Design matters

Off the Beat

I’m an architecture student. Sure, STEM has a hugely prominent spot on campus — there’s no doubt. Some of my closest friends here have come from across the United States and even the globe, purely to study engineering or mathematics at this public university. However, when doing a video for the multimedia department here at The Daily Californian, one student I interviewed said something that I found particularly interesting: “Design matters.”

It seems a little bit obscure — how does design matter in a sea of computer science, math and chemistry advancements? What can design offer in the grand scheme of technology in this particularly innovative century? Why does design matter when no one seems to have heard of Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design? The answer is as simple as this — no one wants to live in an environment that is poorly designed.

While I walked along the side streets of Southside, hands in my pockets and gaze contently focused on the cracks in the sidewalk, I had this exact feeling — of missing the completeness of quality design. Looking back at the drive past our old apartment complex in the East Bay, past run-down buildings with too-high price tags, I didn’t know it then, but I had this unfamiliar yet unsettling feeling of missing. Getting lost in Dwinelle Hall and grumbling up and down the stairs, I ending up in the linguistics department instead of my theater GSI’s office hours with an urge to grasp why I felt so uneasy. It wasn’t until I heard those words — “design matters” — that I understood why.

Holding a frozen yogurt cup in my hand and backpack strap in the other, I sometimes walk around campus at night and pretend like I’m giving a fabulous architectural tour of UC Berkeley to prospective students and families. Did you know that the Campanile — the third-largest university clock tower in the world — has fossils in it? Did you know that South Hall was one of the two original buildings in the university? Did you know blah blah blah?

Beyond the windowless walls of Evans Hall classrooms and solid surfaces of Pimentel Hall laboratories, there’s a tremendous scope of nonscientific beauty on campus. The grand columns of Doe Memorial Library, the contemporary and chic modernity of Soda Hall, the solemnity and concrete powerhouse of Wurster Hall — why do students walk by without an appreciation for the campus’s design? Why don’t we deserve more than a quick spiel on Berkeley’s incredibly unique conglomeration of design and architectural history during Golden Bear Orientation? How come no one mentions that there are more than a dozen campus or campus-affiliated buildings placed on the National Register of Historic Places — with ten all designed by the same architect, John Galen Howard?

Of course, for a school located in the beautiful Bay Area with its nearby technology companies and cutthroat desires to succeed in an ocean of startups and app developers, it’s incredibly easy to put design as a bottom priority. It might be easy for people to claim that picking up paper and a pencil can create a masterpiece. However, it’s just as easy to pick up a laptop and learn how to program. Designers don’t always choose to make significantly less money than their programmer counterparts; we design because we want to make the world comfortable. I think that’s worth just as much as making the world run.

On a similar note, how come no one mentions the sheer number of design, marketing, communications and creative campus clubs and organizations? These groups train our future designers and creative experts to continue the cycle of immersive, genuine, wholehearted and beautiful design. These groups have a rightful place on campus next to the business consulting groups and Silicon Valley-esque startups.

Besides, I would much rather have warm-toned light shining down on my math homework, windows gently propped open for that crisp, spring air and electric outlets surrounding my study space when my phone inevitably drops below 20 percent of its battery charged instead of sitting in a cold, concrete room and listening to an echo of my instructor.

This is why design matters.


“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.