Superbly designed functionality

The steel “sanitary tee” shown to your left carried the waste from my house's kitchen sink and clothes washer for 57 years. I am so struck by its beauty and its importance to the history of this house that I’m going to keep it somewhere, if only in the crawlspace. There is simply nothing more gorgeous than superbly designed functionality, especially in an object that has been on the job for generations. As I sit gazing at my tee, I think of the plumber who installed it, what a different world he inhabited in 1955, and what a different trade he practiced.

There were no plastic plumbing pipes back then, only steel and copper for water; steel, cast iron, and concrete for waste. Much of the steel pipe had to be cut and threaded at the jobsite. I sometimes helped my father do this. The cast iron fittings weren’t threaded, and had to be sealed with oakum that was first driven into the joint and then covered with molten lead poured from a dipper. I sometimes helped my father do this as well. I didn't realize that I was seeing the end of an era.

Today, I laboriously removed lead and oakum from where a steel pipe entered such a fitting. I then put a rubber seal onto the end of a new ABS plastic pipe, inserted the new pipe into the fitting, drove the seal snug with a hammer, and voilà, I was done.  The old ways and old materials are sometimes beautiful, but the new ones are usually better, and so it is that I cast my vote for the new even while remembering the old with respect and affection. After all, the fitting in the photo served the people who lived in this house for a lot of years.

“…superbly designed functionality...” One argument against the existence of a divine creator is that we ourselves are so poorly designed that we start falling apart as soon as we reach physical maturity. If the eye—as many claim—is so superbly engineered that only a super smart deity could have created it, why are we all wearing glasses?