I’m reading Charles Eisenstein’s “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” I was drawn to it’s title that is similar to a phrase I use a lot – that our brief is to “design a world we would love to live in”. Though it’s a little long on new-age polemic, it contains thought-provoking insights into a different way of being. It points to what it might take to achieve this ideal state – culturally, intellectually and spiritually. It only hints at how it might come to be designed
I wrote this piece as a margin note to a chapter titled “Scarcity”. Eisenstein relates the poverty of architectural quality in American suburbia to the many ways in which feelings of scarcity are embedded in our culture. ”Scarcity of attention. Scarcity of play. Scarcity of listening. Scarcity of dark and quiet. Scarcity of beauty.” He argues that we insert faux expressions of intimacy in places that we yearn for but are unable to get connection. For example, pornography is a substitute for emotional and physical intimacy that we need but find elusive. The former he calls “ugliness”, the latter “beauty”.
He poses this question, “How much of the ugly does it take to substitute for a lack of the beautiful?” I wrote:
The converse question is also powerful – how much beauty does it take overcome the ugly? It depends on how we conceive of beauty – if it is a veneer we apply to an ugly world then we will never have enough pretty wallpaper to cover over dirty walls. But if it is a question of the wholeness, the integrity of form of everything we create, then nothing extra is needed at all.
The catch is that it takes care, attention and consideration of integrity to be invested at the time of conception of each thing, of its placement within the environment, and of it use so that it is not despoiled in time, but ages with dignity. The environments we create must be designed to accumulate the marks of lives well lived, showing the integrity of action that has continued to shape it as long as it is. Everything must be designed for use as well as usability.
What I’m saying is that it must be designed so that it doesn’t just “fit” well, but that it “wears” well…becomes worn with grace.
How are we to design things that wear gracefully? Clothing and furniture designers have created “distressed” fashions that are a wallpaper type gesture at addressing this yearning. Engineers torture test components and assemblies in acceleration chambers to assess how well their designs will withstand the stresses of time, and at what limits they will fail. But these tests focus on durability of performance and pay little mind to the integrity of experience they engender at the end of their trials.
Both these examples demonstrate that we have the ability, the techniques and inclination to design for “wear”. We simply need to turn our attention to it with broader intention; care for the lifetime experience of the thing we’re creating. We need to invest the time that it takes to achieve a broader brief than it takes to just make it work mechanistically, in a utilitarian sense.