Form Shapes Us


Taipei Peace Park

In architecture and product design, the concept of “form follows function” states that good design needs to consider and base itself on the intended usage or function of a space or object.

In order to design a good chair, for example, one should consider the how and where of comfortable sitting, a well-designed kitchen would minimize the number of steps needed to cook a meal, a well-designed office space uses lighting and quiet space elements in accordance with the type of work done, and a well-designed time schedule, for example, incorporates the energy and concentration levels for individuals during a given day.

Good design can and does improve lives.

More often than not, however, we find ourselves battling with objects, space, time, and other resources in order to carve out some satisfactory solutions for the problems we face. These battles then become part of us, of our very being and shape us – thus, form shapes how and who we are.

Case in point: Penn Station, NY: one of the most disliked places in New York City. Not only is it visually unpleasing, the space is a trap, a claustrophobic nightmare, but the entire institution and concept of thousands of people rushing through trying to catch the train in such a narrow space is simply an inhuman experience. Did you know that announcements of train departures for the LIRR lines are made much later than they are known by the crew because the platforms are too narrow to accommodate large crowds waiting on them?

Parents who rush home from work to pick up children from daycare not only have to battle a narrow window of time but also narrow spaces pushing and shuffling each other.

What does such a scene day-in-and-day-out do to people? People “trying to do the right thing” – be good parents, be responsible caregivers, — become ugly faced competitors for space and time every day of the working week.

Must we be content with a zero-sum game of limited resources in our being? Can we be humans for humanity’s sake or are we humans for the sake of getting by, surviving one day at a time? Is a life a good life because we accumulate (good) things or because we are good and compassionate beings in our being day-in-and-day-out?

Penn Station is a small space and plays a small part in few people’s lives (globally speaking) yet it can be illustrative of larger social realities. If a train station can limit our potential, what about our education system (pushing students to become ready for the workforce,) segregated schools, the bottom-line for-profit competition in the workplace, talk-shows, election campaigns, social media, and business models based on precarious part-time work?

What do you think? Leave me your comments.