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Design Snobbery: How Guilty Are You?

By Robert Nieminen

Everyone has an opinion as to what constitutes good and bad design, but when does opinion cross over into snobbery?

You know the type: the overly critical, holier-than-thou gurus who wouldn't be caught dead wearing last season's fashions, or who can't help but make cutting remarks about other people's design work. The wanna-be architect who has practically written a dissertation on every new or notable structure on the planet. And let's not forget the ever-growing group of Apple snobs who are intent on telling the rest of the world how superior their iPhones and iPads are. (Yeah, I know my Android OS doesn't look as cool as Apple's interface, but I refuse to give up my sliding keypad. Call me old fashioned.)

This phenomenon is anything but new, as architecture and design have been the subject of scrutiny and controversy since their inception. Some of the world's most recognizable structures by the "starchitects" of our times have drawn more criticism than they deserve … or have they? The Glass Pyramid at the Louvre, designed by I.M. Pei, has been at the center of public opinion, with critics arguing that its modern aesthetic clashes with the classic architecture surrounding it and admirers finding beauty in the balance between the old and new.

Who's right? It's hard to say, but few would argue with some of other examples of crimes committed against architecture, such as The Portland Building by famed architect Michael Graves or the Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang in North Korea (an example so bad that it is routinely Photoshopped out of images by the government). And for those of you who think Frank Gehry is immune from reproach, I have some bad news for you. His Experience Music Project in Seattle drew some rather harsh remarks from Princeton University Professor of Art and Archaeology Hal Foster in a recent PBS documentary on Gehry:

The disconnection between skin and structure represented by this academic model is at its most radical in Gehry's work in the Experience Music Project … Just as Gehry wanted to make Bilbao legible through an allusion to a splintered ship, here he makes an allusion to a smashed guitar (a broken 'fret' lies over two of the blobs). But neither image works, even as a pop gesture, for you have to be well above the buildings to read them as images at all, or you have to see them in media reproduction—which is indeed a primary 'site' of this architecture.

So how do you know if your opinions on design border on the snobby side? We've developed a quick test to help you determine how far down your nose you tend to look at the rest of the world. Count the number of statements that apply to you and add up the score:

  1. Most of the furniture in your home is mid-century modern. (+10)
  2. Most of the furniture in your home is from the middle of last century. (-10)
  3. You scoff at people who shop at IKEA. (+5)
  4. You hail from a region other than Scandinavia. (-5)
  5. More than half of your wardrobe consists of black-colored clothing. (+5)
  6. You've uttered the phrase, "symbiosis between the industrial and the natural." (+10)
  7. You get your best decorating ideas from design-themed reality TV shows. (-10)
  8. In your opinion, Frank Gehry can do no wrong, and you're upset at the criticism of his work I just quoted above. (+5)
  9. The term haute couture means absolutely nothing to you. (-5)
  10. You say "It's nice—if you like that sort of thing," when asked for your opinion on a piece of furniture, architecture or art. (+10)
  11. You've purchased a piece of furniture or art solely to impress your friends. (+10)
  12. An Apple sticker adorns the rear windshield or bumper of your car. (+5)
  13. You think "Starchitects" is the name of the latest pop supergroup. (-10)
  14. You believe NeoCon refers to a position on the political spectrum. (-5)
  15. You plan on writing an angry letter in regards to this editorial on organic, handmade paper. (+10)

Scoring: If you scored 50 points or higher, you may need to tone it down a bit and remind yourself that not everyone appreciates the finer points of design the way you do, and that's OK. If you scored less than 10 points, you may not want to share your score with your designer friends or the person flipping through their iPad at your local Starbucks.

P.S. Be sure to check out the rest of this issue—it's filled with non-elitist content that is sure to inform and inspire you without insulting your aesthetic sensibilities. Happy reading!



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Interiors & Sources® is dedicated to the advancement of the commercial interior design profession. It connects design professionals with the projects, products, firms and associations that shape the built environment and promotes the value of design services in the creation of functional, sustainable and aestheticallypleasing environments. Each issue delivers relevant and timely information that equips design practitioners with the knowledge and tools necessary to reach design excellence in their own practices. Editorial ideas and contributions are welcome from all members of the design industry.