Blog: Design for Dummies?

by Louis Postel

Richard Rogers
Richard Rogers
What about Einstein — he failed math!” Just as the school year begins, these plaintiff words of protests once again fall on the deaf ears of parents, teachers, and even on the kids themselves. All throughout high-pressure districts in New York and New Jersey one can hear the retort: “Well, you’re no Einstein!”

Maybe not, but we now know that people that present symptoms of dyslexia, for example, may be labelled as underperformers and “slow” but can often be, in fact, quite the opposite. Many are really good at thinking outside of the box, perhaps out of necessity, or perhaps that’s just how they’re wired.

This originality often manifests itself spatially and for architects and designers seeing the back of things where others can’t is an obvious advantage.

Two of the world’s leading architects have recently and publicly explored their struggles with dyslexia and the onus of being typed as “no Einstein” — Hugh Newell Jacobsen (a perennial in Architectural Digest Top 100) and Richard Rogers (his World Trade Center Building Three nearing completion now). Hosts of other designers have doubtless carried the “no Einstein” label, as well including the father of American design himself — Frank Lloyd Wright — who barely made it through school.

These architects and designers somehow found their way, despite society’s prejudices.

Unfortunately, for many others suffering from dyslexia, shame can overwhelm their gifts. Teachers and parents and other authorities can give up on them. It’s a sad loss not only for these gifted youths, but for the future of design and architecture, as well. While we revere practicality and engineering as “reality”, it’s becoming clear that we as a society can no longer engineer our way out of increasingly complex design issues that warrant out-of-the-box solutions.

How to create sustainable, zero-energy homes suited for drastic climate change? How to create a sense of community in world increasingly divided by economic inequality? How to build affordable housing for the next generation while making it easier for seniors to age in place? How to do all these things and do it beautifully?

The slow learner in the back of the class  may be just the one to ask.