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less, but better!

At our office, we often joke about buildings that ‘suffer’ from architecture. By this we generally mean, for example, crooked building blocks, undulating canopies, random material transitions and, above all, a fashionable form language that will quickly be dated. Postmodernism and deconstructionism are examples of trends from the past decades that have since become outdated and almost disappeared.

Recently, I came across the ten principles for good design that the German Dieter Rams drew up in the 1970’s. Rams became famous as an industrial designer with his products for Braun and is now 87, yet his influences can still be seen today; among others, in the leading, user-friendly and sophisticated Apple products. His fundamental principles cover a wide spectrum of themes, from functionality to comprehensibility and from innovation to sustainability (already back then!). However, the last of the ten rules is the most important, in a certain sense the tenth rule incorporates all previous rules: good design is as little design as possible. Weniger, aber besser!

In the current building trend of maximizing monotonous meters, something else is striking in the context of weniger, aber besser. Many of today’s buildings are actually suffering from a lack of architecture. They are sold with catchy slogans about housing quality and sustainability, but those promotions are extremely dubious. These projects are clearly weniger designed, aber sicher nicht besser. 

Ram’s principles can be read as ‘the ten commandments’ with the disadvantage that commandments often smell dogmatic or like an open door. But in fact, Ram’s do's and implicit don’ts are still surprisingly up-to-date, certainly when read in their original formulations which are quickly found on the internet. It also surprised me how well his principles translate to the domain of architecture. Actually, that is not strange at all; Ram’s gained fame as an industrial designer, but was educated and started as an architect. 

Ronald Schleurholts, architect partner cepezed  

Cobouw, August 20th 2019

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