Pushing the envelope: Five insights from the world's biggest design fair
Apr 26, 2019
Some of the world’s most innovative architects, artists, furniture designers, product developers, lighting engineers, fashion creatives and digital décor experts descended on Milan earlier this month for the city’s annual design fair. With the help of QICRE design partners Technē and Luchetti Krelle, we highlight five key insights from the Salone del Mobile tradeshow and Fuorisalone event series about the future of spatial experience.

Data-driven design steals the spotlight

Google’s A Space for Being installation foregrounded the therapeutic value of thoughtful interior design by tracking how different aesthetic experiences directly affect the brain and body. Visitors were given smart wristbands to record physiological responses such as changes in heart rate and skin temperature as they traversed the installation’s three distinct rooms, each space featuring different colours, shapes, textures, lighting, scents and sounds. Scientists then revealed which of the spaces induced the greatest levels of biological calmness with a view to helping individuals make smarter decisions about the spaces they visit and curate in future.

While the power of certain colours and materials to energise or soothe us is well understood anecdotally, the relatively new research field of neuroaesthetics – sometimes referred to as the science of beauty – has the potential to bring a new level of rigour to the process of designing shared spaces. As personalisation technology such as AI-powered visual merchandising becomes part of daily life, data about visitors’ preferred surroundings could be factored into retail and hospitality environments.

Nick Travers, director at Melbourne-based architecture and interior design firm Technē, says neuroaesthetic data could prove a valuable tool for real estate operators when analysing the risk profile of innovative design concepts. “We’re already tapping into big data for many of our projects and being able to support the intuitive recommendations we make with robust scientific insights about the projected impact of particular design elements on wellbeing would be an exciting development for our industry,” he adds.


Nature takes over interiors

For the Adjacent Field installation, Melbourne artist Linda Tegg found a range of plants growing wild in Milan and relocated them inside the Jil Sander head office to form a miniature green island. The living, walk-through piece was one of many during the fair to promote reconnection with the natural environment and a redrawing of the line between the man-made and the organic. Greenery may be an increasingly common sight in corporate and healthcare spaces, but architects and botanical artists are looking well beyond this in pursuit of more dramatic and meaningful ways to interweave the natural landscape with the built environment. Natural forms and materials provided much of the inspiration for furniture exhibited in the Salone del Mobile, meanwhile, including the waterfall-like rippled benches made from woven rush plants by Japanese manufacturer ADAL.

The significance of plants in curated spaces is only growing as our cities become more digitised, according to Stuart Krelle, director at lauded Sydney design studio Luchetti Krelle. He says: “Using plants in interior design helps to create a nurturing atmosphere and counter the sense of disconnection from nature that many of us feel.” He adds: “With thoughtful lighting, plants can bring unique texture and depth to a space.”

Travers agrees that incorporating and reflecting elements from the natural world is intrinsic to healthy interior design. “We collaborate with a horticulturist very early in the design process to make sure we’re integrating plants into our spaces in a practical rather than tokenistic way,” he explains. “It’s not all about greenery either,” he adds, “we can reflect organic shapes through furniture and finishes too.”

Restorative design reaches the mainstream

Beyond the Broken Nature exhibition about tackling environmental issues through product and system design, there were plenty of innovations in sustainable design to discuss during Milan Design Week.

Norwegian Presence’s Join
 got visitors thinking about the circular economy with a series of sleek homewares crafted from reused and recyclable materials, while Welsh furniture designer Bethan Gray unveiled the Exploring Eden collection of tables and chairs made from a mixture of resin and shells discarded by the fishing industry. 

Eyes were also on Enis Akiev’s collection of marble-like tiles made from plastic packaging waste, Emeco’s endlessly recyclable ‘On and On’ chairs made from drink bottles and fibreglass, and Reform Studio’s upcycled plastic bag textiles.

Digital design scales up

Renewable resources also made their way into the digital design realm through Arthur Mamou-Mani’s 3D-printed Conifera installation for COS. The French architect used open-source software to create a pavilion of 700 pyramid-shaped bricks from a compostable mixture of starch-based bioplastic and wood pulp, pointing to a future in which robotic tools could be used on a grand scale to make stackable or even ‘growable’ buildings.

Elsewhere, Caracol Studio debuted a fully 3D-printed bar constructed partly from recycled coffee capsules, and designer Patrick Jouin used the Design in the Age of Experience conference to unveil his 3D-printed foldable chair prototype. As we discover more about the capabilities of algorithm-aided design and digital fabrication, the creative possibilities and waste savings available to real estate developers could be too great to ignore.

According to Travers, 3D printing technology has the potential to fundamentally transform interior design by removing the prohibitive costs associated with prototyping. “We’re not going to recognise today’s costly product development processes when we look back at them in 20 years, the potential for innovation is huge,” he says.

Screens take a back seat

As daily life seems increasingly taken up by screen time, a number of Milan Design Week exhibitors moved to eliminate screen-based devices or make them invisible. Canadian studio Lambert & Fils collaborated with Milan’s DWA Design Studio to create an ‘anti-digital’ café in which a communal u-shaped table and circular bar encouraged visitors to face each other and socialise rather than mediate the experience through their mobile phones.

London-based engineering firm Foster and Partners showcased a rollable LG television that winds down into a discreet rectangular base, while Swiss furniture brand Vitra unveiled a transparent Panasonic television made to resemble a pane of glass. Meanwhile, Samsung’s Resonance exhibition explored how invisible voice-recognition and movement sensor technology can be used to tailor spaces by having visitors’ sounds and steps dictate the lighting and projected wall graphics as they moved through the maze-like environment. 

Travers says technology has its place but never comes before fostering genuine human connection through design; “Our philosophy aligns well with QICRE’s in that we’re not trying to create so-called fashionable spaces that look best on-screen, we design spaces that bring people together again and again.”

For more about the digital tools powering physical experience design, read about the algorithmic art created for 80 Collins or the potential of spatial computing.