Since the early nineteen nineties, interior design at RMIT University has been evolving as a unique community of designers, artists and thinkers. Over this time the program has absorbed the lessons of cross-disciplinary art/design collaborations and established a strong sensorial and experiential approach to design that sets it apart from a preoccupation with architectural form and space. In recent times, the courses pedagogical approach has embraced the roles of the social and the psychological in the shaping of spatial conditions and in doing so has developed strategies for responding to issues arising within contemporary urbanism, lifestyles and technology. In this new paradigm, design is thought of as series of operational strategies and provocations for interpersonal interaction as much as it is involved in the fashioning of the physical world.
In this light interior design can be considered as an emerging discipline that is growing to maturity through the range and depth of its concerns. The multivalent condition of the practice of the interior is one that is constantly developing as a continuum of interests and approaches toward the act of design. This outlook does not subscribe to any one specific philosophy but rather embraces the potentials that exist in exploring the edges of design thinking. The Intimate Negotiations project sought to chronicle the variations and confluences within the network of artists and designers who have helped influence this evolution.
From 2008 to 2011 an annual exhibition of students work and an accompanying lecture evening was convened. Each year a theme was developed to which lecturers and students involved in design studios were asked to respond and a group of practitioners were assembled to talk about how they thought of their practice through that year’s topic. The series of lectures were seen as a ‘salon’ in which the tenets of design were discussed. They encouraged a one to one connection between the designers in order to expose how they work, who they work with and how they think. Each speaker was asked to talk for no longer than fifteen minutes and present eight images that captured the methodology that encompassed their practice. The evenings were relaxed and informal occasions where open discussion and commentary was encouraged from the audience.
The exhibition and lecture series explored how expressive and personal approaches intersect with social and cultural concerns, to help shape the programmatic, pragmatic and technical decisions that a design project entails. Each symposium addressed a different fundamental issue in the act of design; these were context, method, medium and program. While within any design project each of these arenas of thought needs to be addressed and synthesised to produce a coherent outcome, the individual symposia asked speakers to focus the exposition of their work through the lens of one of these specific themes and to speak about how their work encapsulates that particular idea. The symposia asked, ‘what is the body of knowledge that designers possess that empowers them to develop strategies for the shaping of the built environment?’
The series began with an exploration of the idea of ‘context’ and the positioning of one’s output as a designer in relationship to philosophical, historical, social and cultural milieus. This positioning of ones mode of working is the critical first step in the development of design that is relevant and responsive to the time and place in which it is conceived. The second symposium considered the idea and application of particular working ‘methods’ as specific pursuits of knowledge. There is no set design methodology and each new brief and project can suggest a new approach to the act of design. The idiosyncratic course taken in this iterative process inevitably affects the outcome. The third series of lectures brought in the role of ‘medium’ into the discussion by asking a variety of different practitioners to discuss the role of the materials and media they manipulate in expressing of their creative output. Artists and designers who worked with paper, precious metals, casting materials, light, sound, video and more traditional methods of built construction were asked to reflect how the intimate knowledge of a mediums qualities guided and shaped the design process.
The final symposium interrogated the idea of ‘program’ and the structuring of the relationship between people, spaces and events in the shaping of interiors. The concept of program was extended to include practitioners who curated design festivals or managed arts initiatives to those who curated and designed exhibitions or organised of the complexities of an institutional building and its relationship to the needs of its occupants. These approaches to program were counterbalanced by the presentation of works that addressed issues of how time based narratives can be translated into a spatial understanding and how parametric software can be used as a flexible design tool in which possible design permutations can arise through the shifting of the values and relationships between different variables.
Taken as a whole the 'Intimate Negotiations' project served as a chance to reflect upon and consolidate the understanding of the process of design. Interior design can be seen as a practice in which the brief, process and outcome are integrally linked. Through its subdivision of the aspects of design the lectures and student projects broadened and enhanced the appreciation of the potentials that lie within the practice.