Craft and Technology

Can the sensibilities of interior designers enrich the inventions of architects?

I’m about to fly west to participate in three forums: the Art Center Design Conference, in Pasadena; NeoCon West, in Los Angeles; and the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) International Conference, in Scottsdale, Arizona. As it turns out, the three events together represent our evolving preoccupations here at Metropolis: we probe the meanings and practices of craft in the digital age, examine designers’ personal and professional journeys toward sustainability, and somehow connect it all to technology.

As I think about my upcoming appearance at IDEC, where I’ll deliver the closing keynote, a recent experience got me thinking about the gap between the way architects and interior designers render spaces. At Interiors 06—the national convention of the American Society of Interior Designers, in Nashville—I observed the work of students from several local design schools. What struck me was the missing evidence of technology. There were lovely material boards, collaged meticulously together as interior designers have been doing for decades to show the textures and colors of the furnishings—the essence of the spas, offices, and residences caught in the choice of objects and finishes—but no computer renderings.

On my flight home I thought about the images I plan to show at IDEC: the algorithmic work of Greg Lynn, Hernan Diaz Alonso, and our newest Next Generation® winner, Virginia San Fratello—architects rethinking materials and forms at an almost molecular scale, reshaping buildings, interiors, and objects with the aid of mathematical formulas. These inventive new forms challenge every idea we have about the look and feel of our built environments, as well as how we build them. San Fratello’s water- and heat-storing walls have flowing, twisting facades that go beyond our understanding of “organic.” They look like a whole new species.

So how do we reconcile this technical wizardry in one discipline against the craft-centered approach of a related profession? The obvious answer is to encourage interior designers to get more tech savvy, but there’s more to it than that. What if emotionally connected interior designers could engage in human-centered conversations with techie architects about making buildings and rooms that give meaning to our everyday lives? What if together they took care of our desire for invention and our need to belong to a safe, comfortable, and beautiful place? Indeed, what if?

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