Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Final Reveal: Interior Design students "Design a Hotel" Project reaches its conclusion

Regular readers of the MoDA blog may remember my previous two posts about the Middlesex University Interior Design student's 'design a hotel' project. Just to recap, the students were asked to design a hotel based in 84 Brook Green, once home to the Silver Studio. They were asked to use the fact that the building had once housed a commercial design studio as the driving force behind their design concept. You can find out more about the brief they were set, and the visits we organised to introduce them to the collections in my previous two blog posts.

In order to complete the project their final task was to stand up and present their ideas; to their tutors, their peers, and to me!

So what ideas did they come up with? I'd imagined that many would focus on one or two of the designs they had found at MoDA, and simply set about reproducing them as wallcoverings or soft furnishings. They were Interior Design students after all, and most of us probably presume that this is what interior design is all about. But no, my misconceptions were rapidly blown out of the water as most of the students went well beyond this type of 'surface decoration' approach, and had clearly thought much more deeply about the history of the building, and the archive material they had encountered.

Rather than try and summarise everyone's ideas, for the purposes of this blog post I thought I'd focus on one of the more intriguing and eye-catching ideas we were presented with by student Mel Wise. As part of the project the students were required to use their ideas as the basis for an Arthur Silver Award entry. This required them to produce three A3 boards detailing their design concept, and focusing specifically on how the collections at MoDA had inspired their ideas.

Mel's first board. The photographs at the bottom left and right show two rooms at 84 Brook Green c.1900 when it was the Silver family home (BADDA 4602). The image in the centre shows the Silver Studio itself in the early 1960s, when the business had relocated round the corner from Brook Green to Haarlem Road, Hammersmith.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

This was the first year that the Award was open to second year Art & Design and Media students at Middlesex, as well as those in their final year. I've included images of Mel's entry, which the judges felt was particularly strong. Although not selected as this year's winner, he did make it to the final four entrants, the only second year to do so. Who knows how far he could go next year if he chooses to enter, which I hope he does!

Like many of the students Mel was drawn to the katagami - Japanese stencils made of mulberry paper and cut by hand in order to print incredibly intricate patterns on to mainly kimono fabric. He explains how his encounter with the stencils inspired one of the key concepts behind his design:

katagami stencil K1.1, featuring a small scale, geometric wheat sheaf pattern.
 It was this stencil that Mel was particularly drawn to
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

"Whilst viewing the vast and intriguing collection at MoDA it was the katagami stencil prints which appealed to me most...It immediately sparked my imagination as I began to think of the creative possibilities...Further exploration of ideas led me to look at lighting, shadows and the outcome of a stencil print... I (then) looked at architectural stencilling to create perforations through walls. This would allow light to filter in to the space and as time passes during the course of the day the mottled light would shift and play across the interior, creating a peaceful ever-changing environment."

Mel's second board for the Arthur Silver Award, based on the presentation he gave in front me,
his tutors and fellow students.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

But as he goes on to explain, the history of the Silver Studio itself was also a key element in his proposal:

"I feel that the history of the family home/studio is equally as important as their designs...I wanted to pay homage to the buildings' history  and show people at least a glimpse of what this building once was, through what's left behind."

Part of Mel's concept involved creating a ceramic structure which would form part of the hotel's interior scheme, consisting of many small component parts. Each part would look like a piece of paper, with the structure as a whole  resembling many pieces of paper blown up into the air, as if by a gust of wind. Mel explains the relevance of this structure to the Silver Studio and his hotel concept design:

"The idea was to project light on to the ceramic structure and create shadows on the opposite wall. The structure is symbolic to the overflowing and bursting of (the) Silver Studio's many designs, collated over the years."

The final board Mel entered, explaining his idea for a ceramic structure
representing all the Silver Studio's design work exploding in to the air.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

I was really impressed with how positively and creatively Mel and the other students responded to this project, and the extent to which they engaged with our collections.  For most this was their first experience of visiting an archive, and accessing archive material. They had to get their heads around what this stuff was, where it came from, and form connections with it in a very small space of time. Engaging with real objects is not something most of our undergraduates are used to doing, especially museum objects.When it comes to looking for ideas and inspiration for their work, the internet has taken over as the first, and sometimes only port of call. And why not? It's quick, it's easy, and as we all know the amount of information and images available online is vast.   But being able to access a museum collection means they can not only see the objects in which they're interested, but they also get to explore them through touch and smell (and believe me, it is often the smell of an object which is the first thing to hit you when you open a box!). This is a multi-sensory experience that cannot be replicated on screen, and one which we think is really important to offer art and design students as part of their course.

For MoDA this project was a fantastic opportunity to show the students that museum collections have the possibility to inspire fresh and contemporary ideas. But what did the Interior Design tutors see as special about this project? Jon Mortimer explains:

"The staff wanted this Hotel Design project to be the culmination of the students' study year. The challenges were multi-layered and very ‘real’ - the site, formerly three independent residential properties, required combining to form a single building, yet the students were eager to preserve the dignity or these fine old buildings. [NB, in real life these houses are still residential properties; this project was simply a hypothetical exercise]. The students had to find techniques by which modern spaces could ‘live within’ existing interiors of traditional form and proportion – a fantastic learning experience. But above all the students needed to bring  the work of the Silver Studio to life in a modern context, in a world where decorative wall treatments and soft furnishings are considered something from an earlier time. The project generated excitement in the students, and they took seriously the responsibility of bringing the work of the Silver Studio back into a modern context, making it vital and alive once again."

We will have to wait and see whether or not it will be possible to run this project or something similar next year. But I very much hope that the students we have worked with will feel confident to come back to MoDA in their final year, and explore even more of the fantastic collections at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture.


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