People’s dream buildings, part 1

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the first in a short series about what people would like their dream world to be like. Finding out what people would really like isn’t a simple matter of asking them. Most people only know about a limited number of possibilities, so their dreams tend to be correspondingly limited. When you introduce them to new possibilities, their dreams usually change dramatically, in scope and nature and aspiration. That’s what I’m exploring in this series of articles.

One way of introducing people to what’s possible is to show them pictures. The pictures don’t need to be of real scenes; often, the most interesting possibilities are the ones that are completely feasible, but that haven’t been built yet. So, one place to start is with images of imaginary scenes, in the form of fantasy landscapes and of architect’s drawings. In this article, I’ll look at common features in those scenes, to see what they tell us about those dream worlds. Some of the answers are surprising.

I envy the people in architect’s drawings and in the happier type of fantasy world (I’ll look at dystopias some other time). Their world is sunny and pleasant, full of contented people walking and standing elegantly in broad, inspiring plazas, in front of tall, impressive buildings that are clearly destined to win architectural awards. It’s a world where nobody gets caught in the rain, a world without graffiti or grime or the hassles of trying to negotiate a buggy and two small children through a narrow shop doorway in a crowded street.

It would be easy, and unkind, to write a humorous article on this theme. The full story is a lot more interesting, and has deep implications for how we think about the design both of buildings and of the human systems within which those buildings are located. It’s a story of the mathematics of desire, and of physical constraints, and of why we can’t know what we really want until we see it, and of what we can do about building this knowledge into the design process.

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Why birds can fly: Brought to you by classical logic

By Gordon Rugg

You might already be familiar with the Monty Python scene where one of King Arthur’s knights uses logical reasoning to show why witches and ducks float. As with much of Monty Python, it’s fairly close to something that actually happened.

Here’s Vitruvius, the famous Roman engineer and architect, using the four elements theory (that all things are made of various mixtures of air, fire, water and earth) to explain why birds are able to fly.

Winged creatures have less of the earthy, less moisture, heat in moderation, air in large amount. Being made up, therefore, of the lighter elements, they can more readily soar away into the air.

(From his Ten Books on Architecture)

Disclaimer: If you try using this quote as justification for throwing an alleged witch into a pond, then you’re on your own – this post is tagged under “error”…