The Circle of Design

I’m at GDC this week, and I am not a gamer or a game designer. While UX is a highly transferable skill set (I dare you to name a single company that wouldn’t benefit from a great UX team), I knew that I would be surrounded by some hard core gamers and game designers and suspected I may be the odd man out. I was thankfully wrong.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting in a few sessions about level design. Shoutout to William Chyr for an entertaining and educational look at how to design 4D gaming worlds (think Inception). But it was Claire Hosking’s talk about architecture in level design that struck me.

When you take a moment to think about it, it makes perfect sense that you’d run into an architect at a game development conference… games are filled with buildings and someone needs to design them. And while I loved her talk she used a real building as a reference at several points and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.

Have you ever heard of the Bruder Klaus Kapelle?

Designed by Peter Zumthor and completed in 2007, the Bruder Klaus Kapelle is a church hiding in plain sight in German farmland… and it’s stunning. I found this description on the Design Roxx blog that makes me salivate for a trip to Deutschland.

The interior was formed by 112 tree trunks configured as a tent. The exterior is “rammed concrete” — layers of concrete, each 50 cm thick, were poured over the wood structure for 24 days. Once the concrete was set, a fire burned for over 3 weeks inside to remove the tree trunks, leaving the concrete shell. You can still smell the burnt wood inside giving the chapel the feeling of age and history. A portion of the ceiling is open to the sky and small pinholes are cut in the concrete to provide light inside. The only other source of light comes from the dramatic opening and closing of the steel triangular door. The floor was covered in lead melted on site and hand ladled on to the floor. The roughness, quiet and scale of the interior is a surprising contrast to the smooth light exterior and suggests a place of quiet and contemplation. Truly a wonderful experience.

I’m a user experience designer, at a conference about video games, listening to a talk from an architect about a church in Germany designed by another architect, and this particular church is not just famous for it’s physical design but also the experience of being inside it.

As designers, it’s vital to study great design wherever you can find it. Stepping out of our comfort zones in regards to discipline, industry, and apparently geography and religion, will only deepen our design thinking. You never know when the circle might come right back to where you started.

Thank you Peter for your remarkable design, and thank you Claire for introducing me to it.