Ramdas Shenoy speaks to Dr. Malini Karani, Deputy Associate Head of School and Director of Studies for Interior Design (Undergraduate and Postgraduate) at the School of Textiles & Design at Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
How has the COVID pandemic impacted the world of Interiors when the world is confined to interiors?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we think about creating our interior spaces. Homes were places of refuge; offices were places of productivity and creativity. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the set notions were thrown off track. With people working from home rather than their workplaces for extended periods of time, it was necessary to relook and reimagine our the interiors of today and the future.
Residential spaces have potentially seen the most impact from this pandemic due to lockdowns and movement restrictions, this is not only related to working from home but also by not having the freedom to travel. Additionally, working from home resulted in longer working days for many people. As the lines between work and free hours blurred, individuals eventually realised that they needed to strike a balance between managing work and leisure time. There was a rise of the always-on culture and people needed ot distinguish between their work and no-work space
Some of the practical changes people indulged in during the pandemic, which will also potentially be incorporated in future designs, are creating larger socialising spaces at home and aesthetically designing work spaces by incorporating natural elements such as putting the desk near a bright window or introducing indoor plants around the desk area. Creating a dedicated workout area, extending the kitchen to cook more, building home gardens, incorporating a dedicated reading corner are some of the other ways people have changed the way they design their homes.
There has been a bigger push towards well-being both in the residential and commercial spaces. And this will stay.
What is the difference between an architect and an interior designer?
When referring to interior architects and interior designers – their expertise is closely linked together and is almost interconnected. It is very difficult to define where one stops and where the other begins. However, architecture overall is also closely connected to interior design.
Historically speaking, the named architects such as Gaudi, Frank Llyod Wright, Le Corbusier among others were responsible for the architecture and the interior design of their projects. This was the norm during the 1800’s and early 1900’s as the interior design profession was still in the shadows of architecture. Subsequently, when interior design gained prominence and became a recognised profession, the work tasks were then clearly defined for both professions.
Interior designers were being brought in to define and incorporate design aesthetics into the living spaces. However, the issue was that interior designers were almost an afterthought. They were brought in during a much later part of the architectural cycle, resulting in the interior designers having extremely limited space to enhance. Interior designers were not involved in the conceptual stage of the building which limited their creativity in some cases. However, this has now changed, interior designers are now approached in the early stages so that they can provide their inputs to create inspiring interiors. Architects and interior designers must work together to manage space and incorporate appropriate design elements into it.
Your journey – how has the world of architecture and interiors changed in the last decade?
I have witnessed some interesting changes in the last decade. For example, there is more awareness on well-being, creating user-centric spaces, biophilic design, and sustainable elements and approaches to architecture and interiors.
Physical and mental well-being has gained major prominence in the last decade and rightly so. While beautiful interiors pleasing aesthetics, functionality is as much or more important. For home interiors, we can see that these are becoming more focused on comfort, functionality and incorporates minimalism with the individualistic flair of its residents. For offices, we have seen a major shift from rigid office spaces to more fluid interiors. For example, open-plan offices, floating work-stations, glass partitions and smaller meeting rooms as compared to few huge conference rooms
Additionally, regulations such as WELL have been introduced, which have provided designers with guidelines for light, air, water, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind. By creating user-centric design, we are creating unique experiences that address every individual’s needs by incorporating flexible design and other elements such as furniture and décor.
How real and relevant is Vaastu in today’s context?
Vaastu has many aspects to it, but it is predominantly associated with mysticism these days. Even though many people have embraced yoga and ayurveda which have similar origins to Vaastu, many people stay away from accepting Vaastu as a concept.
In basic terms,Vaastu is an environmental study that lays the rules of how buildings should be designed, and places the user at the center of the design. Orientation of the building, design of the building, proportions of the rooms, and the use of materials are some of the aspects laid out in the principles of Vaastu. These aspects are very similar to user comfort requirements that most architects and designers should use. Some aspects of Vaastu are not relevant today since they are either obsolete or not applicable to design anymore. But at the core of it all, Vaastu addresses the environment we live in and its impact on our lives, making it an important and valuable aspect of interior design.
What are the qualities of becoming a good architect and Interior designer?
Creativity is one of the key qualities of becoming a good designer. Bringing innovative solutions to clients is an important aspect of design because it questions the normal to find new solutions to existing approaches. For example, exposed ceilings, raw concrete walls, tiny house movement, automated retail spaces are just some ideas of innovative thinking that are now being sought after by clients.
Collaboration is another important aspect. Starting from working in a team to design the space, designers must collaborate with people outside the industry to incorporate the latest technology into their designs. Additionally, communication is also a key skill for designers. It is important to effectively communicate ideas to the clients, understand their perspectives, and visualise ideas with contractors. As experts, designers need to build trustworthy relationships with clients and contractors so that the final space is made the way it was perceived and imagined by the client.
How do you see the future of the architecture domain with challenges like environmental(global warming) impact?
It is a given that the design industry must address environmental challenges. From the challenges of non-renewable resources to the burden limited renewable resources, the world needs to come together to safeguard the environment. The Built Environment, which involves architecture and interior design, has to be tasked with incorporating design and build methods that positively serve the environment.
LEED and other similar guidelines are laid out so that we can create spaces that do not harm the environment as much as we used to. Designers need to understand that they need to minimise waste from executing the design or create spaces that reduce the need for air-conditioning or heating or artificial light in new projects. Clients and designers should consider retrofitting old buildings to investigate if it is a better option than a new build. Designers will become more responsible and will direct their clients to make more informed decisions.
Your advice to young budding professionals?
Design can be a difficult industry to navigate through for professionals, especially for young professionals. In the beginning, it seems uphill, and finding the light at the end of the tunnel can be difficult. One way to overcome these challenges is to find a mentor, someone who can talk you through difficult choices and guide you through the process of being a designer. And is a given with any industry, it is imperative to have friends outside the design field to know what is happening in the world around you.
A last crucial piece of advice is to believe in yourself and your ideas. Do not be scared to share these with your peers or with your manager. You might need to modify your design based on the feedback but creativity is a process and sometimes it takes many attempts to get it right.
Be authentic, be real, and understand environmental and individual needs.
About Dr. Malini Karani
In her present role, she is responsible for overseeing both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Dubai as well as liaising with UK team to ensure their parity across campuses. She is deeply involved in curriculum development, undertakes teaching and is actively engaged in various student activities.
Malini obtained her Bachelor’s in Interior Design at the American University in Dubai and studied further at the Academy of Art, University in San Francisco to obtain her Master’s in Architecture. She has practiced as an Architect and Interior Designer in Dubai for seven years and has been involved in academia for 15 years across the MENA region. Some of the projects she worked on in Dubai include Etihad Mall, Times Square Mall, retail branches of Barclays bank and luxury villas in Emirates Hills. At present, she is completing her PhD in Architecture from Cardiff University, UK, in the field of Vastushastra or Indian Architectural Theory.
She has successfully published research papers on this subject and constantly aspires to spread the essence of traditional architectural theories whilst continuing to embrace contemporary design In her free time, Malini enjoys many creative activities such as sketching, painting, solving sudoku, playing games online and jigsaw puzzles. She is very passionate about her Lego collection and enjoys making them with her nieces.
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