take that inspiration and position it in the realm of reality and communal experience is key to making it successful. Feng Zhu of FZD School of Design talked about this one time in one of his Q&A youtube videos.

I find it hard to operate, or rather start from a base of technical data and regulated dictated programs and ideas. This isn’t to say that I think one should abandon a provided program or client need. I just think that the point of creativity is to take those request, needs, and technical data sets and have the fluency and fluidity to make something beautiful and unique. I mean why hire someone else to do a job if you already know what you need?

Creative thinking bridges this gap between the technical and the human…the physical and the spiritual. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to set up a manifesto or say this is the only way of doing things, but it feels right. Many firms choose to simply take the ‘brief’ and articulate it in creative ways…but sometimes this creativity just seems like a reorganized regurgitation of what the client has come to the table with. This may be why some of our cities and spaces are so generic and lacking in the ability to accomplish civitas and nourish our people. When I was learning counseling I often heard of the coming take over by the insurance agencies and their position that they would only back and pay for quantifiably based therapeutic services. This is a position which is creeping into all of our professions and I believe that many professions are responding to it the best they can. In landscape architecture, the industry change towards green based design that has performative backing is quickly becoming absorbed as a prereq. Science is becoming the rule. The spiritual and intuitive is out. Function is king and form is secondary. 

So why the rant? Who knows? Maybe I just see passion when I go into some firms and not when I go into others. Some seem to punch the clock and do it for the man while others are excited about what they are doing and find it a release to go to work every day. Not everyone needs to have a thrill ride when they go to work…because honestly some of the parts of landscape architecture and design can be pretty repetitive and boring. But having an idea and chasing it to see how it turns out in the end is fantastic. Finding relevance outside of that idea and oneself and having the ability to position it in the greater context of society really drives that experience home.

One example of finding a design which reached into the experiential and meaningful from today’s travels was the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial by Michael Vergason Landscape Architecture. The MVLA team’s ability to create and experience on the site which both honored and memorialized the efforts and those serving our country at a loss to their selves is great. Symbology, imagery, craft, the written word, and more all call attention to the sacrifice and greats an experience that transcends the physical structures and manifestations found on site. These types of spaces call to a deeper level of meaning and understanding that is not often found in the communities in which we live, work and play.

It seems that there are many places to start a design from and many reasons one would want to design a space. While I understand the need to develop cities and our social fabric/cities I am not so sure if capitalism is the best launching point.