print logo
© 2019
International Interior Design Association

Chicago, IL
Toll Free: 888 799 4432
International: +01 312 467 1950

The Power of Community

By Michelle Bowles and Heidi M. Hjerpe

Cities across North America are abuzz with design activity, from revitalization of downtown areas and the implementation of sustainable design measures, to the passage of new interior design legislation. Aside from the host of design projects being completed by individual firms and designers across the continent, communities as a whole from East to West and North to South are strongly influencing design and taking an active interest in it. Today's designers are collaborating with mayors, city councils, architects, urban planners and community members to make their cities more attractive and long-lasting. Here’s a look at what four distinct cities are doing to contribute to the overall growth of the interior design industry.

City: Toronto
Design Focus: Revitalization of the city’s waterfront, buildings and museums

Toronto has become a city of rebirth and revitalization, and design continues to play a tremendous role in the city’s steady growth. The most significant project is the revival of the city’s 29-mile waterfront along Lake Ontario, says Mayor David Miller. The 10-year project, entitled “Making Waves,” is designed to help Toronto become a magnet for tourism, bring new jobs to the area and give residents a sense of pride and ownership in their city.

“As one of the most precious natural resources we have, it’s important that [the waterfront] be a ‘people place,’” Miller says. “We have undertaken an aggressive initiative to return it to the people of Toronto by reclaiming some of the most derelict industrial land and converting it into a livable community with parks, housing and office space. It’s a renaissance similar to the one Mayor Richard M. Daley undertook in Chicago.”

Most recently, the city officially began work on the first neighborhood to be developed as part of the waterfront revitalization. The West Don Lands revival features 6,000 new residences, including 1,200 units of affordable rental housing; the addition of parks and public spaces; a new transit line within a five-minute walk of all homes; two childcare facilities; a community center and pool; and an elementary school.

The top priority for the West Don Lands project is sustainable development, according to the city. The neighborhood will be a LEED Gold community; all buildings will achieve mandatory sustainability standards, such as green roofs and high levels of energy efficiency, as directed by the Canada Green Building Council. Through this initiative, Toronto residents will receive a revitalized, clean, green waterfront where they can live, work and enjoy an improved quality of life, Miller says.

Several additional redesign projects are in progress throughout the city. The Art Gallery of Ontario
and the Royal Ontario Museum both are undergoing major renovations, and the Ontario College of Art and Design recently was revamped to include an addition built on stilts, Miller says. Toronto’s Facade Improvement Program provides funding to private property owners to redesign or restore commercial and industrial building facades through brick cleaning, restoration, wheelchair accessibility, doors, windows and lighting.

“The Facade Improvement Program has been extremely successful in making our city cleaner and more beautiful,” Miller says. “We have helped hundreds of business owners with improvements over the past 10 years. Half of the cost of eligible improvements to commercial or industrial building facades is covered by the city and will be based on the lowest contractor estimate submitted with the application. The minimum grant is $2,500 with a maximum of $12,500. Review committees comprised of local architects, business owners, historical experts and other community representatives review all applications and make funding recommendations to the city.”

Through a multitude of redesign projects, the city of Toronto is determined to give its citizens a more beautiful, livable space in which to prosper.

City: Des Moines
Design Focus: City government supporting interior design and legislation efforts

As the capital of Iowa and one of the Midwest’s most active cities, Des Moines is home to plenty of design activity, including recent revitalization of its downtown area through historical rehabilitation and loft renovation projects. But the city’s most significant contribution to the design world is its government’s continued support of interior design legislation.

In July 2005, Iowa became the 25th jurisdiction to enact legislation for the licensing of registered interior designers. “Through professional organizations, the City Building Official was aware of the Iowa Interior Design Association’s legislative efforts, and the Iowa Association of Building Officials (IABO) supported those efforts,” says Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie. Several Des Moines city officials serve on the IABO, says Kathy Stavneak, IIDA, Central Iowa Coordinator, Government and Regulatory Affairs Committee, Iowa Interior Design Examination Board.

“Many IABO members from Des Moines were both personally and professionally supportive of those measures,” Stavneak says, adding that the new legislation will have a direct impact on Des Moines residents and businesses. “It allows the public the ability to determine that they’re working with a qualified person who has met the requirements to use the title of ‘Registered Interior Designer.’”

The city currently is considering adopting additional legislation that would impact interior designers. “The city is evaluating the potential for legislation that encourages LEED certification for new public buildings,” Cownie says. In recent years, Des Moines has embarked on several conservation measures related to greater efficiency and environmental awareness, including energy conservation for heating and cooling of municipal buildings, lighting fixtures and restroom fixtures, he says. The potential legislation would affect both new public buildings and private projects seeking public financial assistance.

In addition, the city’s Urban Design Review Board, which currently consists of architects, landscape architects and historical renovation experts, plays a major role in the interior design of public areas. “One of the charges of the city’s Urban Design Review Board is to review, evaluate and make recommendations to the City Council concerning the interior design of all major renovation and remodeling projects for public areas owned or leased by the city, which are intended to be used primarily by the general public,” Cownie says.

For non-public areas not subject to review by the Board, such as city officials’ offices and fire stations, the city retains professional design and analysis services, Cownie says. “The city’s bid documents require that consultants acquire a state license for the work they are performing. The most successful professional service bids incorporate multi-disciplinary design teams,” he says.

City officials recognize the need for interior designers to be considered for these city design board appointments, and Stavneak sees improvement in that area in Des Moines. “We expect interior design professionals to be valuable additions to these boards,” she says.

City: San Francisco
Design Focus: Leading the way in green design

San Francisco, a city with strong roots in the environmental movement that first began in the 1960s, remains a leader in sustainable design. As awareness and education about green design principles continue to grow, local designers are concerned with incorporating into their designs green building products, mechanisms for enhanced air quality and products to maintain efficient energy use. This commitment to exceptional sustainable design will not only help preserve the Bay Area’s natural beauty well into the future, but it also will ensure improved long-term performance of local buildings and structures.

With breathtaking views of the mountains, ocean or bay, it’s easy to admire and appreciate the city’s unique and stunning natural landscape. “There is no doubt that San Francisco provides the optimal setting for people to be conscious of decisions that affect the environment,” says Jean Hansen, IIDA, CID, LEED AP, a Senior Associate/Senior Interior Designer at San Francisco’s Chong Partner Architecture.

Pedro Ayala, IIDA, Gensler, San Francisco, agrees. “The Bay Area’s characteristic topography lends itself to unique design. The scale of the city, quality of light, panoramic views, sweeping hills and majestic bay create a solid foundation for inspiration,” he says. “As a result, local design is innovative, sophisticated, sustainable and elegant.”

To many tourists and residents, San Francisco’s urban landscape is equally distinctive and beautiful. In order to guarantee its continued sustainability, the city’s Department of the Environment has introduced several environmental initiatives, including the Resource-Efficient Building (REB) ordinance in 1999, which requires city-owned or leased facilities to follow strict resource efficiency requirements. As part of the REB initiative, the city also established the Green Building Program, which included a training component, instituted mandatory green building measures for new and major renovation projects city-wide, and launched 10 green building pilot projects. It seems clear the green design trend will continue to flourish as a result of the “synergy between what San Francisco has naturally and the abundance of educational and research facilities in the area that continue to work toward enriching the lives of the people that live and work here,” Hansen says.

Solidifying its vital role in green design, San Francisco was tapped to be the first city in the United States to host the U.N. World Environment Day. The theme for the 2005 conference was “Green Cities,” and it was attended by several mayors, international dignitaries and leading environmental specialists. The goal was to adopt and establish a comprehensive guide for positive environmental practices specifically for urban areas, where the majority of the world’s population resides. Issues like energy, waste, urban design, urban nature, transportation, environmental health and water were examined and discussed in great detail. In the end, the attendees’ extensive collaboration produced a document, The San Francisco Urban Environmental Accords, which helped to reinforce cities’ global commitment to act in the best interest of
the environment.

City: Miami
Design Focus: Hispanic-influenced design

Miami is renowned for its warm climate, beautiful beaches and rich, diverse culture. It is host to numerous cultural events each year, including the Calle Ocho Festival, the largest celebration of Hispanic culture in the United States. Hispanics — particularly those with origins in Cuba, Mexico and Puerto Rico — make up more than 65 percent of Miami’s population, according to the 2000 Census.

Design in this Southeastern Florida city reflects that strong Hispanic influence. Last February, Miami Mayor Manuel A. Diaz hosted the most recent session of The Mayor’s Institute on City Design, dubbed “Rethinking Neighborhoods for Immigrants.” Along with Diaz, mayors from Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago and St. Petersburg, Fla., presented challenges they face when redeveloping a neighborhood, and architecture and urban planning experts were on hand to offer advice. Audrey Singer, Immigration Fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program who spoke at the conference, said mayors must develop an understanding of local immigration dynamics and encourage civic engagement in order to bridge the cultural gap between immigrants and non-immigrants.

Miami’s culture has a powerful impact on interior design in the city, says Lorraine Bragg, IIDA, Director of Interior Design, Sequeira & Gavarrete. Until several decades ago when Cubans began settling in Miami, the city was primarily a tourist town, with flamboyant designs and buildings with low sustainability, she says. Hispanic immigrants “made Miami a community.”

Latin Americans brought with them an appreciation of tradition and an interest in interior design, Bragg says. As a result, many young Hispanics have pursued their interest in interior design, and several Miami universities have since developed successful interior design programs, including Florida International University and Miami Dade College. “The Hispanic culture has enriched Miami incredibly and influenced designers,” she says.

Because a significant number of Hispanic residents do not speak English, designers can benefit from learning Spanish, says Aida Bao-Garciga, Vice President of Governmental and Regulatory Affairs for the Florida Chapter of IIDA and Head of the Interior Design Section at Miami International Airport. “It’s an asset for a Miami designer to speak Spanish to communicate and get to know clients well,” she says, adding that many of her Hispanic clients place great importance on forming solid relationships with her.

Designers also must become familiar with the culture surrounding them, and Bragg’s work on a Miami medical clinic reinforced this idea. The clinic, which caters to the over-65 Hispanic population, needed a new design to make patients feel comfortable and at home. As part of her efforts to achieve this, Bragg chose to hang old Cuban posters in the space, including a poster from the 1930s of a girl with a red star on her hat. As she began hanging the poster, Bragg noticed that several patients present became upset, thinking the picture was representative of communism. Although the poster in no way was tied to communism, Bragg responded by immediately removing it, and the crowd of patients began to applaud.

“As a designer, you have to be very politically aware of the culture you’re working with,” she says.