Templatize Your World

I’ve been trying to think about things like “Learning from Las Vegas” the book where Robert Venturi introduced the idea of building as “duck” or “decorated shed.” Decorated sheds are simple boxes with decoration applied as a veneer. Ducks are buildings that get their decoration from deep structural features (like the burger stand that looks like a burger), or the TransAmerica building that is shaped like a pyramid.

At the back of the hotel where I am staying, I was looking at some banquet tables — beat up, ugly discs on legs. But, when covered with a table cloth, and decorated, the table looks good, not like junk. And if the decorations (a veneer) are damaged, they are easily swapped out. Tables as decorated sheds.

I’m at a conference, watching a guy demonstrate features in Word 2007. He claims that people spend a lot of time formatting documents, changing fonts, trying to format tables, etc, to match the corporate branding, or to get a set of documents to look alike. So Microsoft is offering these new formatting aids (style the whole document, style the table, etc.) in Word to make all this take less time. And all this is possible because the document has been separated into its content and its styling. The whole document can be re-styled, or converted to the web, by some quick re-decoration. Document as decorated shed.

There is something in this skin deepness that is bothering me. It bothers me in architecture that is just appliqué. It bothers me in modular offices, Dilbert’s cubicle land. Its something about an insincerity, a theater stage set, for the relationships of life. Its a contrast from the simpler, and more genuine, feeling of a crafted space, enduring relationships.

Looking at these tools, I’m wondering if we can deploy them into higher education. If our users (bad word for teachers and learners) will accept them, or if they will demand a greater creative freedom. Perhaps, even if they will accept them, they require more creative freedom. Can one learn to be a creative, critical thinker in a templetized world?

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