Analogue to Digital
A Digital Disconnect.
Sitting at my desk overlooking Placa Reial the large surrounding office contained flat desks, mostly supporting AO drawing boards with various types of parallel motions poised to support pens and set squares. Partially constructed models were set to one side, in fact my desk was littered with bits of cardboard, photocopied sheets, glue, rulers, several sketches, and an under construction 1:20000 model of a proposed new residential area in Paris. To my left a secure room contains huge grey boxes with tiny black and green screens. In the corner an even bigger grey and steel device moves up and down slowly, the sound of scraping metal on metal grated: the plotter was producing the latest master plan of the Barcelona Olympics. One or two senior staff work on the cad files and collate all the other collaborators practice drawings, mainly analogue, painstakingly piecing together the proposal for the whole city.
The computer room was a den of mystery and intrigue, only the chosen few encouraged to cross the threshold and play in the electrical scented environment.Everyone avoided the room, partly in fear of breaking anything, but more importantly the main office space was light and airy, a comfortable human place, where pens, paper, parallels, erasers and blades cohabited happily, the ordered chaos of creativity and production, a positive place to be.
To my mind, Barcelona was one of the last western 'hand made' cities, on the cusp of the digital revolution. The last place that practices, working on large complex projects such as the Olympics pulling together ideas, in an analogue way, drawing and making, but tantalisingly seeing it for the first time as a digital rendition. What a beautiful project it turned out to be, designed for the people and occupation.
My journey through education and practice has straddled the shift from analogue to digital. My interiors education at Kingston under Fred Scott and Brian Kernaghan was a celebration of making, drawing and doing. Straight forward briefs led to a joyous search for resolutions and built realities.
Post Catalunia, I peddled my skills in London, designing making and testing with JUGGERNAUT searching and seeking, then through ANARCHITECT progressing this knowledge, revelling in wood, metal, stone and plastic, cutting, fixing, measuring , applying, 1:100 to 1:1 a search for beauty in the mundane and the real.
Today, some design offices banish the handmade to a small room, perhaps an annex of what is left of a material library. The physical working model or material investigation taking up space, taking time to produce; the mess of human activity upsetting the equilibrium and the virtual. Presentation models made for publication or exhibition still hold value but the working model for experimenting and testing seems much less relevant in this consumer world where pressure, face and finance are king.
Thus it follows that, in education, the need to produce physical artefacts which challenge and test expectations has diminished to the point of almost irrelevance. It seems normal for students to bed themselves comfortably behind LCD screens, Pintrest, ’MDF wood’ and uncritical thoughts, preparing for the real world. Perhaps the pressure of the modern university experience makes it difficult for this analogue methodology to be delivered and assessed. The initial support that CAD originally offered, enabling creative thinking, has eroded crucial aspects of design practise .Thinking through making is a critical aspect of what we do.
Think, explore, make, refine. Repeat.
Creative behaviour requires play and engagement, design resolution requires testing with increasing constraints, ideally, physically with drawing, using material, making a model and making artifacts.
It's a brain, hand, eye agreement.
It engages the senses, employs instinct and gut and searching for solutions is all part of this process. Through practice and with experience, it becomes an intuitive skill, but the learning of this is essential and painstaking process is integral.
Interior education which only emphasises resolution or try's to outsmart the next person, misses the point, needing rather to encourage play and exploration. A sure foot is required to explore stripped back thinking relying on a more spiritual thought process and applying simple clear objectives.
Interiors has always had that uneasy relationship with architecture. However the differences are the fundamental strengths of the subject; unregulated and free, operating and exploring, unrestricted to open up potentials. I wonder whether regulated tutoring offers the best opportunities with these relaxed boundaries.
It is a relatively straightforward subject, it celebrates the existing world and colourful narratives, but it also engages on a human scale, space, light, materials all of which require first hand physical engagement. This is far from just conceptual thinking or mechanical CAD application, it grasps reality by the throat and demands exploration and resolution.
Craft, a misunderstood subject, fundamental to the Interiorist, the craft of the plan, the craft of the surface, the craft of the space and of the fabrication. To explore craft, to expand the possibilities of space, materials and human connection we must make and do, then ponder and use our laptops... but make and do again. It is not mechanical this process, although the final outcome might be 3D printed or CNC'D from some extreme exotic material, it is a combination of skills, intuition, practice, and chance.
Interiors is distinct as it usually deals with a host. The existing embraces its thinking, it is a close relationship, one can't normally exist without the other, or if it does, it alters beyond recognition. This is our specialism. The craft of the survey and then investigation through forensic analytical drawing connects the designer to its host. This aspect of creation seems to have been relegated to a quick sketch up rendition, devoid of emotion and connection, so how can design engage with such a canvas?
The strength of Interiors is what some consider its weakness. It sits astride scales and disciplines, architectural but not architecture, human scale but not furniture. It dances between, revelling in its independence, filling in spaces , glorying in occupation, making something beautiful from the left behind or forgotten. Grappling with form, materials and the host, programatics lurch from mundane demands to academic rigour but require critical engagement to re-imagine the existing and make spaces we might occupy that are sensitive, haptic and functional.
Interiors, sits more happily, in my mind, in art school rather than with architectures purposeful rigour. It offers students opportunity in so many disciplines, architecture, design, art, film and theatre, transient, temporary, fashionable and sometimes permanent. It requires an analogue creative process celebrating instinct, driven by critical thinking and underpinned by the most technical digital methodology; an aid rather than the means. We should be wary of producing a generation of designers tied to the virtual, unable to engage with the real, calling MDF wood or relying on technicians and laser cutters rather than daring to attack paper and card or have a box of found materials under their desks.
The answers to the interior future will not be found entirely in the past, but perhaps we can learn from a time that required an engagement and commitment in an analogue world, a world which was measured, drawn and described using physicality and elbow grease. Add to this the wonderful opportunities CAD and the Internet has to offer, we can truly suggest an engaged process to explore the future.
Over a quarter of a century Interiors has evolved, the landscape has altered immeasurably, cross disciplinary engagement a wonderful, pressurised complication. Interiors needs a smart agenda to survive, like nature we should seek comfort in between the cracks of the city, the unexpected spaces and seek out ideas and opportunities which have yet to be considered. This realisation needs to manifest itself early on in our education. Learning the suitability of scale and the ability to handle the vastness of over complex vessels, huge spaces, questioning their relevance, unable to comprehend human occupation, disconnecting from the key ingredient, us.
A generation of designers connected and engaged with people, materials and how we function seem much more relevant to me.
Or perhaps we should just prepare students for commercial practice and the demands of CAD requirements, a generation of technicians, money is required, but much of that commercial world has debatable value helping forge a beautiful bright future in our cities and towns. Learning the necessary CAD skills has little to do with teaching and learning as designers to understand a successful creative process which exists in the real and not virtual world.