Skip to content

The Microprocessor is Not Trying to Look Beautiful

Post date:

Performance-beauty already exists in other fields of manufacture and production. Performance-beauty is about a constant and focussed drive to improve comprehensive performance. Nobody cares what microprocessors look like but there is a never-ending effort to improve their performance, eliminate their defects, simplify their manufacture, and reduce their final cost. Performance is all that matters. You won’t find an ugly microprocessor.

There are other things besides microprocessors in which performance-beauty is paramount. It is difficult to appreciate their beauty in terms of anything but performance. We don’t have to know anything about assault rifles to think that the American M-16 looks better than the Russian AK-47 at first sight. However, the AK-47 is far superior in terms of performance. Knowing this, it is no longer possible to look at the M-16 in the same way. The AK-47 is not trying to look beautiful. Knowledge of performance affects our perception of beauty.

Similarly, the ‘Eurofighter’ looks better at first sight than the Sukhoi SU-37 which  is probably the best fighter plane ever made. The SU-37 is not trying to look beautiful. Once more, knowing that the performance of the SU-37 is in a class of its own changes our perception of beauty. The shapes of these things aren’t important. Their performance is everything. It is a sad fact that these last two pairs of examples are of machines designed to kill people, but it does show that we can achieve performance-beauty if we put our minds to it. All these things have peformance-beauty. Buildings can too – if we want.



  • Performance in terms of living quality is a term which is too vague to be set as a benchmark in my opinion. There are however criteria which is believed enhance it such as orientation, climate, perceived space. I do agree it is possible, however modernism was built upon that research of ‘housing machines’, nonetheless it failed for not considering the appeal to its users. We await performance from our tools, but from our clothes, which architecture is only in a larger scale one may say, since it bears the related function of sheltering from the outside enviroment, we also await to be representative of our own personality, as in tailored suits or dresses. As long as we are not an uniform wearing society, we will reject everything that makes us seem that way. Fashion does exist with a purpose, as does ornament (and in contemporary terms complex morphology), putting a number on the degree of human individuality in terms of designing a project is still a challenge to master.

    • Thanks Aleksandar, this is a topic this blog will always keep coming back to. It’s easy to get people to agree that there are some things that buildings should do as well as possible. They’re usually related to the shelter function. It’s not a bad thing for a building to provide a healthy and safe environment.

      However, as soon as we say that, somebody will come along and say they’d rather sleep cold and rough on the floor of Chartres Cathedral than in some functional “box”. The argument is immediately hijacked by people claiming the aesthetic “function” of buildings as a greater human or social need. Maslow would agree, but he would also say that the other needs have to be properly satisfied before attention and resources are diverted away from them.

      When we are faced with huge environmental imperatives as we are now, we perhaps shouldn’t be so complacent about how well these lower level needs are being satisfied. It just seems to be a waste of time and money to divert resources away from them in order to pursue some supposedly “higher” need that has no criteria for success or proof that it is ever met.

      Sustainability, for all its fuzziness, did for a while hold the promise of being a new way to generate buildings but it’s been split in two and neutralised. The part that has been appropriated by the media concerns visible manifestations of some real or illusory eco-agenda, green roofs and such. The other part deals with all the unseen, unremarkable and unappreciated technologies that actually make a building better. Green roofs = beautiful and poetic. Highly efficient PV cells or ground source heat pumps = technical box-ticking. This split into formal aspects and functional aspects means we don’t have to change how we think about beauty. The old concepts can still be made to work.

      The microprocessor may not be trying to be beautiful, but the idea of seeing a new kind of beauty in something that performs well and not concerned with what people think of how it looks, is destined to never be popular. It’s threatening somehow, much like the architecture of Hannes Meyer must have been to Johnson and Hitchcock.