Each generation interprets the history of design through new eyes and gleans lessons that can inform their own approach and view on the world.
While Art, Sculpture and even Architecture can seem remote to the modern interior design student, never the less, there are concepts that the Masters before us have developed that may be useful.
For example: The National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, by Richard Johnson and Graeme Dix of JPW makes subtle reference to the Renaissance concept of “appropriate scale", inspired by the proportion of the human body, as suitable for a gallery of portraits. The external corners in this building have a chamfered detail to human height, an understated reference, in this modern building. Indeed the proportions of the spaces have a harmony that reflects the knowledge of classical architectural principles while still being a 21st Century building.
To add meaning to our interiors is to create rooms that resonate and reference the past while acknowledging the current. Taking our own grand tour in design history allows us to add this layer of meaning to our work. We can reference our client's interests and aspirations as well as own.
There are themes or general concepts that run through the story of Architecture. There is much cross over between cultures. When you see the same idea independently developed in different civilisations you realise that the human condition is the same the world over. It is useful to compare and contrast the way concepts have been applied, looking at purpose, how people engage, how a space is planned and its structure, these may inspire us to create something less ordinary.
It should also be said that the great masters of Modernism, notably Walter Gropius and Mies Van Der Rohe and the whole school of Modernism in general were anti design history. A whole generation of designers grew up deprived of studying history. They rebelled, flocking to post war Europe in the 1950s and 1960s and took a modern grand tour. These architects include Richard Meier, Robert Venturi, Michael Graves , Philip Johnson and Charles Jenks. They used their new found knowledge to question their teachers and create a new architecture, Post Modernism. At first often quite clumsy it has evolved into our current architecture and acknowledges our past without making slavish copies of ancient ideas. At the beginning of the 21st century there is a new mature elegance in architecture. We are learning the lessons of the past while addressing the challenges of new technologies and environmentalism and the moral responsibility of truth to our time.
Start your own Grand Tour by sourcing images of historical references and investigating their origins and ideas. These are some image from my own Grand Tour.
People, plans, structure and the significance of the building are questions to pose when looking at design history.