Beauty, what is it?
To my artists and engineers brain, what constitutes beauty?
Because I know that I have a sense of when I am looking at something -- something engineered -- that is beautiful just as I know I have a sense of when I am looking at something devoid of beauty or even possessed of ugliness.
(1) It must set out to do certain things and do them well. I naive response would be to argue that this selects unfairly for specialists -- but not necessarily. A tool of the everyman can also say "I do these things -- and I do them well." Read on.
(2) It must be innovative in approach, perhaps even breaking new ground, though wonton novelty often produces ugliness as a frustrating side effect of incompletely understood principles.
(3) It must be clever, using not just raw force or expense or an obvious reliance on novelty to over come challenges. Ingenuity and problem solving must play a role. This mandates neither an easy nor a challenging gestation, for cleverness can be pre-planned or borne of the exegeses of desperation. Note that this is very different from (2).
(4) It must physically have clean lines on the inside and on the outside. An airplane's lines must flow smoothly and cleanly, but its interior systems if graphed out into hydraulics and electrics and pneumatics and avionics must also appear clean and flowing and well integrated. It must have the right number of parts, as a symphony must have the right number of notes, neither too few nor (worse yet) too many.
(5) It must be true. This is not a place for prototypes and vaporware. Any truly beautiful creation must have seen the touch of craftsmen and the light of day and the use for which it was intended. It need not have been produced in vast numbers, but it must have appeared in numbers sufficient to make an impact.
(6) It must be noteworthy or even extraordinary. The synthesis of these ideas must have, in some way, brought about success and significance. The first, the best, the most, a record will do but is not necessary. Living on beyond expected obsolescence, serving as a archetype for subsequent efforts,
These things are beautiful (and in no significant order):
The Toyota Prius. Well engineered and brilliantly timed (better than the designers could ever have imagined, I suspect), the Prius appears destined to be the Honda Civic of the new millennium (and I mean the old CVCC Civic of the late 70's, not that newfangled thing that's bigger than I remember an Accord being...).
The Concorde. 'Nuff said.
The Cervelo P2C...I should like the far racier P3C better -- but it is just a little too funny looking for me. Yeah, its faster, more aggressively aero...but the lines, like a modern Formula One car, are just a little too elaborate.
You knew this would be here, didn't you?
The F@#$'n Lunar Module? Widely agreed to be the Ugliest Spacecraft Ever? Yeah, but light, lean, very purposeful, and ultimately capable of way more than anyone ever expected. Go see Apollo 13.
Expect this blog entry to grow -- or find itself with sequels. There are many beautiful products of engineering out there. And they will get their day, don't worry. For tonight, I leave you with just a few.