The Power of Three: In Design, Human Nature and Life

I am always so fascinated as to why we “like what we like”. Why do we feel comforted by certain conditions, like the pleasing elements of symmetry in a room? It seems to be human nature to want two tables on either side of a sofa. We love to see two sconces on either side of a mirror. On a dining table we tend to have a center piece and then candles on either side.

In the realm of sound and harmonics, when two violins play together, and they vibrate, it never sounds quite right. As a matter of fact it sounds pretty bad. But just by adding one more violin, the improvement is not just by one third, but it sounds vastly better. The addition of that third violin, seems to create some kind of harmonic justification in how our ears perceive the sound waves that are produced. The ear really likes three.

Think of the Three Stooges. They are just about perfect: there is the DO-ER, the DO-EE and the OBSERVER. The Three Bears and The Three Pigs in fairy tales, delight children.

The Holy Trinity is represented in centuries of artwork, with the artist organizing the subject matter in the shape of a triangle on the canvas. This was determined to be how the eye wanted to see a composition, and was always connected to the eye of God.

There are many, many exceptions to this, but the fact remains, there are mysterious forces at work which guide us in the direction of wanting symmetry in our lives in the form of THREE. In design, the wonder of it all is to just notice it, think about it and then actually decide if this is really correct for each situation. I have a choice when I design homes for clients as to whether I do, in fact, want everything to be responding to the primordial urges of mankind. I can decide when I want to break out of that and make a direct “rejecting” comment on what I call the inevitability of nature. This is where creativity can emerge at its highest level. We see this in all walks of life. Someone does something radically different, and if it is from pure creativity, it can resonate and inform our experience in a new way, and actually create a “new normal”. My point is that, in design, I don’t want there to be a “normal”. I try to, always, observe how my mind is limited, think deeply about those limits and if I decide to deviate from the “conceptual/instinctual three”, how will that translate successfully into a beautiful and functional space for my clients. Indeed, how will this choice delight anyone who steps into the room? I try to be the designer who always questions the first instinct, and hopefully come up with something lovely, perhaps radical, and yet still feel as if it lives there naturally and feels completely in the pocket. This is my job as a designer.

3 thoughts on “The Power of Three: In Design, Human Nature and Life

  1. Terril Gagnier

    So intuitively true, Marcia. I’m looking at my large
    Buddha flanked on either side by smaller sculptures.
    To be otherwise would be so disturbing.
    It’s interesting though that in human relationships
    three is often considered an unstable number. One
    wondering if the other two are closer or feeling left
    out. But it can also make for a creative combination
    as you suggested.

  2. Pingback: The Power of Three: In Business, Design and Life | K4 ArchitectureK4 Architecture

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