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The future of design
Where are we going and how will we get there?

By JANET RAASCH

 

With Americans spending more than 90 percent of their time indoors, a greater portion of that time is being spent at home as technology allows us to do our jobs away from the office in increasing numbers. Add to that the trends of nesting, cocooning and staycations and the rise in "videophilia," a focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media, and itís clear we are digging in for the long haul. But what influences will the green movement, changing technologies and an aging housing stock have on the way we live? We asked area leaders in the field of architecture, planning and design to gaze into a crystal ball for some answers.
 

Robert Greenstreet
UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning

According to Bob Greenstreet, the days of the McMansion are largely over. "There is real interest in the quality of space rather than just quantity," says UW-Milwaukeeís architecture dean.

The future, he says, is moving toward greater compactness and sustainable design ó but good design. "As I see the principle of good housing design developed in our studios and in our profession, I can see really almost traditional housing values, those that were well established in the 1900s, are resurrecting themselves. I think itís a hopeful period for design."

As technology continues to evolve it will provide better solutions ó faster construction, and more energy and space efficiency. Along with that, style will continue to develop, Greenstreet says. "I am seeing some quite interesting design features associated with sustainable architecture. Itís inevitable when adding major components like solar panels. The technology is evolving and becoming less intrusive, more integrated."

 

Wade Weissmann
Wade Weissmann Architecture

As Americans come to grips with the fallout from 60 solid years of sprawl that has taxed our citiesí infrastructure systems, the burden will be on architects to design spaces that are both functional and reduce the carbon footprint, Wade Weissmann says. "Finding ways to embrace new technology and elegantly incorporate that into the compositions we provide is going to be a very exciting discussion," he says.

In the future, "green" wonít be the buzzword it is today, he predicts, but not because it is being written out of the equation. "Green will just be the average common denominator," Weissmann says. Testing for all green products currently is taking place in the domestic realm as product development is still in its infancy, he says. "There are still so many opportunities to explore, new ground to break. As designers we push that dialogue."

Though his architectural practice is rooted in "timeless geometrical configuration," he appreciates modern design. "I do see us moving into smaller spaces. The idea of contemporary styles is very appealing. They can blur the space from one boundary to another; a bigger space that accommodates more functions."

As lifestyles shift away from the formalities of previous generations, our homes will continue to reflect that, he says. "We need different kinds of spaces than our parents did. People are more active, so they need a larger spectrum of clothing, more storage. We need places to change a number of times a day. Thatís sort of functional and kind of cultural," he says. "We want more access to the outside. We typically gather for meals and food preparation and we share in that service. We are no longer carrying staffs or chefs and cooks and servers as we did a number of generations back."

What was once incidental is now essential to the home design dialogue: mud rooms, home work spaces and fitness areas to accommodate everything from indoor pools to yoga. "They can be as elaborate as spa-type spaces or relaxation spiritual centering spaces to spaces to accommodate specific sports," Weissmann says.Allyson Nemec

Allyson Nemec
Quorum Architects Inc.

The 2001 book, "The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for How We Really Live," by Sarah Susanka is making a lasting mark on the direction of residential design, architect Allyson Nemec says. "I think there has been a lot of movement toward smaller, more manageable projects in residential design and construction," she says. "A lot of attention is being paid to green and sustainable architecture."

A challenge for the future will be to find ways to bring energy-efficient technologies, such as solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling, into an older housing stock with which people are familiar.

The immediate trend that points to a drop in second home ownership might have lasting impact as well, Nemec says, as people choose to age in place rather than flock to Arizona or Florida for their retirement years. "The attractiveness of being in one place and knowing your neighbors and having libraries and schools that are strong, translates into wanting to stay in your community," she says. "Perhaps itís an overall right sizing being driven by the economy but will continue to be a trend. Sustainability is important. People want a healthy lifestyle that is supported by their home life."

Nancy Miller
Form and Function

In her 25 years as an interior designer, Nancy Miller has seen the business evolve to become more and more like the fashion industry. "I feel strongly that interior design is a fashion business," she says. "The product manufacturers have made it a fashion business." Whatís in style this year isnít necessarily going to be whatís in next year, Miller says.

Part of her job is to discern between the fleeting and the lasting in interior design. "Itís a conversation I always have at the very beginning of a project with a client, a discussion of where I feel trends are going," Miller says. The vessel sink, she notes, began as a trend that has become integrated into the vocabulary of interior design. "You canít always tell if something is just going to be a fashion statement for a couple years."

She points to a number of trends that will continue to evolve in the near future:

ē Environmentally sensitive design: "It is increasingly going to be worked in with the design of products and the design of buildings so that at some point it becomes less conscious and more automatic. As that happens it will become increasingly affordable. If the price tag is very high then people will not necessarily go out of their way to do it unless itís a person who is very committed to sustainable design."

ēGlobal influences: English design, French design and other European looks rooted in good taste are becoming more prevalent in the United States. Eastern influence is coming back in as a design style. "Part of that ties back to the environmentally sensitive design, that Zen kind of feel."

ēMidcentury modern: "Midcentury pieces are highly collectible pieces these days, not just furniture but housewares. I think it gets back to how individual pieces are designed. They can be highly functional and still have a very contemporary look to them." She also sees a resurgence in the arts and crafts movement.

ē Sustainable design: She cites an example of daylighting, which revolves around the placement and sizing and types of windows and how the light is used so that it becomes more energy efficient. Hand in hand is the idea of using lighter finishes on walls to achieve better light reflectance and thereby not using as much energy to light a space.

ē Personalized interiors: "That in and of itself is a trend and has been for a number of years that something doesnít have to adhere to one style."

David Zach
Futurist

Even though David Zach has been speaking as a futurist around the globe for nearly 25 years, he doesnít profess to know the future. "I always look for implications and the implications of implications of implications," Zach says. "You cannot know the future but you can explore the possibilities."

In the arena of design and architecture, he is troubled by the effects of the immediacy of technology and the resulting loss of creativity. Take, for instance, the integrated building management model that allows architects to map out every aspect of a building and improve efficiencies through the use of new technologies. But does that advancement lead to better design? "There are always unforeseen consequences when you solve problems," he says. "You donít eliminate problems, you create new problems."

The glory associated with architecture, of building something that is special and that will last, is gone, he says. "Architects are no longer the leaders, and they should be," he says. "(They) are being forced more and more to pay attention to the bottom line. They are becoming accountants." We are in the age of measurement in which we obsess about the bottom line but donít look at the horizon, Zach says.

But design, not money itself, is at the center of the economy, he says. "Innovations lead to the creation of wealth. Design determines value. The better design, the more value you have," Zach says.

He uses the example of an Alexander Eschweiler designed school in Milwaukee that was closed in 2006 because it no longer meets modern educational standards. But with its Mother Goose panels, fireplace, sandbox and rooms with hidden panels, it evokes exactly the kind of whimsy that make schools fun places to learn, Zach says. He contrasts that with a modern-day-designed school that has no windows. "Not all change is progress," Zach says. "Itís not all forward. There is a desire amongst designers to do something new, but there is an awful lot of old that should be saved, should be restored. Otherwise it shows us we have learned nothing over all these centuries."

To that end, he says, good measurement always needs to be a subset of design, not the other way around. Designers shouldnít be afraid to play and to invoke nature and history in their work, Zach says. "If you are only thinking in your own little box there is so much of the world you are going to miss. The things you didnít think were connectable are really the source of innovation."

Brian Johnsen
Johnsen Schmaling Architects

When Brian Johnsen, partner with Sebastian Schmaling in Johnsen Schmaling Architects, looks to the future of design, he suggests the firmís recent project in Racine: a 1,900-square-foot, three-bedroom house for a family of four. "What has happened to building has been all about excess," he says. "(This project) is back to basics: four people sharing one bathroom, no dishwasher. Itís part of the way they wanted to live, to minimize oneís carbon footprint."

The structure is anything but old school with its bold lines and clean form. Itís also a platinum LEED certified project, which means it employs the very latest technologies and practices in regard to sustainability and energy efficiencies. And thatís truly important to the architects. "When you think about what housing starts to be, this is the start of it," Johnsen says.

Another project set on pristine wooded land opened up an ethical debate for the architects. "Every time you dig a hole you are taking away from what is pure," Johnsen says. "We try to think of architecture, then, as contributing from a standpoint of visual sustainability. It works within its context. Itís appropriate and respects its place in which itís made," he says. "The intense dialogue Sebastian and myself have on each and every one of our projects is very important to us."

Translating these concepts to action on a larger scale is the challenge of the future for architects, city and suburban planners and developers in order to erase years of disinvestment in cities, suburban sprawl, overbuilding and cheaply manifested structures. "We need to adhere to all these principles that everyone is saying we should. It just canít continue to be a model." m