Monday, January 28, 2013

Clarity vs. simplicity

   
According to Oxford Dictionary:

clarity
the quality of being clear, in particular:
– the quality of being coherent and intelligible
– the quality of being easy to see or hear; sharpness of image or sound
– the quality of being certain or definite
– the quality of transparency or purity

simplicity
– the quality or condition of being easy to understand or do
– the quality or condition of being plain or uncomplicated in form or design

By definition, both words mean directness of expression. But being simple implies being basic, free from complications and elaborations, while being clear requires sharpness in communication, free from obscurity or ambiguity. Some people get the two words mixed up, assuming something simple would naturally mean it’s clear. In my opinion, clarity is far more demanding than simplicity. Clarity is good with or without simplicity. In fact, it requires more effort to achieve clarity with complexity. On the other hand, simplicity is only good when it’s clear. Simplicity without clarity is just dumb and meaningless.

Design is an art of communicating ideas. Clarity is intelligence and simplicity is just form.

   

Friday, January 25, 2013

Even the Death Star has a dent

   
Human Wu: Hello Darth. Hello Dave. It’s an honor to have you both here today and discuss Brutalism in architecture. Let me start with Darth. You are currently supervising the construction of the Death Star.

Darth Vader: Yes. It’s the latest project by the Empire. It features the most advanced technology, and it’s very sustainable. Tarkin and I are very proud of it.

The Death Star under construction

HW: It’s not a concrete structure. Do you think it would look less powerful than those rough concrete buildings on Planet Earth?

DV: Come on you Earth people! Who says concrete means power? Look at Dave. I don’t even know what his 2001 monolith is made of!

Dave Bowman: I can’t tell either. I woke up in my room the other day and there was this mysterious black thing standing in front of my bed. It was not very big but extremely imposing. I think it was the pure geometry that gave it the powerful look, just like Darth’s sphere.


HW: It seems there is a new trend in architecture that everybody is doing pure shapes—circles, triangles, cubes… Would you define that as the new Brutalism?

DV: It depends. The idea of our Death Star is actually trying to blend in. Look around—all planets are spherical. So in a way the Death Star is highly contextual. Camouflage, you know. Someone from your planet stole the design and put it in the desert. That doesn’t work. That’s just brutal. I also saw you guys building a giant ring in a small town with a forest in the middle. I just don’t get it.

HW: It’s interesting that you brought up the issue of context. Dave, do you think that explains what happened to the monolith?

DB: You could say that I guess. But there’s absolute beauty in platonic shapes. They are so perfect and universal. They have this omnipotent capacity to accommodate any program. If you can solve problems with simple geometry, why use all those blobs and twists? When you have a pure form, even apes understand it’s something special. It makes the concept clearer and stronger.

DV: Fuck concept! Even the Death Star has a dent, for the force’s sake. You do what it takes to make it work. Architecture is not just about form after all. Over-simplification only causes problems. I do hate those pretentious twists and shit though.

HW: With that remark, I’d like to conclude our conversation today. Thank you both very much. I can’t wait to see the completion of the Death Star.

DV: Thanks. I just hope Luke doesn’t come and demolish it 50 years later. Kids these days never respect their fathers’ achievements. Maybe I should apply for a landmark status right away.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview do not represent the views of the author.)