There’s an episode from the tv show House, where his gang of subordinate doctors accuse him of hiring a doctor just because she’s pretty. House defends himself (sort of) by asserting that all other things being equal, meaning qualifications, what’s wrong with hiring the better looking doctor? I’m not sure if the exchange is in reference to Olivia Wilde’s character, Thirteen, but the defense applies. All things being equal, who wouldn’t want to work with Olivia Wilde?
We have a natural predisposition to like things that are pretty. In fact, most of us will choose pretty over not-as-pretty even when all other things are not equal. Whether we’re talking about people, flowers, cars, architecture – even public spaces – we are bedazzled by beauty. Yes, we can be stupid like that.
It takes a real conscious effort to look beyond the superficial beauty to see the qualities that really matter. If we’re talking about people, feel free to plug in your own defining characteristics. With public spaces, the evaluation should be more objective.
We designers love to give you beautiful renderings, complete with kids holding balloons and couples lounging on blankets on the grass. It’s easy to love the image and assume that the designer has done everything right. Often, though, the designer is seduced by the imagery as well. What should we really be looking for?
Will the space draw people? Is there more than one entry point? Is it wide and inviting?
Are there opportunities for multiple uses? Can the space accommodate activities that you may not even be aware of at the time of construction? In other words, is there an inherent flexibility in the space?
Are there are opportunities for being social? Has the seating been spaced to encourage social interaction? Will the users of the space have any say in where and how they sit?
Have you allowed for people to have food and drink? Or have you allowed for the possibility in the future?
Was the community involved in the planning of the space? Is the design what they want/need?
Once all things are equal, then yes, make it beautiful. Just make sure you’re not seduced by the image. It’s a real challenge for both designers and clients.