The Three Pillars of Timeless Design

The Three Pillars of Timeless Design

The Three Pillars of Timeless Design

Design is one of the oldest and most important mankind activities. You do not have to wear a black turtleneck or designer eyeglasses to be a designer. Everyone has tried at least once to use his design instinct to create something or to solve a problem, however, this does not necessarily guarantee success. Caveman has designed his first hunting tool, first clothes and tried to decorate his home cave walls on his own. We do not have a record of everything that has been designed since that date, but we definitely have records of most of the iconic designs through history. What makes these designs stand the test of time? What makes us be amazed & inspired by these designs even after centuries of existence? What qualifies a building or a product to be called a timeless design? Design has been my hobby, passion, and profession for more than 25 years, and I was impressed by these iconic designs since then, trying to study, visit & analyze as much as I can. I have been trying to find the secrets of the timeless designs and unlock the formula to create such iconic designs. In my opinion, it is an endless journey and worth traveling. The main thing I have learned through this journey is that designers had a different approach towards life which was reflected in their designs.
Design was not a profession as much as it was an approach to life since it is a trial to imitate the universe through embodied manmade art. Imhotep, the Egyptian Architect of Saqqara Pyramid, has been considered the father of medicine and Chancellor of the King of Egypt amongst his many titles. Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the greatest artists in history, was an innovator and architect as well. Examples are countless and all lead to one major insight, which is that design has no barrier as you have to wear many lenses in order to be able to understand life, then produce timeless designs. You have to approach life holistically, and this has three main pillars that help make a successful & timeless design.

Humans are the driver of creating designs, whether what is being created is a shelter, tool or even service. We create it for humans, therefore, humans should be the center of a designer’s attention starting from its function, which has to satisfy a human need, to their experience through using it and finally their engagements with the design story. If you have a chance to visit Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo, one of the Islamic Architecture icons built during the Mamluk Islamic era (Its construction began 757 AH/1356 CE and still functioning as a mosque), you will find a clear lesson of a great human experience. For example, the designer wanted to transfer the visitors into a higher spiritual level, therefore he used a dramatic sequence of spaces that lead to the main prayer area, using the change of direction and lighting intensity. This experience is essential to prepare the visitor for the change of mood and even the place scale, physically & spiritually. The examples are many, especially in the religious buildings, where designers were always challenged to design the experience of the place that touches the visitors’ souls. Gothic Cathedrals are great examples of this aspect of the stories on the walls and windows, that make people engaged and connected to the place. We can find other designs in non-religious buildings as well, like Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece and Guggenheim Museum at New York city, one of the places with great human experience. Human aspect is fundamental for a design success, giving people an experience that makes them engaged, a story that gives them a space to think and finally a function that satisfies their needs. Human is the cornerstone of creating timeless designs.
Harmony in our lives all the time, with people around us, with our environment and ultimately with the whole universe, but what is the key for harmony? How designers can help people mingle with their surroundings. Harmony is about language, if we speak the same language then we can communicate harmoniously. This is not the case with the spoken language only, but also with the whole universe, because harmony happens with colors, music, geometry ... etc. The language of the universe is the numbers, so if numbers are moving on time, they create sounds, and once sounds are designed in harmony, they create music. When numbers move in space, they create geometry, and when this geometry is designed with specific ratios and proportions, it creates a higher level of geometry, and some people call it sacred geometry. Egyptians followed these rules while building their pyramids and temples when Greek & Roman architecture was all about proportions. The pattern is another aspect of creating harmony, whether it is a pattern of life & order of putting things or geometrical patterns. In my consideration, patterns play an important role in the design, like the background music in cinema that controls the rhythm and creates harmony. Designed patterns have always been fascinating for designers throughout history since each culture has created its own identifying pattern that has distinguished it from other civilizations. For instance, the Pharaonic was different from the Greek & Roman, as it tells a different story, and the Islamic patterns are different from the Celtic or Chinese. Harmony is an essential aspect for humans to live. If you are not in harmony with your environment, you will not feel comfortable & might even not have the feeling of belonging. Therefore, designers have a great role to play by creating harmonious designs that last throughout the years.

Organic means that we belong to nature because it is our origin, therefore, we have to behave relatively. The main two roles of the universe are balance and sustainability. Balance is what keeps life going on, even in wildlife, the balance between animals helps sustain life and when human beings interfere by hunting or destroying, life starts to deteriorate. Old civilizations respected this balance and placed it in their core. For example, Chinese used the Yin/ Yang balance, while Egyptians have put it in the Ka/Ba (Soul/Body) symbol and other civilizations had the same beliefs with different symbols. In nature, balance comes from the dialogue between day & night, dark & light and motion & stillness .... etc., so in design, we have to keep same balance. Solid & void are one of the main aspects of successful design, and many others like color balance for example. We have to create a balance that engages all human senses like sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In art, balance is important in paintings like the one between negative & positive space. In sculpture as well, the physical balance is a key to success, and that is what we call matching contrast. Sustainability is the other factor of belonging to nature, since a good design has to be sustainable and give nature as much as it takes, in terms of materials, energy and so on. Old designers used materials that were available at their time, however, they did not use them excessively. Energy issues were different back then but they had their problem. Lighting, for example, was an issue, so they tried to make the buildings naturally lit, as much as possible, using design. Courtyards have been invented to help light and ventilate spaces naturally, and they also helped to create a balance between the building mass and the central space. In general, mirroring nature`s behavior helps us strengthen the sense of belonging to this universe. Accordingly, designers have a great task of keeping us connected to our origin, exactly like our great grandfathers did through their iconic timeless designs.

Those three aspects constitute a Holistic approach that can help us create timeless designs. I work with my colleagues at IDIA on connecting those pillars together, because we know that style dies, trend fades and fashion changes by time, but we want to create lifetime designs that stand the test of time.

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