Form Follows Function

The Eiffel Tower climbs 1,063 ft into the Parisian sky. The base is 410 ft on each side. When the tower was built, Eiffel was accused of creating something artistic with no regard to the principles of engineering. He replied in a newspaper interview on 14 February 1887:

“Is it not true that the very conditions which give strength also conform to the hidden rules of harmony? … Now to what phenomenon did I have to give primary concern in designing the Tower? It was wind resistance. Well then! I hold that the curvature of the monument’s four outer edges, which is as mathematical calculation dictated it should be … will give a great impression of strength and beauty, for it will reveal to the eyes of the observer the boldness of the design as a whole.”

This is very similar to the Bauhaus concept that form follows function. The Bauhaus (German for “building house”) was a art and design school based in Germany in the early 1900’s. Their basic tenant was if you create something that works, it will be beautiful. The best form of a thing is determined by its necessary function. The Eiffel Tower was a wonderful example of this concept.

Because of the economy of design, if the 7,300 tons of wrought iron in the structure were melted down, it would only fill the square of the base to a depth of 2.46 inches. (I feel it is important to point out that the design of the Eiffel Tower is attributed to Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier, two senior engineers working for Eiffel’s company.)

This past week, I was privileged to attend the 25th Global Leadership Summit. A prominent theme of the GLS this year was “pace.” Pace, as in “slow down.” Pace, as in “give yourself a break.” Pace, as in “reset yourself before something else does.”

There are plenty of self-help books and platitudes about balance and pace, “life is a marathon, not a sprint,” and such. Yet we don’t seem to be listening. Somehow time management, efficiency, and prioritization never get us very far. Our struggles, pains, and work simply expand to fill the time we allow to be available.

The Eiffel Tower, like every tall building, has one main enemy: wind. We, too, are fighting the wind. The pressures of our life threaten to topple us and bring our lives crashing to the ground. For the Eiffel Tower to withstand the pressure of the wind, the design included three very significant elements—a wide base, on open lattice structure, and multiple connections between points. We, too, need certain “design elements” to withstand the pressures of life.

The tower’s wide base is the foundation upon which the whole structure relies. If you have ever watched the construction of a skyscraper, you have seen the enormous amount of concrete that is below the surface to provide the footing for the part that reaches to the sky. The tallest structures narrow as they climb, leaving the mass at the bottom where it stabilizes and supports. If that mass were at the top, the building would collapse.

Our lives should be similarly constructed. The mass at the base of our life is our belief system. If we believe things that are solid and not shifting with current opinion or circumstances, then our lives can more easily withstand the pressures. One of the things I had to learn the hard way was I am not in control. Interestingly, one of the ways I remember this is to be intentional about noticing the world around me. A sunrise. A sunset. Flowers. A deer in the woods. There is so much in the world that exists and functions without me. Realizing this helps me keep my view of myself grounded and keeps me from pushing the mass of control farther up, where it becomes a liability instead of an asset. Take time to see the world that is right outside your door.

The open lattice of the tower means there is less surface area to catch the wind and translate it into pressure. By not enclosing the structure, the designers were able to build a much taller tower without having to massively increase the base.

We tend to “enclose” our lives with unnecessary and excess things. We hold onto grudges and resentments. We gather habits and compulsions. We accumulate possessions and territories. All these things catch the wind and increase the pressure we feel. The best design for our lives is one where the elements are positive and serve a specific purpose. The daily practice of taking a personal inventory is one way we can begin to shed the negative things that are putting so much pressure on us.

Since its construction, the Eiffel Tower has been studied and poured over by designers and engineers alike, and various mathematical hypotheses have been put forward to explain the success of the design. The most recent, devised in 2004 after letters sent by Eiffel to the French Society of Civil Engineers in 1885 were translated into English, is described as a non-linear integral equation based on counteracting the wind pressure on any point of the tower with the tension between the construction elements at that point. Each construction element is connected to many others and the pressure is spread over them all.

We cannot thrive alone. We were made to be in community. Our connections to one another are essential to the stability and strength of our “structure.” When we have healthy relationships that can withstand the pushes and pulls of life, we are stronger in the face of the pressures we experience. Every seven years, sixty tons of paint is applied to the Eiffel Tower to keep it from rusting, thereby keeping the connections sound. Likewise, we need to put effort into protecting and strengthening our connections.

As a leader, I need to be stable so I can help others find stability too. I must acknowledge my lack of control and ground my beliefs in intentional experiences. I need to take a regular and honest inventory of the emotional and temporal things I am carrying around and release the negatives. I need people I can lean on and that lean on me, because the push and pull of life makes us all better.

Pace is not just about the speed at which we are moving, it is the way we are moving. Find your way to be intentional about experiencing wonder and beauty, to release what you do not control, and to build strong connections with the people around you. If we do these things, we can reach the sky and withstand the wind. That sounds like a life of bold strength and beauty, and it sounds like The Kimray Way.