It was thinking about the new hospitals that prompted me to write this. Design is an art and comes in several forms, the architects, product designers, the visual arts and even music. It can be influenced as much by fashion as by aesthetic. Fashion being a product of advertising, of celebrity influence, and often a demonstration of status, has no true validity in determining the quality of design, but its influence is of great proportions in the design of the products that we buy. Civil Engineers and Structural Engineers are obviously designers also, but their work tends to be more prosaic. They design things like bridges, railway stations, sewage works; structures that are designed to perform a function rather than be decorative. For the sake of the world at large, we try to make the designs pleasing to the eye, and in some cases such as sewage works we actually hide them with specially selected trees. Occasionally the work is done in conjunction with an architect, such as a row of flats and shops, then we also have to accommodate the design flourishes of the architect.
If you think about the design of everyday products, buildings of all types, the visual arts and even music, there have been unbelievable changers in taste and presentation over the last 70 years. The problem in all these cases is down to the desire for recognition, the ego and the aspirations of those performing the designs. Up until the end of the Victorian era design was very much a prerogative of the well heeled, and it was their pleasure to search the world and collect artefacts from the past, or instigate elaborate designs for their houses and their objects. Even then there was an element of competition. Once the middle and working classes had more spare cash, manufacturers realised they had a growth industry, and with that growth came competition and the building of reputations. It was at this point that the designers were beginning to get a name for themselves and in consequence were in competition. Artists themselves have been in competition since the dawn of time, and one thing about competition is nobody wants a copy, so you have to be innovative to build a reputation. This philosophy has rubbed off into industrial design and architecture. Any work of reference will show you how designs of household products, houses, buildings, vehicles and even factories have changed as taste, and the desire of the designers to be different has also changed to keep up. Taste is transitory, dependent upon experience, as well as personal preference. This has been underlined over the years, in particular by the changes in taste in the pictorial arts, some of which are examples of promotional tactics rather than true artistry.
Innovation demands experiment, new methods and in some cases loss. If designers are given their head, rather than required to provide a simple traditional design, the client will inevitably be footing the larger expense, part of which is to bolster the reputation of the designer. Civil servants, handling our money, should think very carefully about whether particular features in a design submitted are actually necessary, or just an expensive ornamentation, or unnecessary innovation.