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Rebuild Pyramid

Rebuild a Pyramid

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been a popular topic in Psychology since it was theorized in the 40s. Whether systematic training in the subject was introduced, the pyramid illustration is more or less difficult to avoid in our daily lives. 


Fig 1, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The figure divides human demands into five levels accordingly to Maslow’s theory. Phrases like “arranging in a hierarchy”, “a diagram shows progression” are often used for describing the chart. From its bottom to top, our physical and psychological needs are listed; conceptions gradually replace actual ensamples as the content grows abstract. 

At about the beginning of February (please forgive my memory), a live programme of BBC World Service was aired; at its very beginning, I didn’t pay much attention because I am familiar with the theory, at least I thought I was; later its inspiring argument stopped my hand, and shifted my focus from canvas to the listening. Firstly it introduced that Abraham Maslow actually never illustrate this diagram, and ---- 

“our theoretical discussion may have given the impression that these five sets of needs are somehow in a stepwise or non-relationship to each other. We have spoken such terms as the following: if one need is satisfied, then the other emerges. This statement might give the false impression that the need must be satisfied one hundred percent before the need emerges. In actual fact, most members of our society, who are normal, are partially satisfied in all their basic needs and patricianly unsatisfied in all the basic needs at the same time. A more realistic description of the hierarchy would be decreasing percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy of prepotency. For instance, if I may assign an arbitrary figure for the sake of the illustration, it is as if every citizen is satisfied perhaps 85% percent in his physiological need, 70% in his safety need, 50% in his love need, 40% in his self-esteem need and 10% in his self-actualisation need.” ---- (Abraham Maslow’s psychology of human needs, 2021)

It is almost impossible to track down whether the illustrator had studied Maslow's writing. But one thing is very clear: the diagram misinterprets Maslow's real idea. But in the first place, the word of Maslow's choice is leading; it is easy to connect "hierarchy" with "leap", and the pyramid shape further enhanced the visualisation of this movement, solidified a pre-occupied impression of "climbing up". The illustration is such a success that it was designed so straightforward and easily understood that almost everyone who comprehend the theory based on the chart could be misguided. 


When giving a lecture about being an illustrator, Mr Nigel Owens used a similar figure to address the connection between inspiration, creativity and market demand. He pointed out in the field of being a mainstream illustrator, the basic need would be the fulfilment of market demand, but elements that lead to self-actualisation such as artistic pursuit and theoretical development at the top are not fixed strictly in order; one can skip a certain level and simultaneously focus on two or multiple nonadjacent levels. He used the word "linear" to describe the sequence of "climbing up" while addressed the uncertainty of following this model. His lecture significant narrowed the contradiction in the misconstruction of Maslow's pyramid.

Fig 2 - 4, Illustration used in Mr Nigel Owens's lecture

Why people choose self-esteem over life? Why “give me liberty or give me death”? Why “Virtuous is Hui! A bamboo pot of ration, a gourdful of water, among a vulgar neighbourhood; Others care for the destitution, Hui but lives happily, while remembering his ambition brings him joy”. The five levels of needs should not be compartmentalised. Their dependency shift in different contexts, forming interesting intersections; however, but dependency is not the only pattern. A person could consider self-actualisation and morality more significant than life, and of course, compromises could be made when pursuing high targets. 

Hence I re-illustrated Maslow’s pyramid. 

Screenshot 2021-03-28 at 02.15.06.png

I kept the pyramid shape and the progression structure with the first illustration. My understanding was that "more abundant material foundation satisfies more needs"; the deeper colour means more overlayed translucent triangles, which eventually merges into space where all demands are met. But the composition still contains linearity, which means geometrically, the highest and the lowest need only intersects at its infinitely thin side. Therefore it is still incorrect. 

Screenshot 2021-03-28 at 02.28.10.png

The complexity of this chart unavoidably became the primary concern. It failed to be as simple and straightforward as the classic inaccurate pyramid. I thought about the efficiency of immersive learning, which is to interpret Maslow’s idea through guiding the audience to explore. Hence I went to Gyllyngvase Beach in a humid, dim morning.


The work reflects the previous writing about land art and landscape identity, although the size of the work perhaps is more suitable for the name “beach work”. I can’t argue that I “defined a landscape, decreased entropy” and act as what Smithson conceptualised. Placing a rational pattern on a site that massively involves in local daily life and tourism seems just invented a difficulty to understand the beach as a landscape entity at the very moment the work was finished. I cannot make every interactor repeatedly listen to the radio programme until they can retell at least 80% of its content. The only logical solution seems against what land artists trying to avoid: extracting the work from the entropic ocean and relocate/return it to an environment in which it infinitely tends to be an interactive installation. The tricky part is, the motivation for audiences who are less familiar with Maslow’s theory to “leap sides”, “cross areas” requires a mechanism of encouragement. A positive feedback mechanism like providing a sense of achievement seems to be very logical. Perhaps a line on the beach could be replaced by a more narrow and deeper trench with water floats in it, or perhaps reachable objects could be placed in certain areas and lure audiences to examine.


I maintained an industrial civilisation’s philosophy of “the economic base determines the superstructure” and directly translated the sketch into the real world. Visitors could choose to experience “a grand unification of all foundations”, or they can stand on the farthest point of a certain triangle, experiences the sense of alienation of achieving only one specific need. A characteristic of this shape is its flexibility. Five levels of needs are not presented here with a particular order; audiences could freely imagine what demands they have as their pre-condition and unify demands into self-actualisation through walking. It does not need references to argue that many academicians have been working for adding more levels to the pyramid. The beach work, like their newly constructed pyramid, can be expanded in both size and scale; hence whichever need they recently defined, it can be located in a specific intersection. Among all those multifarious geometric figures, there is always one that represents the miraculous creativity mentioned by Mr Owens ---- beyond linearity, but not unreachable.

Screenshot 2021-03-28 at 02.24.09.png

The new design can be transformed and maintain the classic pyramid shape. Unfortunately, the overlaying translucent figures are still not understandable without word description.



Abraham Maslow’s psychology of human needs, 2021. [TV programme] World Service: BBC News.

Maslow (1908 - 1970) Hierarchy of needs. 5 or 7 levels? Useful or useless?, M., 2021. Maslow (1908 - 1970) Hierarchy of needs. 5 or 7 levels? Useful or useless?. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 March 2020].

Figure List

Figure 1, n.d. Hierarchy of Needs. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 8 March 2021].

Figure 2, 3, 4, 2021. Screenshot at the lecture given by Nigel Owens. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 March 2021].

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