THE IDEA OF A WALL

 

In 2016 I was asked to develop a brief and be judge of the Korean Institute of Interior Design Space Design Award Contest. The competition invites students from universities across Korea to develop responses to a nominated theme. In looking for a topic that would have the potential to elicit a wide range of responses and which would connect to my ongoing research interests I developed a brief entitled ‘the idea of a wall’. Asking the contestants to develop responses to this idea was like inviting over two hundred research assistants to explore a field of design that has long held my interest. The brief was intentionally abstract and open for interpretation. What was sought was a rethinking of the potentials of the boundary conditions of urban space in physical, sensorial, metaphorical or contextual ways.

Traditionally the wall is thought of as the primary tool in the definition of interior space. It is considered as a finite physical boundary, a solid material separation device that divides one spatial condition from another. Yet it could be said that in our current age the role of the physical in the creation of space has evolved from the pure manipulation of matter to the complex organising of fields of sensory information. In this schema the concerns of the structural go hand in hand with the construction of atmospheres and sensorial experiences.

As such, the humble wall is freed from its definition as physical barrier and is liberated to become a performative entity, an intelligent and responsive condition in its own right. In this sense, a wall has the ability to modulate the nature of our relationship with our surroundings. The wall, rather than just being a solid boundary can be seen as a dynamic and permeable filter of environmental forces, a contained field of immaterial interaction.

This new definition of a wall seeks a new language for the delineation of space, one that is generated by an investigation of the primary sensorial concerns of a given situation. Thus the wall’s constitution can be manifest in terms of its performance specification, its ability to differentiate the needs of one space from those of another. With this in mind, the idea of a wall is, for the interior designer, a new territory of spatial investigation.

The brief asked participants to reconsider and rethink the idea of a wall, to extend its potential and in doing so generate new typologies of space. In this undertaking the choice of site and program of the space in which the wall is situated was vital in defining it’s parameters as a spatial device. How can the design of a wall energise and amplify the inherent spatial conditions of a site and act as a conduit for the functioning of the space?

In developing the proposal entrants were asked to contemplate the nature of the wall in many ways.

• As an examination of form and pattern, through the application of parametric principles in the shaping of its geometry or the consideration of the optical and the illusory in the superimposition of its layers.

• As a transformative system, a flexible, foldable, collapsible and operable series of components that can be reconstituted in a variety of ways to address the needs of the buildings occupants.

• As a carrier of information, a digital pixelated screen that acts as a portal between the offline and the online, the real and the virtual. The wall may be intelligent, responsive, communicative and affective.

• As an invisible and etherealentity; a wall of light, a wall of sound, a wall of water or an electromagnetic barrier.

• As a filter of environmental qualities that responds to light, air flow and acoustic issues. • As a bio-climatic controller seeking a perfect cohesion between its design and natural elements such as the sun, wind, rain and vegetation.

• As an inhabitable environment in its own right.

• As an expressive element, a metaphor, a backdrop, a gesture of the differences in ideologies. As a provocative, political and powerful work of art.

The contestants accepted the challenges of the brief and offered a wide diversity of design proposals. The schemes presented ranged from bookshelves as space making devices, children’s play spaces, flexible and dynamic wall systems, vertical garden ‘green’ walls, sound fields, light curtains and interactive digital portals. The contexts of these designs encompassed public, domestic, office, retail, gallery, museum and memorial spaces.

Judging such a large number of entries and such a wide range of responses was a daunting task which took a number of weeks to complete. Projects were grouped into typologies and approaches and critical distinctions were made between individual entries. Through this process the shortlisted ten finalists were decided.

The final ‘live’ judging of the ultimate winners at the 2016 KIID Autumn conference was an unexpected delight. As each design team had obviously invested many more hours of effort, beyond the time spent on the original poster entry, to refine the details of the design and practice their presentation techniques. Awarding the top prizes from such a distinguished group was cause for much deliberation. The final decision was informed by the depth of the students work and how their design proposal suggested critical thinking toward social and cultural issues.

The ‘Pop-up wall’ project drew it’s inspiration from the format of children’s books. The design applied the potentials of a foldable concertina mechanism to a range of flexible spatial solutions. These ranged from ideas for child play spaces, exhibition and point of sale retail kiosks, and a variety of domestic situations. The project was taken to a high level of realisation with a full-sized mock-up and an engaging video exposition of the design’s potentials.

The ‘Living Machine’ project addressed the demographic diversity of urban living through the design of a flexible system that could cater for a vast array of lifestyles and family groupings within the uniformity of high density housing blocks. The projects strength lay not only in its technical resolution but also in its addressing of the new typologies of domestic inhabitation of twenty first century urban dwelling.

The ‘Society Wall’ project considered the construction of a wall within a shanty town environment as not only providing amenity and shelter but also being a restorative place-making act that fosters a sense of ownership for the community. In this way the proposal suggested a high level of critical thinking toward social and cultural issues. Ultimately the project displayed an appreciation of design and construction as not merely a physical act but as a deeply embedded human engagement between people and the place in which they live.

The ‘Time Walking on the Memory’ project used the materiality, orientation and labyrinthine composition of walls as a metaphorical device. The design successfully integrated itself with the landscape, as walls cut and traversed the site and aligned themselves significantly with the natural elements and portentous cultural meanings. The design was seen to work as an act of reconciliation of the past between countries with a tragic shared history and a gesture of hope for the next generations.

Ultimately the breadth of thinking and the quality of the finished design proposals that were produced for the KIID Space Design Award Contest 2016 is a testament to the high standard of Interior Design education in Korea.