• Nathan Banker

The Tuesday Topic: “'I choose to not believe E=mc2.'  You don’t have that option.  When you

Designers always struggle with the idea of what looks right, what works best, how it all functions. Is less really more if the sacrifice is appearance? Should a designer ignore function for the sake of aesthetics? These questions linger in every design option created. And the underlining fact is always, “what is the true reality of a projects purpose?”. Everyday, a series of truth-based questions are contested and contemplated. We land on a solution when determining both facts and our sense of what feels right, but how have we come to this as a formed human intuition; to reflect a design in the modern world and its impact on a scaled experience.

Plato recognized the turmoil of the human psyche needing a reason for being. “...all human affairs were in a state of perpetual flux and that fashions, ruthless politicians, or corrupt orators could influence people easily.” [2] In 400 B.C. (and before) mankind struggled with what was truth and how could it make life better. One has always struggled to find it, express it, exploit it…but at the same time no one wants something to be truth if it does not match their own agenda or perceptions or to profit from it. Plato’s resolution was mathematics; regardless of one’s social standing or current situation, it could not be denied that two plus three equals five. From here, he was able to identify “Platonic Forms” as eternal and imperishable figures and forms that are reflected imperfectly in the natural world. In a general sense, life imitates art. This mattered to the people of the day by telling them they were created, albeit imperfectly, from an idyllic architype. “Material things are just decaying copies of their eternal prototypes.” They had an origin moving forward.

Aristotle challenged this concept through biology, stating that “The essence of something is what it is to be that thing…”. The Essence of a thing stays within its natural form regardless of how it is manipulated. Burying a wooden bed will grow a tree, not another bed. While this may rob the ethereal pride of being a decaying replicant of a perfect model, it does introduce mankind to fact and expectation. This sense of reality mattered to society to make it better for their future, but also allowed them to understand mortality in its most general sense. “All humans are mortal. Socrates was a human. Therefore, Socrates was mortal.”

This truth was not contested for another 1,900 years, until the Enlightenment Era of the Seventeenth Century. René Descartes questioned the very idea of existence through his studies of the External World. He knew he existed, “I think, therefore I am”. The question then was did the rest of the world exist outside of his imagination, known as the

“Problem of the External World.” How can an individual prove that their surrounding existence was NOT a dream? While this concept pushes the limits of why it may matter to the laymen, it shows that the human mind has evolved past accepting reality by its terms. Can ingenuity and vision push beyond actuality into a productive state of being?

Humans have never been one to be confined to a single mode of thought for very long. We push our limits through trial and error, understanding the limitations of reality only as it stands at that moment of time. Paul Ricoeur wrote, when comparing an original form to a reproduction, “This contrast between fascination and work suggests that imagination is ‘productive’ when thought is at work. Writing a poem, telling a story…these are the kinds of contexts of work which provide a perspective to imagination and allow it to be ‘productive’”. [3] This statement now defines our perspective of truth in the twenty-first century. We are no longer relegated to accept the rules of context, but encouraged to push the boundaries of perspective. Artists are free to interpret truth through imagination and design. Ricoeur continues, “They [the commoner] agree too easily with the description which assigns denotation to science and reserves connotation for the arts, meaning by this last expression that the arts merely evoke feelings, emotions and passions devoid of any ontological weight.”

While still grounded in fact, architects and designers must push the limits of reality to embrace a better, more fruitful society. “If in a world of pure technology [free choice] is invariably dealt with by adapting previous solutions, then even more will this be the case in architecture where laws and facts are still less capable of leading directly to form”. [4] Designers are hindered by truth.

They are always restricted by the idea that when something works, they must repeat and replicate in order to be successful. They are also challenged by gravity, figuratively and literally. It is, therefore, their own responsibility to push these limits. Finding the future was never supposed to be easy and often promoting change stokes resistance. But progress and adaptation is also a fact in nature. As Charles Darwin states, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.“ We cannot be limited by fact or truth alone to not push the limits of actuality.


  1. “Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks the truth about science 2017”. www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5mXUJQ63_Q

  2. Mitrovic, B. (2011) “Philosophy for Architects”. Princeton Architectural Press

  3. Ricoeur, P. (1979) “The Function of Fiction in Shaping Reality”

  4. Venturi, R. Izenour, S. Brown, D. (1977) “Theory of Ugly and Ordinary and Related and Contrary Theories”. The MIT Press

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