Mix your disciplines for dynamic designs

The debate continues as to whether architects or designers are best equipped to handle interior spaces (see Feature, page 30).

The debate continues as to whether architects or designers are best equipped to handle interior spaces (see “Features”). Architects maintain they are more adept at creating “quality” space and of moving people through it, and have a better grasp of materials. Designers, meanwhile, claim to have a deeper concern with people and their needs, more of an awareness to the emotional impact of colour and texture on an environment and keen commercial cunning.

Designers tend to see architects as haughty, part of a “profession” believing its work to have deep cultural significance. Conversely, some architects dismiss the interior designers “trade” as based on the temporary and on fashion and too caught up in commercial concerns.

Both arguments carry some truth, but so what? Surely, no one design discipline can claim prowess in an area flavoured by individual talent and experience.

Architects have long been involved in interiors. Glasgow’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh and US great Frank Lloyd Wright are fêted for their attention to every detail in the buildings they created. Nor is exhibition work a novelty – the 1951 Festival of Britain was more the work of architects than the contents of the Greenwich Dome. What has created the current tension between the disciplines is the upsurge of design as a quasi-profession at a time when consumers are more exacting and clients more commercially-driven than architectural patrons of the past.

But anyone can be inspired and practical skills can be learned. As long as statutory requirements are met, where is the problem with an architect or a designer taking on an interiors job, as long as they are the best person to do it?

The best results often come when complementary professions collaborate, within a consultancy or on a project team. Architect Alan Stanton and designer Paul Williams have, through consultancy Stanton Williams, created shows at London’s Hayward Gallery and fashion shops for Issey Miyake; Rasshied Din’s architect partner John Harvey, meanwhile, has a great track record in shops – for Nicole Farhi and others – and restaurants; Nick Grimshaw and Norman Foster put product designers on their teams.

Callum Lumsden of Lumsden Design Partnership, a furniture designer by training, has called a meeting of top interior designers next month under the auspices of the Design Business Association. The aim is to attack issues affecting a sector of design used to crossing boundaries. Architects and exhibition specialists will no doubt be there – and so they should if the agenda is to move forward.

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