When I was having lunch at one of the Walldorf offices at SAP, I noticed a peculiar thing about the food courts there. There was a consistent background buzz of the water fountains which as I would come to know were strategically placed among the tables; a colleague told me that these fountains were engineered in a particular way and served a purpose and I was asked to identify that purpose.
In the middle of lunch, I realized that I could hear absolutely nothing from the table seated just 5 meters away and it also looked like the participants in the conversation there did not restrain their speech level to make their conversation private. I could hear my colleague seated across the table clearly above the background noise of the water fountains and this was something I recalled when I was reading Strangely Familiar by Blauvelt. This also inspired me to think about clever system decisions that solve more than one problem.
The water fountain while an aesthetic and a class value-add to the entire ambience of the food court served an acoustic utility for an interpersonal cause (privacy of speech), an invisible design underneath something very conspicuous. Rethinking seemingly ordinary architectural elements as powerful tools for a social purpose aligns with Perec’s inquiry method.