The principle behind the Chords Bridge

April 21, 2009

698px-Calatrava_Jerusalem

Diego Rodriguez, an inspirational member of the IDEO family, is working through 21 design principles he believes in on his blog, Metacool. Go check them out, it’s worth it.

Number six talks about living life in a way which gives you the tools to feed off the constraints of a difficult problem rather than be afraid of them:

Innovation needs to happen at the intersection of desirability, viability, and feasibility.  These three elements make up the legs of a proverbial stool called “it’ll work in the world.”  Too many innovation initiatives focus on only one or two, much to their detriment.  For example, creating something without regard for its feasibility out in the world is not unlike designing a bridge without regard to the existence of gravity: it might work, but the likelihood of it being a reliable, safe, means of transport will be greatly diminished.  And while it might be tempting to “really be creative” by ignoring constraints, a wiser approach is to view constraints as liberating.

The best designs are those which attack a set of constraints head on to create something that can operate within them. That’s why I was so inspired by Ernie Schenk’s book, “The Houdini Solution”, which is full of techniques for thinking inside the box.

For what it’s worth, I think this is such an important principle that it can be separated from the idea of “T-shaped” people, which is wonderful in itself (particularly for how little explanation it needs to be grokked).

All that said, I have to thank Diego for putting me on to the work of Santiago Calatrava who he uses to illustrate his point. The Chords Bridge, pictured above, is a stunning example of elegance which dances on the fine line between beauty, structural integrity (this design is apparently not the most structurally efficient) and of course cost.

This kind of structure can only be built by really understanding the limits of all those dimensions.

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One Response to “The principle behind the Chords Bridge”


  1. […] functional and mostly have the same constraints, they still vary considerably. More evidence that, as with the Chords Bridge, creativity can be born out of thinking not outside but *inside* the […]


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