why rectangles?

Why are they so pervasive?

I have my own suspicions, but thought I’d pose the question to others who deal in them in an (almost) daily basis.

**typed on rectangular keys on a rectangular screen in a rectangular browser window while sitting on a rectangular bench in a rectangular room containing rectangular windows, rectangular flooring, rectangular… you get the idea.

in a word, efficiency.

A flat, rectangular window is a window is a whole lot cheaper and easier to manufacture, design for, install, and replace than a curved amorphous one. During the modernist period, when architecture, furniture, and products where really first reduced to their most minimal, efficient selves, part of the thrust of the movement was to make better solutions available to more people. So while their was an aesthetic element to doing it well, the reason was to be efficient so more people could afford a better life.

Now, many of the objects we use are still rectangles, still for efficiency. Take your phone. Could it have a curved circular display? Sure. It would cost 10 times as much though, and chances are you aren’t going to pay 10 times as much for a phone. Not only would the display cost more, but the content it views would have to be totally reshuffled. Most of the content is also based on rectangles, which was all based on the rectangular pages of printed books, which were rectangles because… you guessed it, it was efficient to manufacture, print, process, bind, and ship rectangular paper… so, your screen id going to be a rectangle, which is good because the PC board it sits above is also a rectangle for the same reason of efficiency… could your phone be a curved circle with a flat rectangular display? Yes, it would just be huge, and thus, inefficient to use, so you wouldn’t want it.

So we have this rectilinear manufactured world. Could the bench you are sitting on be a blob? Yes, it would not be horribly inefficient, and there are lots of examples of organic furniture. It has to respond to the body , which is organic… but it also is caught up responding to the efficient architecture, and the efficient products, which are all rectangles. Also, furniture tends to be designed by architects or designers who frequent rectilinear forms, and prefer order and reason (typically). I think for these reasons, the majority of furniture is pretty rectilinear. But anything that responds to the body has more opportunity to be organic, furniture, hand tools, footwear…

TVs used to have curved tubes, up until the 90’s they never had a truly flat rectangular screen. Old school typewriters had round keys, square keys seem to fill the space in between, maybe keeps you from looking at all the dirt that accumulated beneath it. Phones use to be organic, now imagine putting those in your pockets.

Right-angles are a lot easier to cut, machine, etc as mentioned above. An arched door costs twice as much as a rectangular door. Rectangles are cleaner looking for the most part, I can’t imagine having everything I own as blobjects, some of them would seem more kids toys. Imagine stacking things if nothing were flat, or shipping. But yes, not everything has to be rectangular also and not all things are. I can point of more things that aren’t as much as things that are.

The horizon and gravity. It is how we relate to the world and form a reference to movement. Defined by early 2D representations of the world and architecture and nature.

The use of verticals and horizontals predates the industrial age, so it is not about industrial efficiency. It is in our collective core.

What they said. Though I don’t think it’s necessarily a human thing, more culture specific. I remember reading a study that showed how developed cultures are so used to living in rooms with walls and floors and ceilings they read perspective and relative size through cues of diverging lines if you show them a simple y stick drawing they interpret as the edge of a cube either popping out or the inside corner of a room. If tested with tribes or cultures that don’t have rectangular rooms, they don’t automatically see and perspective or read anything into it other than just lines.

I think the prevalence of square lines and shapes probably relates to this.