Emerging digital landscapes: Web design as building gardens
The Sakuteiki is an old japanese text designing and maintaining gardens. Rather than defining clear rules, it advocates analysing (and emotionally understanding) the context of each project. As a starting point, it asks three questions:
- Using what?
Asking Why means to grasp the task from a functional perspective and to understand its creative potential.
How asks for the best method to achieve the intended result, based on the designer's education and skill.
Using what is the most important question: it asks for the material to be used, literally the elements the garden is constructed from.
In other words, Sanuteiki suggests that building a garden should be guided by its intended cultural and aesthetic function (why?) and the designer's creative approach (how?) – but its form is ultimately defined by and emerges from the material that guides the design process. Every rock and tree placed define the following steps as they have to be undertaken in context.
There is merit in approaching the design process of a website as a process of iterative placing and building. It alleviates the requirement for a design or an idea. Instead of perceiving the design process as a hard task that needs to be completed (often under pressure of time and budget), it could it resemble something procedural. Ideas may emerge more naturally, as a whole in accordance with the project's individual aspects. Following this approach makes treating ideas like diamonds – singular, precious things made under pressure and duress – seem ineffective and needlessly agressive.
Building for non-permanence and ambiguity
Buildings that will be rebuilt every twenty years to appear graceful and untainted. Websites under permanent consideration, in a state of perpetual renewal and adaption.
Consider the pavillon as an architectural type: it is open to interpretation and re-interpretation, it can accomodate various uses. It has no defining elements beyond its requirement to define a place – not even structural integrity or functional shelter. Its eventual disappearance is part of its plan. The pavillon is the solution to a problem that is to be defined by its use. It is oriented towards the future.
Strategies to consider:
- Define an open plan that allows for varied and shifting use cases.
- Reduce complexity, especially complexity of structure.
- Mostly define edges. Allow cognition to fill in blanks.
- Optimize for a simple construction process.
- Consider disassembly.
- Furnish with things that can be repurposed.
I think the most underrated aspects of architecture’s presence are pavillons and exhibition design. […] What’s interesting is that these ephemeral, nonpermanent architectures throughout history have very often created a lasting effect and contributed to the discourse of architecture. […] They become part of the canon and push the envelope of what architecture can be. […] Exhibition pavillons in the twentieth century acted as sites for the incubation of new forms of architecture that were sometimes so shocking original and so new that they were not even recognized as architecture at all.
— April Lamm [Ed.], Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Curating. Sternberg Press, 2010.
In Shinto, it is seen as important that the places in which kami are venerated be kept clean and not neglected. Through to the Edo period, it was common for kami shrines to be demolished and rebuilt at a nearby location in order to remove any pollutants and ensure purity.
Once the first permanent shrines were built, Shinto revealed a strong tendency to resist architectural change, a tendency which manifested itself in the so-called 式年遷宮祭, the tradition of rebuilding shrines faithfully at regular intervals adhering strictly to their original design. (…) Ise Grand Shrine, still rebuilt every 20 years, is its best extant example.
Shrines were not completely immune to change, and in fact show various influences, particularly that of Buddhism, a cultural import which provided much of Shinto architecture's vocabulary. The 楼門, the haiden, 回廊, the tōrō, or stone lantern, and the komainu, or lion dogs (…) are all elements borrowed from Buddhism.
Are you humane?
There is a japanese term, ichigen-san otogawari, roughly: "by introduction only". It describes a practice of some restaurants to only accept guests they have a relation to – by introduction through a former guest, or by a prior conversation in person or by exchanging a couple of emails. It's not about exclusivity, since everyone is welcome. The prerequisite is solely to explain one's motivations for coming, and making a modicum of time and effort to understand the restaurant's approach. This way, it is protected from diners who come without actual interest and appreciation for what is offered – it can operate with a level of safety and comfort.
This principle may be an influence for better digital spaces – in contrast to the ubiquitous and immediate access expected in digital media. Direct relations disperse the focused pressure created by social media networks: Requiring a human mode of interaction, requiring users to momentarily think and consider the other, to consider language, is enough to transform expectations and ensure eye level in following interactions.
Ichigen-san otogawari acts as a kind of captcha – ensuring that the guest, client or user is actually human. Not in the sense that it is not a machine or bot, but in the sense that it has the capacity to be attentive for a brief moment, and considerate of others. It is a vetting system any human being is able to pass.