I had the good fortune of participating in a Bauhaus tour in Berlin and Dessau, Germany last year. As most designers know, Bauhaus was founded as a multidiscipline “building” school to create works of art influenced by architecture, typography, interior design, industrial design, and even photography and the fine arts. The Bauhaus style had a profound influence on design in the mid-20th century and, even months later, the tour has me thinking about all the ways in which culture influences design and vice versa.
It may be an oversimplification, but I think of the interior designer as a lyricist putting words to—and making sense of—the wild, wide-ranging music produced by culture. And that in turn makes me wonder: What tunes are we hearing right now and how are they influencing design?
To my ear, today’s culture is creating beautiful
tunes that are young (in thinking more than in years), creative, and, above all else, multidimensional. The “music” is so wonderfully diverse and layered that I can think of few other times in history when it would be more fun or challenging to design a home or workspace. Just consider some of today’s trends: multiple generations once again living in the same household, alternative workspaces, technologically advanced smart homes, the rise of the “creative class,” baby boomers aging in place, ethnic influences in art and design, neighborhoods returning to generational and socioeconomic diversity, and so on. As in an orchestra, no single trend stands out among the rest, but these trends will combine to impact our spaces and places in ways that will echo into future generations.
Of all these trends, the development and influence of the creative class is perhaps most intriguing to me. Author Richard Florida has written extensively in his book “The Rise of the Creative Class” and elsewhere about what he says are 40 million individuals (about 30 percent of the current American workforce) who either are fully engaged in the creative process or who are knowledge-based workers in science, engineering, education, research, design, media, and the like. In the future, Florida says, the creative class will be the leading force in the U.S. economy, representing millions of new jobs and nearly 40 percent of the working population.
I don’t want to get too hung up on the numbers, but any keen observer of our culture will notice this distinct class of people who are highly paid, well-educated, and, as a group, fast-growing. According to Florida, the creative class will become more important to the vitality of cities than the output of industry.
This shift has begun already. In the workplace, we’ve seen the fall of the once-ubiquitous cubicle, as the creative class has made clear its preference for open space, free-address workstations, vibrant colors, and a relaxed campus
atmosphere. In response, interior designers have used open concepts to create fabulous workspaces. But if you listen carefully to office culture, you’ll hear some dissent from those who claim that open-space plans create distractions and don’t offer enough privacy for creative tasks and quiet work. Interior designers are now responding by creating open, daylit spaces that also offer pods where employees can escape from distractions. This is an example of cultural and design collaboration at its best.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the creative class, made up of people who have the taste, the money, and the inclination to embrace great design, will increasingly influence how (and where) we work and live. And I can’t leave this topic without mentioning another major cultural influencer: globalization. Globalization is about doing business and being competitive abroad—but it means much more to the American Society of Interior Designers. For us, globalization means paying as much attention to the cultural music being played around the world as to what’s playing in the United States. It’s about keeping our eyes and ears open to other cultures and disciplines, and incorporating the best of what we learn into our own design.
From the Bauhaus movement to the rise of the creative class to globalization, how can we respond to the changing music of our world? I am hopeful that the resurrection of multidiscipline education in universities
and colleges will encourage an intentional refocusing on design thinking and the creative process across disciplines. By understanding and
mastering a variety of disciplines, we all can develop a better ear for the music of our culture. And when we develop a good ear for cultures all over the world, we have the power to create beautiful, functional, world-changing designs.
Rachelle Schoessler Lynn, FASID, CID, LEED Fellow AP BD+C, is the national president of ASID and a senior associate with MSR in Minneapolis. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and on the web at asid.org.