Social Inclusion with (Bad) Design, Angering the Gods

I really do love to read academic blogs, and one of my favorite’s is a Don’s Life by Cambridge classicist, Mary Beard, written for the Times Online.

Recently, Mary got fired up by the doors to their building–a very fancy dancy building extension from the sounds of it–and the doors that are meant to accommodate wheelchairs: Door rage (and wedding bells). It seems that the doors open very slowly, causing people to pile up outside and inside waiting to leave, particularly during the times of day that no sane academic leaves their office (unless it is to join the throng and go teach): between classes. Trust me, all my coffee-seeking occurs between those frenzied leitmotifs of the academic day. The rationale is that the doors are too heavy to open and must be handled electronically.

Another, somewhat more embarrassing problem for the classicists: The Telegraph reports a misspelling on the doorway. The doorway in sports a quote from Aristotle’s Metaphysics: “All men by nature desiring to know”–a more literal translation than we usually get in our modern English nomenclature–“All men desire to know.”

But anyhow, the etching uses an s instead of a sigma in the word pronounced “Phusei”–the “by nature” or “by essence” bit. D’oh! Could it be that the etching company didn’t have a stencil for sigma? But they had a stencil for phi! And a sigma stencil would have been easy enough to make.

The Telegraph seems to cast this as a problem with inclusionary design for disabilities. Nice try, but the problem is bad design, period, not inclusionary design. Any outside door that requires, rather than offers as an option, electricity is a major problem in my opinion, let alone an outside door that faces a peaking problem.

Mary Beard suggests, in her usually humorous way, that the misspelling on the clogged doors is sign: ‘Even the gods have shown their disapproval in their own inimitable way.”

The Athenians believed that perfection pleased the gods, so perhaps she’s right. If nothing else, it got us some beautiful sculpture, like this sculpture of Athena attributed to Phidias.