If I say ‘battlefield’, do you think ‘interior’? If I ask: “who shapes society?”, would you answer: “The interior architect”?
Less than sixty years ago, the battle for emancipation and class education was fought on private territory: inside the apartment. Today one’s house is supposed to be an expression of one’s individuality, but in those days the interior was subject to ideology and class struggle. During the first phase of the industrial city, newcomers in Western European cities had to be educated to behave like citizens: clean the house, manage waste, mind the children, in short conform to urban social rules. The right to live in a social rental apartment would be the reward for disciplined and confirmative behavior. After the Second World War, the focus of attention shifted to how to live a modern life: clean, healthy, and therefore happy, with simple, well-designed modern products in spartan, light, efficient spaces. One of Archis’ predecessors was dedicated to this very task. Inspired by social-democrat and modernist ideals, monthly magazine Goed Wonen [Good Living] showed what a good interior should look like as part of a program of education and emancipation.
On the other side of the world a magazine with a seemingly different focus had a similar goal to educate via the interior. Included in this issue is research on Playboy’s role in creating ‘the bachelor’, a new ‘specimen’ in society at that time. Beatriz Colomina’s research shows that Playboy actively promoted and in part even invented this ‘man of the world’. It came with the right products as represented by its advertisers, with the intellectual profile of interviews and reviews, but also with the right spatial surroundings, the correct setting for such a life. Furniture, apartment, and house were all part of a particular profile that the urban man and reader of Playboy would want to identify with. One of the interesting finds is that this was an almost exclusively interior world.
In the early 1970s, the Dutch Goed Wonen merged with an architecture magazine and shifted its attention to the social dimensions of the city. This was not by coincidence as it was the period in which interior space became contested, as expressed by squatting. This movement revolutionized not only received ideas of property and (spatial) rights, it also revolutionized the very notion of living. It didn’t take a Rietveld chair, Pastoe cupboard, or a Bruynzeel kitchen – not even a three-room apartment – to live a decent urban life. The aesthetics of the house and its spatial arrangement were as subject to revolt as ownership, fashion, and looks.
We don’t have to spell out all the events since. The interior became subject to fashion society-wide and fully part of consumer logic, aggregating more and more ‘capital’ inside.
On average, westerners spend most of their lives indoors. These internal worlds (home, office, leisure) have become almost transparent and intermingled to a considerable extent, but they still exist and will do so in the near future. We’ve seen inventions like the open kitchen, the loft, the flex office, and more. We’re witnessing a major shift in architecture from constructing new to re-using existing spaces over the last years (again, in the western world, but other regions will follow) due to the economic crisis, but also stimulated by the whole sustainability debate (on average, it’s more sustainable to maintain than to construct).
But despite this history and despite recent developments, we hear little or nothing from architects about the interior as subject for research and design. We hear very little from interior architects in general. Well for those with really good ears, some quarreling over professional boundaries can be overheard. In some countries an interior architect is something other than an interior designer. And the interior designer (who shouldn’t touch construction) is not the same as the interior decorator. All three have their specialty, but apart from make-over TV shows, their status is relatively low, certainly in comparison with architects, urban designers, and urban planners. Maybe related to this status issue is a tendency among interior architecture schools to include the ‘urban interior’ in their curriculum. Curiously these departments are predominantly part of art schools, and rarely connect to technical universities, which separates interior architecture from the larger scales.
This move ‘into public space’ could be thought of as defensive or flight forward, it can also be seen as forward-looking, in the sense that this fusion of public and private is played out in both domains. So instead of moving into new territory and leaving old territory behind, interior architecture could claim and create a pivotal role.
It would certainly be a good thing to include the interior in our thinking about society and its futures. And also to realize that the private interior is just as political as the town square or the internet. Architecture has ‘always’ claimed to do more than accommodate function and program, so now its interior architecture’s turn to provide more than comfort in private space; a more inclusive approach would be needed. There is a world to be had in creating arrangements that take flexibility and temporariness serious and start from interaction.