What if Designers Commit to Local Culture?

With instant-communication based technologies increasingly becoming commonplace across the planet, we are beginning to see global — rather than local, regional, or national — design aesthetics emerge.  For example, consider projects like Sejima and Nishizawa’s The Rolex Learning Center or the UAE’s carbon neutral Masdar city. These high-profile projects are inspiring and worldly.

So perhaps in the near future, elements like national pride, local climate, immediate geographical factors, and regional materials will not inspire our work as commercial designers. Maybe a national interior design taste is obsolete, and we’ll never again have a Chicago’s Marshall Field Department store twelve stories high or even a Silicon Valley with its technology-based environments.

Or, maybe we’ll always revel in the differences in our cultural aesthetics. After all, as Roger K. Lewis said in his description on the globalization of architecture:

“Many of us love to visit character-laden cities such as St. Petersburg, Paris, Rome, Venice, Agra, and Bankok.”

So, if I just focus on this statement for a moment, then what if we re-commit to intensely cultural design?

Keep Aesthetics Local

Indeed, there are workspaces around the world that are being built with local cultural and geographic influences and inspirations in mind. For example, check out The Metropolitan Design Center in Buenos Aires.

The project, finished in 2010, is a reused fish market from early twentieth century. I doubt you can get much more Argentinean than floods of light into a public space without heating or air-conditioning. The use of this space is to have local public events as well as house design start-up firms. The plan has for solid structures surrounding a covered courtyard for displays — a space focused on efficient interior energy rather than award-winning, eye-catching exteriors .. which is a grass-roots trend seemingly catching on all over the world.

From Treehugger.com

This project leads me to think that Cathleen McGuigan predicted it best when she told Newsweek:

“Buildings are likely to become less about twist and shout, and more about function and simplicity.”

Another example of a great national interior today is Delhi’s Gurgaon’s IT Building lobby.

Photo Found in TopBox Design

Morphogenesis Architecture Studio wanted to make the public areas and the workspaces fuse. India, crowded with almost as many people as China but with a third the geography space, naturally instigates this public-versus-private tension. In lobbies like this, a cool reflecting pool and three courtyards are big answers to the intense heat and predominately dry northern landscape. The spiral ramp keeps workers moving, but allows for face-to-face strolls instead of quick, impersonal elevator rides, thus, building culture and the blurring the line between the culture outside and the workers inside. I find it to be such a great example of a 2011 interior with a strong response to the immediate culture and geographic needs, rather than general international aesthetics.

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, the Silicon Valley has designed for itself a model that fits its needs, rather than what fits the next international architecture ideal.

Photo from en.l4c.me

Yes, Google is indeed a work place. The Californians did it their way — outside and in the sun. Google is known for making their space intensely about them and their internal culture – NOT someone else’s. They have all-you-can-eat food cafeterias, swimming pools, massage tables, and even a dinosaur replica — for the archaeologist in every programmer. They have not built amazing buildings to appease the eyes. They use what is needed to satisfy the creative, curious, and hungry minds that work long hours for them.

Now this is my kind of example of how building for your local need, wants, and culture can be more effective than the design world’s “next new thing.”

Valerie Trent is a proud Generation Y designer with interests in sustainability, space psychology, and international cultures. She is a Chicago-based commercial material sales representative.

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