The Vernacular of Design

When we design entertainment spaces, we have an opportunity to communicate more directly and effectively with the public than at virtually any other time.

03/27/2013 By James Williamson, IIDA, LEED AP
Photography courtesy of Scott Baker 

leveraging culture into design vocabulary
Another winning entrant in this year’s Interior Design Competition likewise blended the traditional with the modern, but with markedly different results. The Nanjing Old House Clubhouse in Nanjing, China, designed by Beijing Newsdays Architectural Design Co., Ltd., harmonizes the organic and ancient with the thoroughly contemporary, making the space at once familiar and new in feeling.

With its cooler hues and reliance on rich, natural materials, the immediate effect is much more meditative than the Rockwell Group Europe’s color-bold work at the W. But as an event space presented as an inherently social environment, it maintains an attractive flexibility, appealing to a broad, sophisticated clientele.

In each of these firms’ choices, we can see the power of design at work. Attention to materials and an appropriate context can enrich a space, and give it a sense of life and a purpose. We see a clear vernacular in these projects that amounts to more than just an assemblage of products, lines and contours. There’s an undeniable alchemy that takes place; an articulation that doesn’t just contribute value to these locations as entertainment sites, but that creates value through their design.

It’s something that only we as designers know how to say, but the public can understand. It’s our vernacular. When clients engage us to design spaces that speak directly to their consumers, we serve as translators, employing our array of skills to communicate comfort, inspiration and a welcoming spirit.

First impressions are lasting impressions. Entertainment and hospitality-based clients entrust us with the enormous responsibility of making that crucial introductory statement on their behalf. It’s our design and client skills that convey that message. Seldom do we have a chance to communicate so strongly and so directly with a public eager for a new and engaging experience. When we put our best feet forward on the client’s behalf, we start an ongoing conversation with the end-user through our own vernacular—the language of design.


IIDA International President James Williamson, IIDA, LEED AP is a practicing interior designer and principal at Gensler in its Washington, D.C. office. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or at


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