October 4, 2010

BEAUTY: Natural vs Man-made

This summer I had an amazing opportunity to to attend the Gemological Institute of America's Diamond Grading Lab followed by 4 days of hiking in southern Utah. I was truly surprised to discover that the two experience had a strong similarity between them. In both, I spend a lot of time viewing nature's beauty, and in both situations, nature's beauty had been enhanced by man.

With diamonds, that's obvious. These crystals take millions of years to form and are eye-catching in their own right, but it's when man cuts and polishes them that they become truly stunning.

Hiking in Zion National Park and then in Bryce Canyon National Park, I made the same observation. The rock formations took millions of years to form and are gorgeous all on their own, but it's man's efforts that cut in trails and create access to to these places that allow us to view them. These switchbacks were created by man:


While the revisions man made to the parks are more about accessibility and to and even larger extent preservation, both are examples of man taking something that is beautiful in it's own right and enhancing it. The challenge for any designer, whether working from scratch or improving on nature, is when to stop because there is a point of diminishing returns where edits start to detract beauty instead of enhance it. And, of course, not everyone agrees to what is actually adding beauty versus subtracting from it. Here's a quote from Lyndon Johnson that was posted at Bryce Canyon on the subject:

What examples of you seen of man enhancing nature? What examples have you seen of enhancements gone wrong?

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