Good design for life

I’ve just started reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’m already hooked and had to take some time away from it (arghh!) to write today’s blog, the subject for which was prompted by the beautifully worded passage on page nine of the novel.

“Jose Arcadio Buendia, who was the most enterprising man ever to be seen in the village, had set up the placement of the houses in such a way that from all of them one could reach the river and draw water with the same effort, and he had lined up the streets with such good sense that no house got more sun than any other during the hot part of the day. Within a few years, Macondo was a village that was more orderly and hard-working than any known until then by its three hundred inhabitants.”

chairEven as a small child, I was always fascinated by the various professions in the world of interior design and architecture. I still recall vividly the first lecture I heard at the University of Technology in Brisbane on the subject of ergonomics. The lecturer held us spellbound for an hour with tales of Design-Gone-Bad!

I’ll never forget the story about the girl who had to be…err…hospitalised after the mishap with the knock-off egg chair she had sat in somewhat too enthusiastically!

Sorry about that mental image, but it’s been in my head for all these years, so I might as well share it!

After leaving QUT, I ended up on the periphery of the design industry, making art for architectural projects, and while I am no longer pursuing that career, I find that I am still fascinated by the way design affects our lives for good and for bad.

Like many of us, I have a DREAMHOUSE board on Pinterest!

Good design isn’t just a matter of aesthetics although that is important too. Good design, where form follows function, creates a harmony that is felt even if that feeling can’t always be explained! Place has a feel and good design brings with it all the good ‘feels’.

We all have stories about a house or public space that has a good vibe, that makes us feel good and equally, stories of places that give us the creeps or make us feel alienated and unsafe. If we’re lucky we live, attend school, and work in places that make us feel alive and well cared for, but sadly there are so many that don’t. Although we must remember that one person’s good design is another’s concrete bunker (see this great article on Le Corbusier’s L’Unité d’Habitation.)

Some awesome buildings…

This is Torbrek, in West End, Brisbane. There’s a waiting list for people who want to buy the apartments due to their brilliant design and livability.


In 1991 the Willis building became the youngest building to be given Grade I listed building status in Britain. Designed by Norman Foster, the building continues to delight it’s inhabitants although the swimming pool Foster included for staff to use during their lunch break has been covered over. (See image below, the grass roof is great for staff to use but also provides vital insulation)Willis_Building_Ipswich_-_aerial_view.jpg

Many believe that our homes and cities impact our personality and our mindset, so it stands to reason that we should endeavour to surround ourselves with well-designed and beautiful objects, the whole ‘beauty/beholder’ situation notwithstanding.

We’ve probably all heard Wilson and Kelling’s theory first discussed in 1982 that used broken windows as a metaphor for disorder within neighbourhoods. Their theory links disorder and incivility within a community to subsequent occurrences of serious crime. Researching this, I stumbled across the Broken Window Fallacy, espoused by French economist Frederic Bastiat.

I found this really interesting in light of the recent Building and Educational Revolution stimulus project that happened across Australia in the late 2000’s.

(Don’t even get me started on the futility of the stimulus payments that were given pell-mell to all-comers during this time. Although I read somewhere it was an excellent boost for the gambling industry, those who sell big-screen televisions, Ice dealers and many sex-workers.) Many schools were left with sub-standard buildings that cost far more than they would have if the government had approached the process more intelligently. The new hospital in my city is in the same figurative boat; poorly designed spaces that seemed to barely consider the end-use of the space.

We need to ensure that our civic leaders are not simply making a mess to be cleaned up in the future, even if they feel they are doing the right thing in the short term. With the structures we are going to live and work in for decades, we owe ourselves more than short-term fixes.

We all deserve to live in a safe and comfortable environment. There are so many experts far more eloquent than I who will back this up with facts! Check out these Ted Talks. And if our true power is in our story, listen to this fascinating talk.

Quote of the Day…