“In objects we value the ‘authentic,’ the hand-pressed. It’s often the same thing with cities,” Sudjic said in a telephone interview last week. “A (successful) city is about how it feels to be in a particular place, at a particular time.”

Before assuming his post as director of London’s Design Museum in 2006, Sudjic was architecture critic for the Observer, a British daily where he provided uncommonly lucid takes on how the “art” of architecture is imbued by what he described in his final column as “the hard stuff of power, politics and city building.”

It’s a mix that’s never static – just as designers seek out new emotional cues, and as neighborhoods are redefined again and again. As long as that’s the case, the appeal of high design and urban centers is likely to endure. Whether they’re “needed” or not.

The Language of Things: Understanding the World of Desirable Objects: By Deyan Sudjic. W.W. Norton, 208 pages

By John King, SFgate; excerpts, edited by ELLOPOS BLOG