“Contemporary designers can learn from history, but why is studying design history is useful?”
Contemporary designers are creators of objects, buildings or surroundings that rely on characteristics such as lines, smooth and sleek surfaces, very little intricate details. There designs are spacious and/or comfortable, with the asset of clutter. However they must study design history because to open their mind to the past they will learn new ideas and ideologies, “To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child,” Marcus Tullius Cicero, a famous philosopher (106-43 BC)1. The 3 main reasons why learning design history is useful are firstly because it will help advance and learn from success and failures. Secondly to maintain sustainability within our world for future generations and thirdly to learn more about other past cultures. Researching history is valuable in learning from successes and failures for contemporary designers. Confucius (551–479 BC) a famous Chinese teacher and philosopher supports this and explains how we should “Study the past if you would define the future.”2 From ancient civilisations we have learnt to take these valuable skills and accomplishments to help build our outstanding society today. For example Roman buildings (27BC- 476 AD) has lasted for more than 2,000 years and they have given us 3 main successful architectural elements to learn and base new designs upon: the arch, the vault, and concrete.3 The main one of these for contemporary designers to look upon is the arch and concrete in which we can use their useful elements of strength to help buildings last longer. The Pont du Gard Aqueduct Bridge (seen in Appendix Picture 1) in France is a great element that was successfully created and, consists of three tiers of arches, with smaller arches on the top tier.4 The Roman Coliseum was made of concrete and consisted of arches structured within its design. It was built in 72-80 CE5 and still stands today and designers can learn from these past successes of strength within the design using these characteristics which are important for future projects in allowing them to be more long lasting to teach future generations also, “History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done” – David Hume, philosopher.6 We can also learn from the mistakes of design, and try to avoid them next time. George Santayana a famous philosopher scholar and novelists supports this by explaining that, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."7 For example the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge shocked everyone in 1940 as it was the most modern suspension bridge for its time. The cause of its destruction was the random action of turbulent wind. From these failures however industrialists and architects learnt that the design failed due to excessive flexibility, drag and lift created by the solid plate girder and meniscal aerodynamic forces acknowledged.9 Attributes like this we can use to steer clear from and learn to think about what aspects will affect our design to base what designers may create on what was successful from the pass – “Instead we must be willing to face our past now, overcome it, and from this we will learn from it forever,” J. Johnson (Musician).10 The second reason why it is useful from learning from design history is for sustainability. This is an important factor for our future as a whole as the Future Annual Report Sates (2000), “Sustainable development is a dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential, and to improve their quality of life, in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth's life support systems.”11 The sustainable materials and structures are simple ways of past civilisations portraying to contemporary designers simple and effective ways to be “green.” For example the ancient Persian Wind Towers (Seen in Appendix Picture 2) were elaborate ventilation...
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