THE COMPLEXITY OF SIMPLICITY

16 March, 2017 Architecture

In the first booklet that Apple published appears the following quote:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”

This simple saying was published in 1977, and marked the strategic and business line that Apple followed in the next decades, with the definite success, by all known. Steve Jobs focused on simplifying concepts by concentrating on their essence and eliminating unnecessary accessories, principles that can readily be applied to any product design, including the fields of architecture and construction.

Jobs’s vision of this paradigm is not something new. Throughout history we have always tried to find the purity of the concept, and to sophisticate the processes to make them as simple as possible. The awe produced in a human being by an element brought to its maximum simplification, beneath which an extreme complexity is felt, will always be greater than the complexity of artifice, of countless sum of elements that only serve to adorn and to distort the real perception of the element, instead of enhancing its basic concept.

Apple applied these principles to business strategy and computer product design, and its success has been taken as an industry standard fordecadesby a multitude of companies from various sectors. However, in the history of architecture we find the same disjunction between complexity and simplicity.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Modern Movement broke with the previous architecture, creating a new architectural language, exploring the purity of concepts and new materials such as reinforced concrete, rolled steel and large flat glass.

We can use as an example one of its masterpieces, the Barcelona Pavilion of Mies Van Der Rohe, a work where the ideas of the then nascent Modern Movement are reflected with particular boldness  and freedom and considered by many as one of the four canonical pieces of the movement . The simplification of constructive concepts, as well as the absence of artifice and the purity of lines, added to a perfect execution, turn the pavilion into a work of art in itself. It does not need additions or complications to reach the visitor and inspire in him the feeling that he is contemplating something complex, within its apparent simplicity.

“The simple can be more complicated than the complex. You have to work hard on your thinking to make it simpler. But in the end it’s worth it, because once you get it, you can move mountains “Steve Jobs.

This was the great achievement of the Modern Movement. Hard working on the modification of thinking and architectural and constructive concepts, in addition to creating extreme attention to detail and correct construction practices, which marked all the architecture of the XX century, and which influence is still felt in the XXI.

Looking to more recent times, we can find another egregious example of simplicity and sophistication. Let us also takefrom this architect one of his most representative and simpler works: the Bregenz Museum, by Peter Zumthor.

On an initial approach, we find a simple building, but that conceals a surprising complexity and, above all, constructive sophistication taken to its maximum exponent. To achieve a building and spaces of such beauty that overtake any visitor, with such a limited number of elements, is a true achievement of the exploration of the minimal expression.

“If you are a carpenter who makes beautiful cupboards, you will not use a piece of plywood for the back, even if it is facing the wall and no one will ever see it. You will know it is there, so you will use a nice wood for the back. For you to sleep well at night, aesthetics, quality, must be everywhere. Steve Jobs.

Attention to detail, aesthetics, quality, correct execution, are the elements that make up this unconscious perception of something really valuable. We can find it both in Apple products and in the works of Mies or Zumthor. To reduce the external appearance to the minimal expression and to be able to construct it in a perfect way, will always be preferable to try to get an extreme complexity that later we will not know how to solve. The impression inspired by others buildings comes from this overwhelming sensation of accumulation of elements and complex forms, architectural artifice, which, analyzing it, leads us to verify that many of its parts do not work, malfunction, or are unnecessary.

Simplicity will always be more complex than complexity itself, since the attainment of a functioning system, in which each element has a function that fulfills properly, will always be more complicated to achieve than adding elements indefinitely until the achievement of the objective. Debugging and distilling concepts and processes leads to better, better understandable, and more useful products

Even if unconsciously, we all end up always perceiving that same sensation before something that has been worked with meticulousness, that has been brought to its minimum expression, that has been perfectly fabricated: the complexity of the simplicity.

 

 

ARGM