Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Geometry has Politics

So today our company moved to newer more spacious digs. When I joined a year ago they were housed in a storefront on Castro Street, and the building was kinda funky in both good and bad ways. The company is growing at an alarming rate, and growing up, so requires a more business-like environment.

I was happy to snag myself a cubicle, because the alternative was a desk in a big open-plan area with no isolation from the environment whatsoever. This type of work environment is of course extremely trendy at tech companies, for reasons that elude me. It virtually guarantees extra distractions to people trying to do work that requires focus and concentration. I guess it՚s supposed to promote communication or being more Borg-like or something like that, but I just can՚t see it.

Anyway, by pure coincidence I also happened today to listen to this episode of 99% Invisible, which is my current favorite podcast. It tells the story of “Austrian artist and designer Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser (which translates to “Multi-Talented Peace-Filled Rainy Day Dark-Colored Hundred Waters” in German)”.
The time has come for people to rebel against confinement in cubicle construction like prisoners or rabbits in cages, a confinement which is alien to human nature.
Hundertwasser is known for his Dr. Seuss-like structures that implement his principles, and are anything but cubicular.


The idea that geometries have politics, and that the straight line and right angle are tools of The Man, is not new. The geodesic dome builders of the 60s had the same meme and liked to go around quoting the line from Black Elk Speaks: “there can be no power in a square”. Of course he was wrong about that; the squares seem to be winning, at least in the medium term.

But it is kind of weird. Does the cultural split between left and right, or authoritarian and rebel, or whatever it is, really extend so far into what basic geometric primitives you prefer? Apparently so. But I realize that while it seems weird to my nerd-brain, such correlations are the basic raw materials for other fields like architecture and graphic design, where the job is to create artifacts that manipulate human feelings and the tools are largely geometrical. Why should I be surprised to find a tight interweaving of geometry with aesthetics and politics, since those two things are present in virtually everything?


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