Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 6 (May-June 1950)
To The Editor
To The Editor
The Teacher's Problems
Sir: I notice together with your reminder of an expiring subscription an invitation to suggest improvements.
I am not connected professionally with the realm of design, being merely an amateur with an interest in it. But as a teacher, I feel that the really vital requisite for the raising of standards has, although touched upon, not yet been fully discussed in your journal.
We have had our modernistic building horrors inflicted on us—is better design also to be imposed? Or is there to be a really active demand from the people who, after all, really matter—the users, the consumers? There is opposition to good design, both from within and without, but it is the latter I am concerned with. The raising of the level of discrimination amongst the public is basic to the acceptance of better design. The demand must be there.
Here education must have a great responsibility. What can in practice be done in the schools is of first-rate importance. My suggestion, therefore, is the opening of a field of discussion on the educational aspect of better design, initiated by some well-qualified person, not only experienced professionally and technically in matters of design, but also—and this is fundamentally important if the discussion is to be along practical lines—au fait with the teacher's problems and point of view, whether the latter be primary or post-primary, social studies or art teacher.
As a basis for discussion, the Primary School Bulletins such as “Houses to Live In,” “Towns to Live In,” and the Post-primary “Better Towns,” have been a great help to teachers. Even so, the need for the teacher's viewpoint to be understood clearly is urgent if progress is to be made.
A. B. Gordon
Theories of Design
Sir: Is it possible that the editorials and some of the letters on the above subject have been a little at cross purposes? It seems to me there is merit in both cases. May I compare a designer with a thinker, and theory of design with logic? Knowing logic does not produce good thinking, but it may help others to appreciate good, thinking, and it may help the thinker to criticise his thought. Logic is an instrument, but it is not infallible. It cannot test premises, and it may be used, like any other instrument, in a bad way. Similarly, knowing a theory of design will not produce good designs, but the theory may help others to appreciate some aspects of design, and it may help designers to criticise their own work.
If the critic handles his instrument of theory with narrow understanding he may easily go wrong, or he may consider the instrument a poor one. An example would be to condemn Chinese bronzes because they do not fulfil their purpose. On the same reasoning one would condemn stone garden lanterns because they do not fulfil their ostensible purpose. But a stone lantern is not intended to give light. It is intended to be a part of a garden design. It fulfils that purpose very well. And so with Chinese bronzes.
Could we not agree that a theory of design must be based on experience of good design already produced, that it cannot be regarded as absolute, but must constantly be re-interpreted in the light of fresh experience, but page break page 138 can, nevertheless be a valuable instrument for helping thought and criticism? It does, after all, merely attempt to put into general rules the actual practices that have been found to be present when good design occurs.
Theory of design is not a substitute for taste or creative power, but is a help to people who have little natural taste to form better taste and avoid major errors. If our manufacturers, for example, could only be brought to believe that the object must fulfil its purpose, think what we would have been saved. And if our architects and town planners could have been brought to realise that design must have unity—think what we might have been spared in the way of variety of bad design. And if our jerry-builders could have been taught that the material must be used according to its nature, how much rubbish we would not now have to put up with.
Surely the fact that some Baroque architects used materials not according to their nature only means that they were bad to that extent, but that other merits in their design were more important than this demerit.
Accepting the editor's opinion that “words words words” cannot make designers, one can also believe that words have a place in directing attention, and making experience conscious—or how would certain series of lectures, in which various schools of art were defended, be justified? It is true that all our judgments cannot be made by “trotting half-a-dozen rules out of our pocket.” It is true that experience in seeing and listening is essential. But it is also true that the experience can be summed up in words which will have meaning and make communication possible for people who have had little experience, and will illuminate their experience and help them to have further experience. Even artists cannot wholly do without words. If they could there would be a rather smaller place for editors of art magazines, and the illuminating remarks of Messrs Phishke, Patience, Roth—and others in Design Review could not be made—which God forbid.
Home Thoughts From Abroad
Architecturally New Zealand is now being discovered. At least the appearance of New Zealand buildings, and articles on New Zealand architecture in American and English journals would lead us to believe so. Most recent is a five page feature in the respectable English magazine, Building. The writer, who last year paid us a visit, fortunately came into contact with the appropriate people, and returned with some illustrations of representative buildings, plus a few pointed comments. The selection of buildings includes Dixon Street Flats, Vernon Brown's Auckland Glass factory, some State houses, a Paul Pascoe house and that giant of controversy, Wellington Cathedral. The Town Planning Section of the Ministry of Works is represented and mention is made of the Architectural Centre as a public educator. It is nice to be told by the writer that “no one any longer builds houses having the aspect of railway waiting rooms” and that “our architecture is leaving behind the trial and error phase.” But it is odd that we need outsiders to tell us that our big cities “have used the garden city principle to the extreme, with their houses too far extended to be economically maintained by a small population.” It also seems obvious to others that at the same time the central areas of our cities have deteriorated into a state of dilapidation and chaos and that their redevelopment is becoming more urgent every day. Clough Williams-Ellis made the same observation. And wasn't it the message of the Te Aro Replanned exhibition?