I strayed into the architects’ camp last week through a series of events, starting with the opening of Daniel Libeskind’s stunning pavilion outside London’s Serpentine Gallery and culminating in the award of the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal to French architectural star Jean Nouvel. But instead of feeling the threat to designers that prompted Callum Lumsden to set up the Interiors Forum a year ago, I felt I was entering a parallel universe from which we in design can learn.
Granted, the average age at last week’s gatherings was ten to 20 years above the norm for a comparable design fest and there was a smattering of knighthoods in the throng, but the passion for the subject was evident. This passion, coupled with deep technical knowhow and a confidence in the cultural heritage of a profession spanning well over 150 years, came across in the persuasive presentations put forward by architects in the first IF debate, which pitched design against architecture (DW 24 May). The designers won on that occasion, but their arguments were shallow and ill-prepared in comparison.
Nor was the RIBA event a closed shop. Design Week columnist Hugh Pearman and fellow journalist Janet Street-Porter were among the 35 engineers, gallery operators, artists and others to receive RIBA honorary fellowships for their support of architecture, at the time of Nouvel’s award.
There is an overlap between architecture and design. Nouvel has, for example, created furniture for the likes of Belgian manufacturer Bulo, among others. Meanwhile, furniture created for the German Reichstag and made by Thonet sits among the models for a host of multimillion pound projects at the exhibition of Foster & Partners’ work at the British Museum. But these are only a part of the output of these prolific practices and are often the direct result of an architectural scheme.
The real interest lies in the differences. Design has much to learn from the vision of architects at the top end of the profession. There is a genuine exploration of space, light and technology there, and a strong relationship to art – something the Serpentine Gallery has latched on to, commissioning Zaha Hadid last year and Libeskind this to create a pavilion to complement its avant garde art shows. Architects, meanwhile, could benefit from designers’ common touch and commercial awareness, and could benefit from more repeat orders.
There is good in both camps and much to share. The IF should stop seeing architects as the enemy, but as a complementary profession and welcome them into its midst – the few, that is, who may be encouraged to go there.