Interior vs. exterior.

Over the weekend, I’d gotten an IM from Jay (Maynard, not Reeder) linking me to a letter published in a Minneapolis paper following the announcement of this year’s Pritzker Prize award.

Although I’ve been to Minneapolis (at length, even. 9 weeks isn’t exactly an overnight stay), I’d never seen the original theater, designed by Ralph Rapson, who died just a week ago at the age of 93. The new one, if you haven’t connected the dots already was designed by this year’s PP recipient, Jean Nouvel.

I have no particular dog in this fight, as I find both designs, at least on the exterior, to be quite pleasant. They’re just very different.

Old:

New:

And whichever one you like is whichever one you like. Believe it or not, that’s actually not the question I want to ask with this post.  What I personally found to be more interesting in the letter to the paper was this excerpt:

“the proscenium theatre is uninspired with rows so close together that there is hardly room for your feet and entire rows must stand to allow anyone to enter. Even the parking is a disappointment, forcing patrons to cross the street in winter when Nouvel had the opportunity to include a skyway. Apparently Nouvel had not visited Minneapolis in winter or noticed all the tall northern European stock here.”

I began to wonder if there was a connection between that and the strange disconnect in all the job ads that say they’re looking for designers, but then go on to say they want architects.  Last I checked, these words were not synonymous(also this particular thing pisses me off because it feels like a bait and switch.)  Over the weekend I had a talk with Jack (practicing architect, who teaches interior design at two different schools) about this and have come up with some questions that I want to throw out there to perhaps inspire dialogue.

1. Are interiors really within the scope of training and expertise of architects?  (From all accounts, the answer to this is no, but I’m more than happy to hear about other experiences.)

2. Why is this bait and switch thing going on when writing up job postings, especially if the answer to #1 is no?

3. Why aren’t the architectural and design communities coming together to make that clear?

4. Or (and this is my most cynical response, born of another thing that happened last week) are architects under the pervasive delusion that interior designers are decorators?

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my very favorite people on the whole planet are practicing architects.  I still have plans to go back under the academic rock and get my M*Arch myself, but I am not under the delusion that interior design and architecture have the same focus or do the same jobs equally.

I do know that any decent designer *I* know would have made sure the spacing between the rows in the theater were the appropriate distance apart, because we do that sort of research as part of a programmatic process.  I don’t fault (at all) any architect for not doing the same, because I just don’t think that’s their job.  I just want to know why they’re essentially being asked to do *my* job, and what can we do to change that.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m betting it largely falls under the category of “you want me to hire a WHAT?” from the client end when you spec that a job should go to a structural engineer or an interior designer when the general impression is “that’s the job of the architect”. The word “architect” gets used very generically, especially when architecture firms keep ID and SE types on staff – the public hires Architects.

    Now, as to why those within the field are still conflating these disciplines, I vote for the “never underestimate the power of stupidity/ignorance”. Heck, havinga degree in CE people would expect me to be able to design bridges to which I respond “Oh, hells no, you need another KIND of CE for that!” and perhaps a similar issue is at work in the architecture/design field. I think the “what can we do to change that” comes down to “educate, educate, educate”, both in the field and amongst the populace as a whole. I wish you better luck than the Occupational Therapists have in distinguishing themselves from Physical Therapists in the minds of the masses.

  2. Oh, and to #4, in the case of the OT/PT distinction – if you happen to be in the category the general public is most inclined to hand their money to, there’s little incentive (for most) to clarify the issue. In fact, there’s strong political activism in PT circles to cast the impression of OT’s being superfluous specifically to limit competition for those rehab dollars. It’s a frustrating stance for those in any of the discussed fields who actually want to “best serve the client”.

  3. Though I’m sure there is a lot of discussion to be had about the roles of architechts and designers, I think theatrical design is a tiny little subset that adheres to its own rules.

    Honestly, having spent more than my fair share of time in theaters, I don’t think this is a design v. architechture problem – it’s a form v. function problem.

    I could tell you countless stories of beautiful theaters that are functionally useless. The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, for example, was built *specifically* to house the Academy Awards and other huge-scale events. It seems that NO ONE on the team took that into account and, consequently, it’s a huge pain in the ass to actually DO anything there.

    Sure does look pretty inside, though.

    What looks good does not necessarily work well and *nowhere* is that more true than in theaters.

  4. 1. Are interiors really within the scope of training and expertise of architects?
    Space planning, basic casework and millwork, meeting code / spacing requirements, etc. these are within the purview of architects. Failure at any one of these is a failure on the architect’s fault. Furniture systems, custom casework, color choices, fabric or wall covering selection, and materials selection really depend upon if the architect has a tasteful eye and can be done by an architect with experience with interiors. If they don’t have a good eye and/or lack the requisite knowledge, then they should admit this to themselves and enlist the aid of someone with said skills. We have ID’s on staff, and are fighting to get the architectural teams to use them. Personally, I am more than happy to let the ID department do their part, as it reduces my load. (But every firm I worked at except one had ID departments, so I know how they can help me from experience).

    2. Why is this bait and switch thing going on when writing up job postings, especially if the answer to #1 is no?
    Because many firm executives are under the delusion that architects are gods and can/should do everything, since when they were coming up through the ranks in the dark ages they had to as there were no such creatures as specialists in types of designs. Also, a lot of higher ups feel that an Architectural Designer is a classier way to say unlicensed architect.

    3. Why aren’t the architectural and design communities coming together to make that clear?
    Because architects are all about protecting their turf, and their perception is that any attempt to legitimize Interior Designers as anything other than suitable for remodeling homes or picking paint colors takes away from the duties of an architect. In many areas, (including TN) the ID practicioners are attempting to get legislation passed to license ID professionals similar to the way that architects are licensed, and with the same sort of education, practice and CE requirements. In most jurisdictions (including TN) where this is happening, the architects are using their lobby weight through the local and state AIA chapters to deny this, as it “devalues” the profession and other such nonsense.

    4. Or (and this is my most cynical response, born of another thing that happened last week) are architects under the pervasive delusion that interior designers are decorators?
    Sadly, this is a very common perception among architects, especially those who have never worked with competent ID professionals, and/or older ones that feel architects should control everything related to a design decision.

    I actually attended a performance at the new Guthrie the last time I was in Minneapolis, though it was not in the proscenium theatre. I will admit that there were several design decisions that I did NOT agree with, and seemed to be almost amaturish in execution, but seemed to get passed off as acceptable because it was a Jean Nouvel design, and since we was the Starchitect, anything he designed was perfect and above reproach.

    There were some nice moments in the building, but for the most part, I was definitely unimpressed.


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