Design cannot and shouldn’t be artificial, simply because the user is not artificial.
A few weeks ago I visited the Chocolate Museum, in Barcelona. Suddenly, while walking down a corridor, I saw something really beautiful through a window. Green creeping plants climbing a metallic grid.
Seeing this image two questions arose: Who had the great idea of putting those plants and who had the terrible idea of constructing that metallic grid? This reminded me the chapter on the Biophilia Effect in the Universal Principles of Design, whereby “environments rich in nature views and imagery reduce stress and enhance focus and concentration”.
This is something I’ve never understood. If we like plants, water, stones and nature, why do we surround ourselves with artificial things? We are surprised by the positive effect of plants, animals or simply images of nature. Obviously. How something artificial, hard, cold, sterile, smooth and new could be relaxing?
Amazingly, after so many thousands of years we haven’t understood this. Quite the opposite. More and more we move away from natural, living things. Why are we locked in a cage built by ourselves? How are we going to be happy in jails of metal and concrete?
Psychologists -experiments lovers- have investigated why and how natural environments benefit people. In the Universal Principles of Design you can find a brief summary of the Biophilia Effect and major works on the subject. But do we need studies to know something so obvious?
Tom Wolfe, in From Bauhaus to Our House, criticizes the architecture of Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier: monotonous, reduced, naked, devoid of any adornment. What is the first thing people do when entering these buildings? Making them habitable, giving them life.
Obviously, this is a reaction against the previous baroque and excessive style, which seeks to pretend, to show power and wealth. But it’s possible to be simple and beautiful at the same time. The Japanese show it every day, in every detail. The minimalism of the tea ceremony is at the same time, ancient, warm and welcoming. And nature is always present. At this point I recommend The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo and In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (although the latter is sometimes too extreme in his statements).
Behind the cold minimalism there is also appearance. The absence of decoration is, in fact, decoration. The minimalist vanity is as negative as the Baroque vanity. Both want to show superiority, but from opposite styles.