Societal Awareness – Essay

The project The Next Evolution presents a speculative scenario where interior is determined by the technology of a transhuman body and it is influenced by social media and likability. Do designers and architects design for Instagram likes or for the user? For themselves and their portfolio or for the client? Nowadays, it looks like interior designers and architects develop their concepts and designs taking into consideration only these aspects and forgetting, or giving less and less importance to, the usability, functionality, the users’ needs and background, and the society they are going to serve.

The paper Embracing changes or struggling with stereotypes? The awareness of changing images of Flemish public libraries by students in interior architecture, describes the struggles that students and recent graduates face when asked to base their choices on the surrounding of the space and the future users feedback, instead of something which they personally like, that they find trendy and/or Instagram-like. Indeed, schools of design and architecture are more inclined to request the creation of stunning, out-of- he-box and unusual interiors rather than intuitive, economically accessible and efficient spaces. This might serve to open the minds of these future creators but becomes an obstacle once alumni face real projects in a firm or studio, banging their heads with the reality of clients and budgets.

Societal awareness is often lacking in the process and outcome of established designers and architects too. Many cases in recent history and in current projects testify to this. An interesting case-study, more from the urban point of view but still relevant, is the impressive Albere District in Trento (IT), designed by the architect Renzo Piano. The project concerned an area occupied by the Michelin factory for over 70 years, and which was never used as a residential and commercial site. In 1997, the city of Trento launched the idea of re qualification of the entire area with the aim of creating a new nerve center of the city. Despite the inclusion of some public functions such as the Museum of Science (MUSE) and the university library, the result is not the best in terms of the neighborhood’s centrality in city life. The architectural project is not yet able to regenerate this portion of the city, addressed almost exclusively to a clientele of a medium-high social  class that is not numerically able to occupy all the district in a city with only 117,000 inhabitants (Redazione Trento, 2018). It is hard to be lived and inhabited: located right under the slopes of Monte Bondone, the sun sets way before the natural end of the days, there are not enough bus stops and parkings and no supermarkets. As a consequence, 40% of the housing in the neighborhood remains unsold (F. Terreri, 2018) and, as a whole, instead of being a focal point of city life, it still remains a suburban neighborhood. This proves that the project, which taken in isolation is a stunning design with a smart use of colors and materials, failed in its aim to create a new nerve center due to lack of the research on, and awareness of, the environment that was required.

I believe the case-study, as well as the paper mentioned above, show the need to deepen research on the topic of societal awareness in the design practice and process. Moreover, it raises more questions regarding the way interior design/architecture students are trained during their studies, regarding the way projects are done nowadays, and the importance that the user has during the design process. In my view, the proposed research could provide new tools, or a set of rules, that designers and architects could use or to take into consideration. At the least, it will raise a badly needed awareness in the field and stimulate new thoughts, new questions and new answers to the reality of design.