2. Analogies: Planes that flapped their wings

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When I was studying architecture, it was drilled into my head to seek patterns from nature. Look at a tree, the teacher told me — look at its foundations, how it is wider at its base… that is how building foundations are to be. And so on and so forth. Even today, there are references to nature in design. (E.g. Calatrava and his references to the human backbone.) Strangely enough inventions almost never went down that path.

I guess that is why they were called inventions.

Take for example the first invention: the wheel. What was the analogy there? A rolling stone? But a rolling stone was never a form of locomotion. If analogies should have been the inspiration, the caveman (or whoever it was who had made use of the first wheel) would have attempted something with legs — preferably with four legs (because two are much more unbalanced than four ). What about an axle? What is the analogy for it? After all, it was the axle that made a set of wheels useful. A wheel by itself is almost impossible to use (except in a unicycle, which was a unique invention). Or what about the universal joint (without which the axle would have got worn down much faster, as the vehicle turned corners).

Right through history the same pattern is seen: A plane can work only when its wings do not flap like those of a bird. A train becomes useful only when it is put on tracks — no analogies with anything to what was present beforehand. This is despite the fact that the width of railway tracks can be traced to the average distance of the backside of two Roman carriage-horses walking side by side. And we've already covered the light bulb. And so on and so forth.

There is an architect in Mumbai who had once asked me; (with a twinkle in his eyes) "tell me where you will see a rectilinear corner in nature?". To him the answer was obvious. And he went about designing buildings which (according to him) didn't have rectilinear corners. (They did have. Because the floors were horizontal, and the furniture on it stood proudly perpendicular to it. But I didn't have the heart to tell him. He had such a lovely twinkle in his eyes.) He is quite a good architect actually. Just problems in articulating his thoughts. One of his buildings is a proud skyscraper in south Mumbai which I like a lot. So here was someone who has really learnt the lessons that his teachers have taught him, to heart.

There is more to this story …

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