Long Dead Design Rules

Long ago, in tenth grade, I took a drafting class. Long enough ago that we used pencil and paper and had actual drafting tables. We did a little work once in AutoCAD but mostly we used pencil and paper.

I don’t remember much of drafting but I have remembered, again and again over the years, one thing my teacher told us. He was talking about design rules, rules which we must always keep in mind when drafting a blueprint for a building. Over the years I’ve found a two of these rules have been forgotten. Or maybe they never really were rules but they make sense to me and I think they should be reinstated.

Rule number one was about clocks. Clocks and airports as my teacher told it:

“It should be impossible for people to be out of sight of a clock in an airport.”

Anyone who has traveled should appreciate this one. Sitting around in airports or shopping while you wait for your flight the last thing you want is to lose track of the time. Or for others to lose track and make your plane late while they are paged and run through the airport and struggle to find a place for their carry on baggage. I would actually extend this beyond airports to train stations. They are better in my experience at least in Europe and Japan. But nearly every airport and too many train station I have been in suffer from a lack of big, visible clocks. Most times today at airports the only clocks you can find are small ones in the corner of the TVs showing upcoming departures or arrivals. Even Changi, the best airport in the world fails at this rule.

Rule two, was very similar, maybe more of a corollary to rule one:

“It should be impossible to be more than [10 meters] from a trash can in a shopping mall.”

Maybe rule number one fell out of use as we all had watch’s and now phones in our pockets (and with network set clocks the time is correct unlike way too many watches which have slow batteries or were not wound…). This rule, if it was ever followed, was killed by terrorists. I blame the IRA. It started, not in shopping malls but on streets and tube stations. I don’t remember it being a big problem in the malls in my home town or on campus in college but when I moved to London the near complete lack of trash cans — or bins to humor British English speakers — was jarring. I was told it was because tube stations and bus stops were preferred targets for the IRA and they would just dump the bombs in the bins. From there I started to notice, in the aftermath of 9/11 that trash cans in Washington DC’s metro stations and on the streets were removed. Sometimes a simple metal ring with a clear plastic bag was still there but proper trash cans were gone.

Since I just returned from a trip to Japan I should also note that in Japan there is a lack of bins in public places. Your best bet for a bin is in convenience stores, which are omnipresent so you just have to get used to carrying your trash till you pass a convenience store. The first time I went to Japan in 2004 I commented on this to my friend living there and was told that this was not a recent change in Japan. People are used to carrying their trash till they come across a bin, there have never been large numbers of public bins on the streets. Earlier this year when I was in Tokyo on business my Australian colleagues commented on the lack of bins and it was my turn to explain the culture.