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Monday, June 27, 2022

November Question Time

This month’s question: As a designer, architect, inventor of sorts, what do you feel are your limits when it comes to design?


QTime Image1

Image: Rim, Anthracite collection.



Design is all encompassing: it transcends industries and artists and can be found in the most obscure of settings. At the London Design Festival just passed, Zaha Hadid, famed architect, revealed her latest designs to the public. A homeware collection was revealed as her latest venture, with pieces to be sold in Harrods. Including platters, candelabras and even a chess set, the pieces expose Hadid??s ability to transcend all design sectors with a fusion of her signature architectural style into smooth and sleek products to adorn the most style conscious home or interior. This is not the first time she has created outside of the architectural craft, sculpting a beautiful range of vases for global brand Lalique.



While there is no doubt that Hadid??s designs will be much-coveted and undoubtedly a sell-out for those yearning for a slice of architectural pie in miniature form, does this kind of design transference dilute the depth of creativity in architectural design?



As a designer, architect, inventor of sorts, what do you feel are you limits when it comes to design? Are there no boundaries, do you design with a mind that any concept can be translated for multiple purposes? Have you worked across other design disciplines and if not, do you crave the opportunity to spread your architectural wings in the direction of product design?



The experts


Our industry experts provide a compelling insight into the topical issues of the day


QTime Headshot MickBarker

Partner, Stephen George & Partners


Michael joined Stephen George & Partners in 1979 as a year out student. After registering as an architect in 1980, he became an Associate in 1985 and a Partner in 1990. In 2010, Stephen George & Partners became an LLP and he has become its first Managing Partner.


QTime Headshot StuartForbes

Founder, Stuart Forbes Associates


Stuart MA RCA RIBA graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Architecture and Design Studies in 1989. He began work at Richard Rogers Partnership in 1990 and was involved in buildings including Heathrow terminals 1 & 5 and The Millennium Dome. Stuart formed his own practice, Stuart Forbes Associates (SFA) in 2005.


QTime Headshot HenrySmith

Architect, SHH Architects


Henry works for London architectural practice SHH. Henry??s experience includes a diverse range of projects, from hospitality and leisure schemes ?? such as a national park yacht club, a shore-front hotel and a cultural centre ?? to high-end houses in the capital.





Mick Barker, Partner, Stephen George & Partners 


Furniture design is something often carried out by architects, as both activities are concerned with aesthetics and functionality. A chair, for example, has to be constructed from materials, just as a building does. It might be on a smaller scale but it doesn??t require any less commitment to create something that works as a piece of art while performing its function.


Stephen George & Partners specialises in commercial property, where often the clients are less concerned about the little details and are happy to let you just get on with the interior finishes and fittings. We??re currently working on logistics projects in Russia, and with a tight deadline it matters more to get the job done, rather than who has ownership of interiors.


Some architects focus more on residential properties and their limit of control can be challenging. For a project that is deeply personal, such as someone??s home, it can be difficult to manage their own design ideas as architects and those of the clients, especially when they are a couple ?? who might just disagree with each other!


Just switch on an episode of Grand Designs and you often see an architect pulling their hair out at their client??s inability to see their ?vision??. Architects need to know when to let go, in my opinion, and to let a project be exactly what it was designed to be ?? lived in.


Norman Foster is known for this, apparently not being happy with interior colour schemes that do not conform to his chosen aesthetic ?? generally greys! Of course his creations are applauded internationally, and it does show a skill in persuading other people to adhere to his design guidelines. Many successful architects are adept at this; you don??t just need to be a skilful and imaginative designer, you need to be able to take the client along with your vision, the art of persuasion.


Many architects are well known for their alternate endeavours, including Frank Lloyd Wright and his love of Japanese art; Charles and Ray Eames and their graphic design projects; and even Le Corbusier, who is often quoted: “Chairs are architecture; sofas are bourgeois”.


Charles Rennie Mackintosh, heralded as one of Scotland??s most influential creative figures, is perhaps the best example of working across mediums with the Glasgow School of Art. So many different elements inside the building were designed by Mackintosh himself, and they all work together perfectly. It??s no surprise a fire earlier this year prompted such a panicked attempt to save as much as humanly possible.


Some architects lean towards furniture design because it??s all of the stuff that goes into a building ?? it??s inevitably connected. Saying that, you don??t see too many architects branch out into clothing; I certainly wouldn??t try that!


We work alongside landscape architects too and I suppose there??s a crossover there as well. They??re concerned with form, finishes and functionality too. I might not know much about plants, but when the ambition of creating spaces for people to live is the same, I could definitely have a good go at it.


Stuart Forbes, Founder, Stuart Forbes Associates



Should architects know their place? Are there limits to design? Are we primarily artists or engineers? In truth, of course, a good architect is both. We are all familiar with the occasional friction between the creative and practical demands of our trade.  


I do believe that our instinctive creativity and naturally enquiring minds could easily flourish in other fields requiring great-looking design. Zaha Hadid is not the first architect to embrace a foray into design. After all, seminal names in architecture such as Le Corbusier, Charles Eames, Arnie Jacobsen or Eero Saarinen still have a range of furniture that is considered contemporary even today.


I am relatively unusual as an architect, because I started out studying interior architecture. This early training has given me a more creative perspective on design challenges. Do I believe that design has limits?  Well, I??d never built a dome before the Millennium Dome (ref RSH-P); I had not designed a restaurant before the River Café in 2008 and now Skye Gyngell??s new restaurant ??Spring?? in the newly opened West Wing of Somerset House. That??s the thing I love about architecture; you get thrown a curve-ball and you just have to hit it.


Style for fashion??s sake is not my approach to resolving a design problem. I crave for innovation, not stylised adaptation of a tried and tested formula. The intellectual challenge of constantly asking questions and seeking a way forward to achieve a progressive result is, for me, the most fulfilling part of working in the world of innovation and design.


I recently witnessed a disastrous boat fit-out and this is a clear example of design boundaries. The boat in question was a hugely expensive yacht and the owner wanted a stylish, contemporary look. After only two seasons, it had become painfully obvious that the natural movement of the boat had literally shaken the original fit-out into pieces. This is a good example of form having driven the design solution over the practicalities of the function of the boat.


Would I want re-purpose my design skills into product design? Stuart Forbes Associates sits in a very creative sector of the market so I don??t feel a burning desire to develop the world??s finest toothbrush, or suchlike. However, my ??boys-own?? dream would be to understand in detail what it takes to design a performance car. Take the world of motor racing. The car designer??s objective is to create the fastest car on the track, but the ever-changing regulations tightly define the limits and therefore truly challenge the design teams. Each time the regulations change, another aspect of the car??s performance is better understood. This leads to faster, safer motor racing, of course; but ultimately, this learning filters into mass car production so we all benefit from these design challenges facing the racing car designer.


I really believe I could contribute something outstanding in a different field that requires a designer??s eye, but my dream of car design may have to wait until my retirement when I have more time to indulge myself!



Henry Smith, Architect, SHH Architects


The word “architecture” comes from the Greek “arkitekton” (via the Latin ??architectura??) and derives from a combination of arki, meaning “chief” or “leader” and tekton, meaning “builder” or “carpenter??. A successful architect is therefore a team leader with a core desire to create, whatever the final output. Zaha Hadid??s recent design of a new suite of homeware products is perfectly in line with this definition.


In our mass-produced world, value in the domain of architecture and design is associated with uniqueness, just as precious gems or metals are valued according to rarity. Hadid??s architecture has developed a signature style, recognised the world over and, with it, the status of exclusivity. This fact is seldom applauded by architectural purists, for whom the projection of a single person??s creative mark, helicoptered in from on high, seems out of kilter with the intentions of architecture to be primarily integrated with and contribute to the context in which it is situated. However, the power of an identifiable brand in today??s commercial era should not to be under-estimated. It is a fundamental tool of our image-led media and, for the client or patron, ensures that any creation by a signature architect or designer is instantly amplified by huge waves of media coverage.


Of course, architects have a long history of designing beyond their wall-windows-doors limits. Charles Rennie Mackintosh??s easily-identifiable designs could certainly be compared to Hadid??s ??brand??. While Hadid is currently riding the crest of contemporary appeal, often scorned as fashionable and therefore imminently obsolete, Mackintosh??s ??brand?? has an acknowledged historical position and has therefore transcended fashion to become style. The fact that Hadid??s buildings have been awarded multiple accolades and are pioneering in their use of computational design methods means they have already made an impressive statement in the history of architecture and her ??style?? is likely to be observed with the same reverence as Mackintosh??s as time goes on.


For an architect to deliver a successful project, he or she needs to have both a problem-solving mindset and to be prepared to listen and learn from specialist artisans and craftsmen in order to get a fuller understanding of processes, and their potential. For example, having recognised how obtrusive contemporary electrical wall fixtures are, especially in period properties, SHH recently approached manufacturer Focus SB Ltd with the idea of creating a new product range that can be installed flush into internal walls: an example of architects stepping outside of traditional boundaries because of our frustration with an unsolved problem, but still working with specialists to achieve the right solution.


I believe there should be no boundaries to what anyone can design, though a design created in ignorance will inevitably fail. We certainly recognise that product design is a discipline in its own right, with a huge knowledge base of fabrication techniques. However, many architects, including myself, have an unending interest in learning new processes. We seek both to lead and to build, whether the final output is a skyscraper or a sand castle.



Our panel of contributors are experts in their field and have experience in a vast area of architectural design including; landscape, public sector and private residencies. If you would like to contribute as a panelist email: jade.tilley@onecoms.co.uk


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