Why did Metropolis originally initiate the Smart Environments Awards™?
Ken Wilson, FIIDA, FAIA, Principal of Envision Design in Washington D.C., has been wanting to initiate such an award for some time. When he approached me at Neocon East five years ago, I jumped at the chance. We’re always looking for sustainable, accessible, beautiful interiors, so I saw this awards program as an opportunity to find some of the best projects out there, projects that otherwise would have gone under our radar.
Among other project competitions, what makes this award unique?
I like this award because it integrates sustainability and user well-being; the entry form asks for detailed explanations for both. This is not just a pretty picture show; it goes much beyond great photography. Usually awards segregate green design or sustainability which always makes me ask, so the other winners in these awards aren’t green or sustainable? And if they win awards and are not at the cutting edge of the major issue of our time, then why do they deserve any award? Smart was a great way to say that 21st century interior design is a highly sophisticated decision-making process that, though beautiful (and it always has to be beautiful!), it is a result of some intricate understanding of everything from material toxicity to manufacturing to shipping to energy use, and much, much more.
How did you decide on the name “Smart Environments”?
We wanted the award to recognize intelligent design (not in the fundamentalist religious sense) that incorporates green but goes beyond it. This year, for instance, we’re also emphasizing universal design (as part of the big picture of human well-being, both already familiar to interior designers, except that awards rarely talk about such quality of life issues). You know what they cover: great plan, lovely color scheme, gorgeous unity—mostly aesthetics, short on real problem-solving information.
Why did you choose to work with IIDA on this competition?
I like the interesting mix of interior designers/architects who I associate with the organization; and I wanted us to report on professional work that was about systems thinking which, I thought, many IIDA members were already engaged in.
This is the fourth year for the Smart Environments Awards™. How have you seen the design of Smart environments evolve from year to year?
Initially, we were afraid that we would not get enough entries—awards programs need to find their audiences, just like products or movies or books do—so we said let’s allow submissions of projects that were a couple of years old. This decision was made out of pure pragmatism. As the awards got better known, and as we saw sustainability become the rule, not the exception, we got brave this year and asked for projects that were completed in 2009. I am confident that we’ll be happy with the entries—there is a lot of sophisticated work out there and we want to see it! Professional knowledge is growing really fast these days, so we wanted to see the newest thinking on what makes an environment Smart in 2009.
Explain the importance of accessibility as an added criterion this year. Why is accessibility Smart and how does it relate to sustainability, beauty, and creativity?
We always had human well-being as one of the central requirements for entering Smart. But as I read the entries through the years, I noticed that human well-being seemed to be focused on just the able bodied, and there was very little (if any) mention of the well-being of those who need some special help in functioning in any space. The Americans with Disabilities Act—a major piece of civil rights legislation passed during the first Bush administration (V.P. Dan Quayle was a major proponent), called for action from the design community. Since then there has been a lot of compliance with the ADA, but very little evidence of systems thinking. We see silly things like Braille signs on hotel room doors, but no indication on how a sight-impaired person might get to his or her room, an act that must be supported by a whole system of way-finding signage and other physical aids (color, texture, lights, etc.); this also implies a collaboration with graphic communication specialists. We’re eager to expand the ideal of human well-being to include the needs of the less than able bodied, especially since the baby boom, a 79 million member cohort, is getting older-- one of us turns 60 something like every seven seconds, I hear.
Where do you see the future of Smart Environments leading?
I want Smart Environments to help define what it means to be an interior designer in the 21st century. I want the profession to be recognized as a fount of knowledge on sustainability, human well-being (every human’s well being, regardless of age and physical ability), and known for creating beautiful, comfortable, culturally relevant, and ecologically benign rooms. I want interior design to shine as a great profession that has an essential contribution to make to our quality of life, and not be relegated to a buzzword for lifestyle. I like to see Smart Environments at the cutting edge of a new era of caring—both about the earth, its processes, the creatures that inhabit it (including us). We spend 90 percent of our time indoors. I hope Smart can lead the way to healthy environments for everyone.