Posted by: Alan Richards | June 9, 2009

Day 52 – 9 June 2009 – When Things Look Right

Is there a connection between something being fit for its purpose and it looking right?  Is there an intersection between technical performance and aesthetics in, for example, a suspension bridge or a boat hull?  Buckminster Fuller thought so:

“When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”


The advice in boatbuilding books on getting the lines of planking and particularly the sheer just right is to trust your eye.  In the days before hull design software and computational fluid dynamics, how did they know that fair lines in the plan, profile and section of a hull would perform better?  As an architect, I have experienced flipping through a magazine, skimming through the photographs and plans, and in an instant you know when you see a great design.  There is no time for understanding what makes the design great, and it is only after studying how the plan works in detail that you get the explanation.  Maybe our brains have more capacity than we realize.



  1. Or at least more capacity for beauty as a guiding principle. Is it beautiful because it’s right? Or right because it’s beautiful? I suspect the division we make between beauty and utility or a technologically appropriate solution is an artificial one. I think I just recast Fuller’s statement.

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