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War on curves

Defending my use of curves in kitchen design has become a habit over the years. Many consider them to be an expensive luxury, hard to craft and of little purpose except aesthetic pleasure. I termed my use of them, allowing for moving about a room with ease, ‘soft geometry’, a way of going about a room with ease. People don’t walk at right angles hugging edges of counters or walls, they walk directly, taking easy routes. It is an effort to avoid sharp corners and obstacles, though many kitchen designs do not take this into account. Being able to avoid obstacles without paying attention to sharp corners or having to negotiate furniture is one of the bonuses of good design.

Kitchen designed in 1991, my first using soft geometry

Next to roofs, curves avoid the unusable space of corners that cause leaking if not detailed effectively. Curves help reduce cleaning problems, ease water flow (in roofs), strengthen materials like metal panels, provide continuity of form, improve circulation in planning the movement of people, and add visual excitement and harmony. There are almost no historic styles of architecture where curves have not been used. Admittedly they may occur more in some periods than others, like Art Nouveau, the Thirties Deco or even Georgian styles that were inspired by Classicism (buildings such as the Pantheon, Coliseum spring to mind). The Victorian era includes a riot of curved or sculpted elements in every design category. This is because as well as forming navigation landmarks and avoiding impractical junctions, curves assign character to buildings. In short they create locos, or meaningful places.

Michael Gove, education minister, has just announced that curves are to be banned from use in school buildings ‘because no one in this room is here to make architects richer’. (See Steve Rose’s piece in the Guardian, 2nd October, entitled Michael Gove’s War on architecture). One wonders who could be advising him? Do they have much knowledge of know what makes good design? Sure, curved components can be more complicated to make, but most chairs have curved backs, cars have curved panels – often in two directions or more. No one tells car designers to stop using them. Did anyone tell Sir Christopher Wren that building the dome of St Paul’s was an expensive luxury designed to line his pockets? Oh and don’t forget our Iron Age Round Houses, mentioned in Pliny, for being the most advanced houses in Europe.

Iron Age Round House, recreated at Butser, Petersfield, a precursor to open plan

There are many elements that can effect the cost of a building, an interior or piece of furniture – specialist materials, sophisticated technology, cost of different trades, amount of craftsman made details, to name a few. Curves are only one of them. It’s part of a designer’s job description, particularly when budgets are short to work out what can be afforded and what local skills are available. The work of Dutch architects 24Hr Architecture is a case in point, where the imagination, being eco inspired and financially frugal can make a great building.

Primary School designed by 24 Hour Dutch architects, in Thailand: hardly a budget breaker.

It’s a peculiar edict to issue a ban on curves, essentially a ban on creative thinking, and one that could hardly be based on any thought-out strategy, except penny-pinching. But even this is not guaranteed to succeed. As the writer and philosopher Roger Scruton, philosopher, says in Why Beauty Matters, (, ‘if you consider only utility, the things you build will soon be useless’.


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