Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

A series of connected settings

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

I recently read an article by Andrew Blum in Gensler‘s Dialogue discussing the workplace of 2006. Recognizing current competitive pressures on companies to innovate and collaborate both within and outside of their organizations, Blum explores the role of the workplace in supporting the free flow of ideas and information. He states:

Given the demands that are placed on it today, the workplace is becoming a series of connected settings that support each person’s workday while keeping him or her linked up with others across a larger social network.

To foster innovation, Blum argues, employees must have ready face-to-face access to other people. The ability to overhear each other so they can keep pace with what’s going on in the office and to see each other so they can spontaneously group together to discuss an idea or accomplish a task are key concepts in today’s workplace. Workplace design makes this happen.

The goal, then, is to create workplaces where employees feel energized, have access to the people they need, and feel free to generate ideas and initiate conversations. This might take the form of open settings, teaming areas, workbench desking, shared offices or neighborhoods, or home-like gathering places. Blum suggests that the most successful workplace design is taking its cue from retail, building culture by creating a “hospitable and engaging” experience for employees and a “‘buzz’ that helps foster a more dynamic office culture.”

This notion of the workplace as a “series of connected settings” is what I hope to explore in depth for my graduate thesis in Interior Design over the next year.

Green roofs

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Last summer I downloaded Google Earth so I could locate my daughter’s new apartment in New York City. Google Earth, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a free program that will take you anywhere in the world – plug in an address and you have a aerial photograph of that place in a couple of seconds. Zoom in or out for a smaller or larger view. So I did, finding my daughter’s neighborhood and her new apartment building right away, nestled in a fairly solid block of other 4-story buildings south of Houston Street.

The interesting thing about an aerial photograph of New York City is the sea of flat grey and black roofs. A few trees struggle up between the buildings providing a spot of green here and there, but mostly you see concrete, stone, and asphalt. Mile after mile.

So I was delighted when the September 2006 issue of Metropolis appeared in my mailbox. Its lead article features green roof technologies, highlighting several pioneering projects in Chicago, Long Island City, Washington, Boston, and Liuzhou, China. This is a technology that deserves a lot more attention. Picture New York City as a sea of green rooftops and you begin to see the potential.

One of the projects Metropolis zeros in on is Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan. Silvercup has installed the largest green roof in New York, using a system of membranes and planting modules manufactured by GreenTech.

Long Island City was once heavily industrial, but its buildings are now being transformed into other uses. Apparently the city has lots of flat roofs, more than 26 million square feet of flatness that could be outfitted with green-roof technology – over 55% of the neighborhood. Move the idea across the East River and out to other cities and towns and you would have incredible benefits.

Ponder these facts, taken from the article:

  • Percent of 2005 population living in cities: 49
    In 2030: 60
  • Rise in average global temperature between 1900 and 2000: 1 to 1.5 degrees F
    Between 2000 and 2100: 3-5 degrees F
  • Fraction of U.S. energy that goes toward cooling buildings: 1/6
  • Temperature of a conventional roof membrane on a 95 degree day: 158 degrees
    Of a green-roof membrane on the same day: 77 degrees
  • Heat loss of green roof compared to conventional roof: 18 percent less
  • Reduction in summer cooling needed for a one-story building with a four-inch grass roof compared to one with a conventional roof: 25%
  • Stormwater retention rate of green roof compared to conventional roofing material: up to 6 times greater

Green roofs provide great insulation for buildings leading to lower energy consumption and they reduce stormwater runoff, but they also decrease the temperature of surrounding urban areas, clean the air, look beautiful, and create rooftop living spaces for people and wildlife.

Unfortunately, green-roof technology is just getting going. Metropolis Executive Editor Martin Pederson sums it up:

‘The Green Roofing of America’ certainly has a nice ring to it, but the idea remains more wishful thinking than reality. True, there are more green roofs in operation than ever before, but the bulk of new construction is built without any environmental considerations at all. Still, in this era of dwindling resources and rising temperatures, it’s worth noting that even the most banal green roof (think grass) offers real and lasting benefits. Like hybrid cars, green roofs look to us like an ecological no-brainer: an obvious solution to intractable problems.

Lighting lessons + a primer

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

My current lighting class is almost over. Here’s some of what I learned.

First, the traditional lighting that most of us have in our homes – surface-mounted ceiling lights plus a virtual lighting store of table and floor lights – is terrible. The ceiling fixtures glare and create unflattering light on everyone and everything. The table lamps light the tables, but that’s about it.

Case in point: The lighting in my living room now consists of five table lamps (we just kept adding them because it was never light enough) and a ceiling fan with a light globe attached. We never turn on that ceiling globe because it is blinding, so we rely on the five table lamps to light the space. But it still feels dark, even when they are all turned on. When I measured the footcandle levels in in the room, I learned that it really was dark, majorly dark.

Second, although there are a lot of ways to successfully illuminate a house, wading through the enormous selection of luminaires available on the market is daunting. (See my post on indoor lighting for a sampling of firms that sell lamps or luminaires.) These products don’t come cheap either. To fix the lighting problems in my house I’d have to redo every room, tearing out walls, snaking wires, patching, and repainting. If I had time and money, I’d do it; I certainly can’t afford to hire someone else. I hate to think that good lighting may be one of the privileges of the rich.

Third, lighting involves a intense numbers game to distinguish among and choose from the various kinds of lamps on the market suitable for residential installation – from the ubiquitous incandescent A lamp, through halogen, compact fluorescent, and linear fluorescent, to the newer fiber optic and LED lights. Each one of these comes with its own beam spread, color temperature, color rendering index, base type, and photometric data. And then there are all the calculations – watts, volts, footcandles, footlamberts, etc – that one must do, or at least understand, to get the lighting just right. I’m good at numbers, but the sheer volume of all this information has me floored. The lighting professionals may have it all down (plus they have access to computer programs that do the calculating), but if I don’t have a handle on it after two lighting classes, then certainly the un-schooled homeowner hasn’t got a chance. (Commercial lighting is another beast altogether, with still more lamp choices. Because I chose a residential project for my current class project, I didn’t even touch on commercial this semester.)

So what can ordinary people do? Learn a bit about lighting design. Here’s a quick primer.

But first, some terminology. A “lamp” is the trade term for a light bulb. A “luminaire” is the term for a light fixture, often called a lamp in common parlance (e.g. table lamp, floor lamp). Luminaires are designed for specific lamp types, but each type may have a wide range of choices in wattage, beam spreads, color temperature, and ability to render color accurately. A “footcandle” is a measure of the amount of light that reaches a surface.

The main thing to remember is that good lighting consists of four different types or functions of lighting – ambient, accent, task, and “sparkle.” All of these need to be present in a given room or space to some degree, though sometimes one fixture can serve more than one function. The layers of different types of lighting create contrast, and that is what makes lighting exciting.

  • Ambient light is the background light that illuminates the whole room enough to eliminate dark corners and allow you to move through the space safely and perform general tasks. Whether this is low or bright depends on what kind of space it is – it might be lowish in a dining room, for example, but high in a wood shop. Good ambient lighting isn’t obvious. A bright ceiling downlight, for example, may light the room, but it glares in your eyes and creates unflattering shadows. A better choice for ambient lighting is to direct light up to the ceiling and let it reflect back into your room. You can do this with a built-in light cove near the top of your wall, with floor fixtures or wall sconces with opaque shades that shine only up, or even by placing small uplight fixtures on top your bookshelves.
  • Accent lighting is more concentrated lighting, usually directed at specific objects or room details, such as artwork, sculpture, a column, or a plant. Accent lights draw your eye toward the illuminated spot and create interest, but they don’t always provide good ambient light. Most track lighting and some recessed ceiling canisters make good accent lights, with the proper lamp. The beam spread of the lamp you put in your accent fixture will make a difference in the effect you get.
  • Task lighting provides light to successfully do specific or concentrated tasks, such as reading, working with tools, and cooking. Task lighting is brighter than ambient light and is directed where it’s needed, on the work surface. Here is where all those table lamps come into play. They are fine task lights, so long as they are placed so the light doesn’t shine in your eyes and the light is bright enough to see your work. An opaque or dark shade on your task lighting luminaire helps prevent glare and, so long as your ambient light is provided by other sources, won’t make your room too dark.
  • Sparkle is the lighting icing on the cake. For example, tiny white holiday lights and candles add sparkle to a space, as does light directed on a piece of crystal. Although sparkle is less important than the other three, it adds a feeling of liveliness and delight.

Even a couple of small changes in lighting can make a big difference in the feel of a room. Here’s what I’m going to try in my house until I have the time, energy, and money to chop up my ceilings and walls to run some new circuits.

  • Buy a bunch of small plug-in spotlights to place here and there. For instance, one on top the bookcase aimed toward the ceiling of my living room should provide some much-needed ambient light. One on the floor shining up behind a plant should do the same and yield some interesting shadow patterns.
  • Check my existing recessed ceiling fixtures to see if I’ve put the correct type of lamp in them so they’ll function as the accent lights they were meant to be.
  • Hang a big square of light-colored fabric below some of those glare bombs in my ceilings to try to diffuse them (far enough away so it doesn’t get hot).
  • Replace some of the ceiling downlights with tracks or fixtures that direct the light upward.

The most important thing I learned, however, is how crucial lighting is. An otherwise fabulous space will be boring in the wrong lighting and, conversely, a well-designed, layered lighting plan can perk up even the plainest space. Lighting breathes life into architecture.

Dark Sky

Monday, June 12th, 2006

If you were in a spacecraft looking back at the Earth at night, you would have no trouble seeing the evidence of habitation, for the earth glows with electric light. Although outdoor lighting serves security and economic purposes, its excessive use has created serious light pollution. The problem first came to public attention when astronomers working at observatories in the southwest United States noticed that their research efforts were thwarted by the light emanating from outdoor electric lights. But astronomers are not the only ones adversely affected by light pollution. Sky glow, glare, and spillover from outdoor lighting can create dangerous roadway conditions, and floodlight spilling onto personal property (“light trespass”) is not only a nuisance but can have adverse affects on people, plants, and animals.

  • Sky glow occurs in part from natural sources such as sunlight reflected off the moon, starlight, and atmospheric conditions, but most sky glow results from light that is emitted or reflected upward into the sky by unshielded or over-bright outdoor lights. Sky glow depends on weather conditions, the amount of dust and gas in the atmosphere, the amount of light, and the direction from which it is viewed. It is difficult to measure because it involves so many variables that change from moment-to-moment, but astronomers and lighting professionals are developing ways to record and evaluate sky brightness.
  • Light trespass occurs when light spills over into areas where it’s not wanted. For example, streetlights, floodlights, or advertising lights may shine through your window and right onto your pillow, making it hard for you to sleep. Like sky glow, light trespass is hard to measure because each instance is different and the whether it is “unwanted” is very subjective. Although light trespass has been largely ignored by modern lighting practices, it is coming under closer scrutiny and is the primary focus of many anti-light-pollution laws. In some cases, however, these laws are written by people with little or no professional lighting experience and often contain technical problems.
  • Glare is excessive and uncontrolled brightness that can be uncomfortable or disabling. Discomfort glare is annoying or painful; disability glare reduces visibility. In many commercial situations, premises are overlit with glaring lighting under the belief that an intense light level is required for security. In other instances, glare is created by advertising signage.

Unwanted light is a waste of money and energy. The International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness and resolving the problem of light pollution, performed an analysis of the costs of the excess light produced by streetlights in the United States. The study, set forth in an information sheet dated in 2000, considered the 175-watt dusk-to-dawn mercury vapor lamp widely used for yard lighting, security lighting, and street lighting. It assumed an annual operating cost for this lamp of approximately $70 per year, based on average energy costs at the time. In Tucson, Arizona, with a population of about 600,000, the local utility had over 20,000 of these lights, costing nearly 1.4 million dollars per year to operate (this figure is surely higher in 2006). The population of the United States is 500 times that of Tucson, so the Association estimated that the annual cost of operating this type of fixture throughout the United States was as much as $700 million. Because 30% of the light produced by mercury vapor streetlights is directed up into the sky where it is not used or needed, these lights waste about $200 million per year in operating costs alone. This figure increases when the environmental cost of generating the electricity to power these lights is taken into account.

To rectify light pollution, research and development efforts are underway to develop technology to direct light where it is needed, in the amount needed. For example, manufacturers are designing luminaires that are fully shielded on the top, directing the light beam only toward the ground and that reduce light levels to the lowest required for the application. Click here for the International Dark-Sky Association’s list of manufacturers of sky-friendly products and other resources.

Other associations such as the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), the Institute of Lighting Engineers (ILE), and the Commission Internationale de l’Eclairage (CIE) have developed or are developing classifications and guidelines for preventing light pollution. State and local governments are tightening their legislation controlling outdoor lighting, including requirements for shielded luminaries, lumen or wattage limitations, controlled operating periods, and the elimination of certain kinds of lighting.

Here’s an area where a little knowledge could go a long way. Including awareness of light pollution in all architecture, interior design, and engineering coursework and all lighting-related qualifying exams would help make more people aware of the issue. Let’s aim for a darker sky.

Here are a few more resources. A little research will find a lot more.


Friday, May 12th, 2006

In browsing through a website called HouseBlogs, I came upon House in Progress. This site is a diary of the restoration of a bungalow in Chicago. One entry, Uncluttered Living, Part I, sounded appealing, so I read on. Well, this post and the author’s subsequent Part II and Part III posts really touched home.

The author is a packrat at heart and so am I. Over the years, I’ve collected materials, tools, books, and sundry other things (see previous post, Tools) and it’s nearly impossible for me to let them go. After all, someday I might need something . . . and, to tell the truth, I frequently do need something and it’s satisfyingly handy to go down to my basement and simply bring it up. This packrat tendency does lead to an almost oppressive abundance, however, and the author has some good approaches for reducing the clutter.

Nevertheless, it is not these suggestions that I find the most compelling about this post. Rather, it is the author’s comments on design. She seques into design through an analysis of why she feels driven to save everything, concluding, in part, that her stuff allows her to “distract my eye from the room itself.” Thinking back to apartments she had lived in in the past, she notes that the actual size of the apartment was less important than how the apartment was conceived and built. The space in which she felt the least comfortable was one of the biggest, but was “a dwelling that symbolized a complete failure of imagination.” Awkward room shapes, cheap materials, drab colors, and dead end passageways left her feeling “itchy and restless.” She contrasts that apartment with another much smaller space that she loved that had well-maintained hardwood floors and lots of natural light.

Here’s her conclusion, which I think is right on all points:

Now I am beginning to get it. The design of the space needs to stand on its own. So much so that if I moved into a room with only a large pillow and a vase of tulips, I could call it welcoming and warm and live comfortably there.

“The design of the space needs to stand on its own.” This is what one of my professors was attempting to get across when he objected to the nice plants I wanted to plop down in the corners of one of my school projects. At the time I ruffled my feathers a bit – I love plants and this seemed a bit snobbish – but now I too am beginning to get it. Good design really does make the difference between an “itchy” space and one that is livable and alive.

So what are the keys to good design? If I had the answer I’d probably be rich, but at the minimum good design requires truly thinking about the problems of a space and the needs of the humans that will occupy it. My sense is that bad design occurs when it’s cheap, fast, and what-we’ve-always-done.

Thinking about this stirs me up. I’m appreciative of the training I’ve had, extraordinarily eager to learn more, and – I’m not sure what words to use – incredulous, exasperated, and bordering on belligerant about the preponderance of poor design. So, other than finishing school and getting that first job so I can actually put my passion about this to practical use, what’s next? Perhaps I’ll start with my closets.

On history

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

I feel as if I should write about history. I’ve just finished my school year, which included three courses on the history of architecture and interior design, and clearly there should be plenty to say, but no one period, building, interior, or piece of furniture inspired me to click on “write post.” When I look back at the entire year, however, I realize that the three courses did give me something valuable – a stronger sense that the “modern” life of today is not the be-all end-all, but is just another instant in the continuously developing story of humankind. Clearly, this is not a novel idea, but what’s new for me is that history now seems quite real and exciting.

But back to history and how I came to appreciate it.

History is one of those subjects that is either completely engrossing or totally boring. When I was in high school, I hated it. I don’t even remember my teachers, which probably means they were not very skilled, but I do remember how deadly dull the textbooks and the curriculum were – strings of dates, military events, political leaders, all presented in stilted, repetitive language. It was not a story of how life was; it was a list of the political-military conquests of white men. Not that this can’t be interesting, but it’s certainly not the whole picture and I couldn’t identify.

College offered better exposure to history through sociology, anthropology, Shakespeare, and music and art history courses and, since then, I’ve periodically delved into various history topics. Still, I kept thinking I didn’t like history based on that old high school dread.

This school year I took History I, History II, and Modern Architecture, the first two of which were required. I expected to have to trudge through these courses, but I was surprised to find that I actually loved all of them. Each class seemed to supply a piece of a puzzle. What that puzzle was was initially unclear, but now I can see it – it’s the story of the continuum of human development and how we fit into it.

History I began with ancient Egypt, a culture whose art and architecture reflected complex notions of religion and social hierarchy. The class progressed through Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages, and into the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, focusing on what life was like in those times and how the architecture responded. The story of the development of human civilization is entangled in the structures and art of these cultures. I was struck by the exponentially increasing pace of advancement as I studied each culture. Ancient Egyptian culture lasted thousands of years – the Industrial Revolution has been going on a mere two hundred. It’s dizzying.

History II covered the 18th and 19th centuries and was more about furniture than architecture. I kind of hit the wall during this class as the chairs, commodes, and tables all began to look alike to me, but what they revealed about the progression of thought, economics, craftsmanship, urban development, technology, and social and artistic attitudes in the 18th and 19th centuries provided a great background to understanding contemporary times. These centuries were the precursors to the Modern Era in so many ways and having studied this progression, I now have a greater appreciation for that period of history and its impact on our lives today.

Modern Architecture covered architectural history from the mid-19th century to the present. The course helped me understand the who, what, when, where, and why of the forms and lines used in architecture today. Going back to the beginning of various modern styles and learning what was happening in the world at large and the social pressures to which the designers responded has made me see modern work in a new light. These modern buildings are not just structures; they embody the thoughts, emotions, and technology not only of their designers but also of the times during which they were built.

Ultimately, history is about understanding our place in time and why life is the way it is today. Today is merely a continuation of yesterday, and tomorrow will simply be the next step. In a sense, nothing is new – everything has a past, be it technological or inspiration of line or form. It’s understanding these links with past societies, thoughts, designs, and people that make history so important and give us a vision for the future.

Open building

Friday, April 28th, 2006

I recently received a copy of Fine Homebuilding‘s annual Houses issue (No. 179, Summer 2006). In the takingissue feature, entitled “A dismal standard,” Tedd Benson, whose company Bensonwood Homes builds timber-frame houses, discusses the decline in quality of traditional stick-built houses. He argues that this method, now largely accomplished in a chaotic and inefficient manner by relatively unskilled subcontractors, too often leads to poor construction and yields houses that lack the flexibility to adapt to new technologies and changing needs. Such structures are ultimately inefficient and environmentally suspect.

Looking to Europe for inspiration, his company has adopted Open Building principals and created a system called Open-Built which separates the primary systems in a house into six distinct entities, allowing each to be constructed independent of the others and, as a result, easily changed over the life of the house. He builds using pre-fabricated components that can be assembled off-site and put together in a customized configuration on site. He describes the system in his white paper:

Open Building (OB) is an innovative approach to design and construction that enhances the efficiency of the building process, while increasing the variety, flexibility and quality of the product. In the OB perspective, the building is viewed as a well-organized combination of systems and sub-systems, each of which can be carefully coordinated to ensure a better process and product for the homeowner and a parallel positive outcome for the building professionals. The major systems include the building site, the structural envelope, the division of space inside the building, the plumbing, wiring, heating/cooling, and the cabinets, furniture and other stuff that people put inside the building. By disentangling the systems and sub-systems from each other, opportunities are increased for better organization, increased consistency, quality and more control and flexibility for the homeowner.

I have no idea of the quality of Tedd Benson’s work or if his Open-Built system is as good as he claims, but the idea makes a lot of sense. Perhaps high-end, architect-designed custom homes are well-built, but the majority of homes constructed by builders, particularly those in tract developments, are indeed poorly built. With no motive other than profit, large traditional construction companies have little reason to go to the additional expense that careful building and quality materials may require. Poorly-built houses create enormous waste and environmental damage, yet this system is so firmly engrained that it isn’t likely to change without some compelling and truly viable alternatives. Whether Benson’s system provides a solution, or even a partial-solution, remains to be seen, but it seems to be a step outside the box of traditional thinking, and that is promising.

Good for Tedd Benson for his efforts to come up with a solution to a serious problem.

Specialists vs Generalists . . . a medical analogy

Friday, April 14th, 2006

In thinking about specialists vs. generalists in the design field (see my post of January 4, 2006), I was reminded of a friend and her rounds with medical specialists. Here’s her story:

Seven or eight years ago my friend, who was rarely ill and never a complainer, began to have headaches. At first she ignored them, but after a while it began to bother her enough to see her internist. The internist told her she was doing sit-ups wrong and prescribed a muscle relaxant. The drug made her sick and avoiding the gym made her sluggish, but neither eliminated the headaches. Over the next few years, she worked with two different physical therapists, enrolled in yoga and tai chi, and got new glasses. No help. She went to a neurologist who said, “It’s a stressful world, dear. Just relax.” She went to an orthopedist who discovered two slipped discs which, by their position, suggested arm pain (which she didn’t have) but not necessarily headaches. She went to a neurosurgeon who told her to come back when she couldn’t use her hands anymore. She got an ergonometric office chair, she tried different pillows, she tried stretching. She still has the headaches.

The point of this rather long-winded litany is that none of the many specialists she saw bothered to make the slightest attempt to look beyond their specialties to figure out what was really going on with her headaches. My friend believes her problem has a solution and that it is just a matter of looking at it from the right angle – a task she counted on the medical profession to help her with.

On the other hand, I have another friend who has a son who was recently hospitalized with a complex illness. My friend had the highest praise for the doctors who cared for his son. His son was treated by specialists, but the difference is they worked together as a team, discussing his son’s case among them.

When I originally began to consider this analogy based on the experience of my friend with headches, I meant to make a cautionary point regarding increasing specialization in design, but now that I have seen my second friend’s contrasting positive experiences, I am not so sure the same conclusion can be drawn. I still believe over-specialization and lack of a “big picture” perspective raises the risk that something will be overlooked in a complex design project, but I’m really beginning to understand the benefits of a solid team of specialists. Perhaps the perfect design team would consist of a lot of specialists to drill down to the details and a couple of generalists (or versatilists) to watch out for the overall vision and direction of the project. I’m eager to get out of school and find out.

Musings on the Modern Era

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

Students and practitioners of interior design and architecture need a grasp of history, not so much so they can identify old buildings or historic furniture (though this may be useful), but so they can understand the intellectual, social, and artistic underpinnings of modern times. I’ve been doing some research for a presentation on Art Deco for my History of Interiors class this semester and have come across a great deal of discussion of the “Modern Era” – when it began and what it was that made it “modern.”

Scholars differ broadly in defining when the Modern Era began, but I would place its roots in the 18th century, for this was the time that modern notions of society, law, and education really began. The 18th century in Europe was the Age of Enlightenment – an era of unprecedented intellectual growth. Although the Enlightenment involved only the aristocracy, it set the stage for humanism, scientific discovery, and a general questioning of political and social systems. In essence, modern thought was born. The 18th century also saw the beginnings of a middle class and the birth of notions of social equality and fairness. Scientific inquiry, humanism, and social reform are key components of modern life and the existence of a middle class was critical to the development of modern economic systems.

The 18th century contained its roots, but the Modern Era sprouted in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution. Inventions and scientific discoveries led to mass production of goods which the growing middle class increasingly consumed. By the end of the century the world was linked by railroads, telegraphs, and telephones. Electric power lit up the expanding cities and the first combustion engine automobiles were in production. Inventors were on the verge of developing manned aircraft. Everything was new; anything seemed possible.

Industrialization created social problems, however, and the reform movements that hoped to rectify these issues also became part and parcel of modern life.

Art, architecture, and design movements of the 19th century were concerned with reform, but by the turn of the century the focus began to switch to what would become a common characteristic of all Modern Era design – a desire to express the essence of the times. For example, the Arts and Crafts movement of the mid-19th century reacted against the impersonalization of mechanization and expressed a widely-shared nostalgia for the simple and honest life. In the 1890’s, however, Art Nouveau strongly reflected the times, embodying the sensuousness of Parisian life in elegant organic forms.

By the early 20th century, the Modern Era was in full bloom. The first decade saw an explosion of architectural and design approaches that sought to capture the essence of contemporary times, including the Vienna Secession, Futurism, Expressionism, the Deutscher Werkbund, the De Stijl group, the beginnings of Modernism, and Art Deco. In art Cubism piqued the imagination of the intelligencia and provided inspiration to designers all over the world.

World War I interrupted the idylicism of the first decade of the new century. The war shocked people of all nations into a new sense of globalization and promise, but also a new sense of disillusionment and insecurity. By the 1920s, the pace of life was dizzying: commercial airplanes and high-speed intercontinental railroads made international travel possible; radio and film brought new voices and new idols to the public; big business and advertising created a consumer society characterized by desire and extravagance; new inventions and materials enabled the production of a vast array of consumer goods; women enjoyed new freedoms; and the middle class attained new economic power. The overall focus of post-war times was speed – escalating invention, fast modes of transportation, long-distance communication.

Modern designers responded. Some, such as the Modernists who espoused the International Style, designed for the intellectual and economic elite, striving to simplify architecture and furniture to basic geometric elements. Others, such as many Art Deco designers, aimed for the consuming public, taking full advantage of manufactured materials and processes and incorporating geometric, streamlined forms to express the pace of modern life. The forms created by architects and designers in the first three decades of the century are unmistakably modern and remain in use in the 21st century.


Friday, March 3rd, 2006

Teamwork is important in interior design. Until recently, when I thought of teamwork, I envisioned a soccer squad or perhaps a few people comparing notes around a conference table. Although I can cheer myself hoarse at a soccer game, teamwork in a business context has often seemed rather ho-hum.

However, after participating in IIDA’s 2006 Student Mentoring Week in January (see my post of February 11, 2006 for additional comments on this experience), I really began to appreciate the value of teamwork. Of course, I knew that design firms organized projects by teams and that they often called in outside consultants to assist, but the teamwork that I witnessed during my day shadowing a representative from furniture manufacturer Herman Miller was much more.

In commercial furniture procurement, an lot of people have vital roles to play. Designers create concepts, develop designs, and specify products, relying on manufacturers’ representatives to educate them about their choices. Dealers plan layouts, place orders, coordinate installation, and provide services after installation. Manufacturing plants build and ship orders and freight companies haul the goods to drop-off facilities, which in turn deliver the furniture to the jobsite. Each of these players takes on a portion of the procurement process to get the project done – and the effort is impressive. Even though the team members work for different organizations and sit in different offices, they’re really working together as a team to get the project done.

An interior architecture project is much more than furniture, however. Consider the time required for designing, specifying, ordering, and installing drywall, flooring, wallcoverings, ceilings, lighting, HVAC, safety systems, and all the other components of an interiors project, each of which has a grid of participants much like those occupied in furniture procurement, and it becomes obvious that the amount of work involved in bringing a design project from concept to completion is mind-boggling. Clearly, a finished interior involves more than the work of a single individual or even the efforts of the hard-working members of the design firm team. It involves complicated coordination and cooperation between dozens of people and organizations.

This is the larger project team, without which a project wouldn’t get done. The importance of each and every one of the many players on this team is what I discovered during my Mentoring Week experience, re-defining in my mind what may be the most important word in design – teamwork.