Thursday, August 6, 2009

Build it and they will come

It's a living advertisement for the Industrial Age. The bridge at Ironbridge was built in 1779, just west of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, to prove to the world that iron could be safely used for bridge building instead of timber. Some say this is where the industrial revolution began.

Customers came from near and far to marvel at the miracle metal and the amazingly strong design. Back then the bridge straddled a river poisoned by the sulfurous sludge of industry that despoiled what was once a beautiful valley. Today, with the polluters gone, the valley has become a tourist destination, a combination of recovered natural beauty and the artistry of human endeavour.

After Ironbridge, the idea of steel bridges spread like a contagious disease, a cognitive retrovirus that evolved with each new infection, creating not only more of itself, but variations on a theme.....the arch, suspension, cantilever and beam. My favourite is the Verrazano Narrows bridge, a double deck 4,260 single span monster that guards the entrance to New York Harbour. But I also have a soft spot for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, that graces the city where I live, a soaring symphony of metal which sits astride one of the most beautiful harbours in the world.

Iconic concepts when turned into objects, such as Ironbridge, are like the attractors in complex systems. A set of solutions occupies a well defined mathematical space to which other related concepts gravitate. Such ideas spawned other steel structures such as the Eiffel tower, the skyscraper and the elevated freeways that form a network around the city of New York.  

So what living advertisement can you create around such a powerful concept that people travel from near and far to gaze in wonder and become disciples for the idea?

Here's a workshop to begin the process:

1. What's your big idea? What gets people excited by your product, service, concept or theory and how it could transform/improve/add value to their world?
2. What iconic symbol could you create/design/make/build/assemble that expresses your big idea in such a richly symbolic and powerful way that people come from all over the world to see it?
3. When people come to see your big idea, what can you give them to take back home to other people so they will immediately understand what it means, and will want to join your crusade/movement/new way of being?

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