Why design matters

I am an engineer. Supposedly people don’t expect much finesse from engineers. What do you think about, when you hear that something is “engineered”? It sounds like it is shiny, efficient, somehow made from stainless steel and works well. I don’t particularly associate “engineered” items with how they look and definitely not with how they feel.


I went to a small anniversary party and I met a builder there. He was interested in sustainable materials, energy efficient building and generally very proud of his profession. He was a charming man and I loved how passionate he spoke about Australian building technology and how he considers them to be world-leading in terms of efficient, cheap and quick building.

It makes sense. Australian wages are very high, safety standards as well (so much so that the home insulation program was stopped because 4 builders electrocuted themselves installing aluminium foil in a roof). Therefore there is an incentive to build houses with as little manhours as possible, as quickly as possible.

Because I am German I immediately said: “The Australian houses I lived in have been by far been the worst of all.” Yes, I am agreeable like that. “Why do you think the superior technology results in such poor outcomes for people to live in?” The following discussion wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped. He thought that a building is “Enclosed space, protected from the elements” – basically rain and wind (sometimes). Even though he was so progressive, he thought heat and cold can get taken care of by an air-conditioning system.


I always thought design didn’t matter and was just useless fluff. Then I started to pay attention to boxy and dysfunctional buildings from the inside and outside. I didn’t ignore the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. I started to come around to the idea that it does matter how space makes us feel. It’s no surprise that people relax and de-stress walking through nature. Our environment shapes our mental landscape.

It makes us feel comfortable and creative.

If you live in a dysfunctional environment (or work; since most of us spend more time at work than at home) you can’t be your best self. It is hard to connect with others or express your creativity.

Another big factor are the people you surround yourself with. And since architects and builders can’t influence the type of people we spend time with, they focus on the built environment. Unfortunately their endeavours are primarily motivated by either ego or cost, most times both. That is a shame and a missed opportunity.

Mental Health

Maybe Australia’s poor housing is one of the reasons for the mental health crisis? Have a look at both of those pictures, which makes you feel more comfortable?

Berlin-Westend Corbusierhaus by Le Corbusier
Casa Milà by Antoni Gaudí

















You can probably imagine which one I like better.

I want to live in a world where people involved in creating spaces to live and work consider feelings. Simply spending a few minutes trying to connect with other people’s feelings would create a much friendlier environment for us all.

Put the ego aside. Don’t try and create an intentionally upsetting space. Life is upsetting enough. I don’t need architecture to upset me.

To learn more about this, read this great debate between Peter Eisenman and Christopher Alexander on harmony.

Public domain photographs:
wikimedia commons

flickr commons

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