to astonish

I saw this quote on David Turnbull’s facebook feed regarding upcoming thesis reviews at Cooper:

“What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we open doors, we go down staircases, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Where? When? Why?”

from: Perec, Georges; ‘Approaches to What’, in “L‘Infra-ordinaire” (1989)

I am not familiar with the writer, but I very much agree with the proposition. I just spent a semester teaching interior design, and the most difficult task was to move past making shapes and over-thinking a language-based “concept” and to engage with the body in space, material experience, light and air, and to further interrogate things like the nature of how people work, and the acts of bathing, eating, sleeping.

I’m all for form, but what and why? I remember seeing a T-shirt decades ago that read “subvert the dominant paradigm.” And I remember thinking “why?” “to what end?” Merely to subvert? Perhaps “question the dominant paradigm” would be a more appropriate slogan.

So, we should all be astonished every day by this world in which we live. We should question how we shape that world, and to what end. Our goal, as designers, should be to make things useful and durable, but above all, to delight, to astonish. And these need not be grand gestures, we can be delighted and astonished by small acts.

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