Originally published at a now-defunct magazine in March 2011.
On a recent business trip, I was strolling through downtown Jerusalem, when a doorway I passed caught my eye. I backed up and peered down rough-hewn stone steps below street level, onto a table filled with curious wooden contraptions. Intrigued, I climbed down the steps to discover a wonderful array of lovingly crafted games and puzzles designed to challenge and confound curious minds of all ages.
I spent an hour in that shop, dismantling cubes and three-dimensional stars, twisting shapes around one another, and generally marvelling at the ingenuity of the puzzles once I figured them out (sometimes with a nudge in the right direction from the shop assistant).
The magic of these maddening puzzles is this: they are both brain-twistingly complex and breath-takingly simple at the same time. You'll twist shapes, flip them, put them down and do it all again, give up, come back for more and give up again. Then, right at the point of exasperation, neurones will align, click into place, and present you with the solution, blindingly obvious.
It's an elemental beauty that can only come from deep meditation, its abstract simplicity percolated to perfection in the brain's dark recesses. That's what Israeli designer Dror Benshetrit hinted at when he said, "Creativity is about putting your knowledge aside and thinking like a child, seeing if something is possible - and only then finding the knowledge you're lacking to make it happen."
Dror was speaking at the Design Indaba Conference in Cape Town, where he unveiled his latest project, QuaDror - an incredibly simple, but astoundingly versatile joint, with applications ranging from art installations and architecture to sound barriers and disaster relief housing. Made of four identical L-shaped pieces, It's a perfect expression of beauty in simplicity, form and function inseparably bound.
As I watched Dror's demonstration, jaw agape, my mind drifted back to that Jerusalem toy shop and its marvellous wares. The process of twisting, flipping, giving up and repeating, while the brain absorbs, churns and digests - that's what Dror had to go through to arrive at this form. Even then, its function wasn't apparent yet. By his own admission, "at first we really loved this, and we didn't know what to do with it." The shape was born of the same child-like thinking he had already mentioned, and now it needed analysing and testing.
It took four years of tinkering, experimenting and measuring load-bearing capabilities before Dror was ready to present the world with his invention. Its combining of strength, ease and efficiency makes QuaDror a compelling alternative to many traditional construction forms, all from four simple, identical shapes. It's the result of a creative process that allows ideas to germinate and grow before nurturing them to expression in the real world, and an exemplary illustration of Design Indaba's message, 'A better world through creativity.'