3 Darlings I’d Like to Kill

Posted on Nov 19, 2016 in design, teaching | No Comments

Last week was a disaster on the political front, so I am going to tackle some itty bitty evils just to get in practice for the larger ones we will be struggling with for years. Specifically, there are 3 things I am really tired of seeing in student projects, and I can basically guarantee that I will see all of them in any given class.

The first one is easy to categorize as dereliction of assignment duty, since this studio is for students who are trying to be interiors professionals, and that is selecting furniture that doesn’t actually exist. It has been “departmental culture” in the past to privilege computer renderings to a degree unsupported by their use in actual offices, and usually at the cost of actual design time and effort. I have seen renderings where the sun is low in the north (in projects well north of the equator) and others where everything is mysteriously and evenly well lit despite the complete absence of light fixtures. Even now, when we, the teachers, have been given the go-ahead to push back hard on the assumptions that renderings are the true product, students are outspoken and reluctant to wean themselves off the habit of filling their portfolios with pretty and vapid imagery. What’s more, they don’t have any intentions of doing the work on their own time. And one of the tasks that falls by the wayside in consequence is the selection of furniture, which is supposed to be a major part of their preparation for work. Of course, there are plenty of unremarkable and basically interchangeable office tables and chairs, but rather than convince me that they know that, or even in extreme cases that they have any idea whatsoever where furniture comes from (that student was the child of a furniture factory manager, no less), they pick out something imaginary from Revit City and just plop things down more or less wherever. I wouldn’t even mind it if their choices were generic, but there is this really unusual boomerang-shaped reception desk they are drawn to like flies, and also one particular conference table and projector screen combo that looks to be right out of ST:TNG. Memorable and nonexistent, both of them, and actually quite unattractive into the bargain.

The second foul is more nebulous, and it’s something I’ll call “texture concepts.” We teach according to a fairly standard notion of design development where students begin to formulate their individual creative responses to the assignment with some kind of master concept, something like what architects might call a parti. For architects, the parti is the most stripped-down expression of what you’re doing with the constructed space; it’s like “box in a box” or “wedge taken out of a ring” or “tower and a hole” or something like that. The interiors students are not nearly as predisposed to understand their work so spatially and abstractly, and I have my suspicions about whatever formulas they may have picked up from other teacher before I get them, because in my studio, concepts tend to be more like “playground” or “double vision” or “camera through time” or “saluting military dogs” and not always anything that’s going to help them actually arranging spaces. These concepts are more like titles—catchy, but meaning very little when it comes to making plot decisions. And the “texture concept” subset (scales! camo! feathers! ripples! algae! tree bark!) is maybe even worse, since unless you are especially committed to exploring a little off-topic, none of these ideas really go more than skin deep, so to speak. You could do just anything, really, and then you render it skinned with the appropriate jpg file and you’re all good to go, except there’s not even an instant of real design thinking involved.

The final egregious design choice is gratuitous stadium stairs. Yes, they look kind of fun and dramatic, but they also really presume that the people using them are young adults, probably wearing pants. They also seem to provide informal meeting space, but if you think about your own experiences in bleachers, you know you really only have the two people on either side of you as potential conversation partners. Likewise, I feel sorry for the janitorial staff that has to clean them, if you think about lugging a vacuum or mop bucket up onto them. Finally, at least in an actual stadium there’s something to see in the direction everyone’s facing, but often under the guidance of my students, the stairs face directly into a wall, hopefully but not always one with something to look at (plants, a screen, rarely a window). They become a massive sculptural object that serves relatively few people, and none of them well. When you put them in a room, everything else looks too small and ephemeral. However, you can’t really use them in isolation either because you do have to be thinking also of someone in a wheelchair—or maybe young adults who broke their legs on the trendy office furniture but who still want to have lunch with their friends.

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