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What's my line?

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technical & practice - Where does architecture stop and interior design begin? We look at two distinct collaborative approaches

For some architects the boundary between the outside and the inside is not an issue. Take Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation, Pierre Chareau's Maison de Verre, Wright's Falling water, or even the patron saint of interior design, Carlo Scarpa's Querini-Stampalia Foundation - these works were about maintaining a vision that embraced the totality of the design.

Famous for his fastidious attitude to detail as much as for the buildings he created, Scarpa would think nothing of commissioning craftsmen to cast brass door hinges and furniture.

For Scarpa it was as much about the micro as it was the macro. However, there are plenty of architects who simply prefer to hand over the interior fit-out to others.

To achieve a harmonious relationship between the inside and the outside, the architectural shell needs to shape the interior space, in the same way that the function and design of the interior space has an impact on the exterior. Whether it is designed by one hand or two, sharing the same vision is crucial to a successful result, by whatever means.

Single-minded collaboration Two interior designers working in the UK currently who share a common understanding of blending exterior and interior, yet in their practice have different approaches, are Meriel Scott of Precious McBane and Shideh Shaygan of Shaygan Interior Architecture. While Shaygan's architectural approach is more along the lines of Scarpa's purist thinking, Scott's intuitive understanding of a given architectural shell allows her creativity to enhance the atmosphere the architect was trying to create.

Shaygan, born in Tehran in the late 1960s, grew up with awareness of the traditional Islamic architecture of her country as well as the modernist developments of the LA-influenced 'Case Study Houses' popular in Iran from the early 1950s. Her observations of how the shape of buildings affected the social structure of the people living in them led her into a design career, starting with a Master of Fine Art in Interior Architecture and Furniture Design at the National College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, followed by a one-year exchange to Middlesex University, London. She chose to study interior design because she felt she 'could more relate to its scale and thus have a chance to create or choose objects that are meaningful in a more direct way'.

However, she found she always wanted 'to modify the actual architectural shell in order to achieve the interior I wanted', so she trained in architecture as well as interior design and now, 10 years after her graduation, she can command a knowledge and control over both. For Shaygan, they are the same discipline. The only real difference is in handling the different scales and materials.

Shaygan's work has mainly been for commercial and private clients - from restaurants to private residences in London and Stockholm and even a large-scale housing project in the Middle East. All of these projects involve architecture but not always architects. In order to overcome some of the problems that arise when an architect with another set of ideas is designing the exterior shell and core and her own scope is limited to the inside, nowadays she collaborates with one architect on most of her projects, ensuring control over the whole package. Sharing a similar philosophical point of view about space and materiality, this collaboration works well in delivering considered spaces that are fitted out with the right kind of materials, finishes and objects in the spirit of the building.

Less is not more As with most successful collaborations, it is better to start on a project at the same time. However, in Shaygan's experience, this rarely occurs. Most clients commission the architect first, 'giving them a rather abstract brief and then they decide to bring in the interior designer to fill the space with a more precise brief'. And the problems are not always with the client.

On many occasions, the architects perceive interior designers 'with a mixture of envy and condescension' according to Shaygan.

'The problem with the typical architect is that they are often afraid of expressions and meaning. They think that by reduction and abstraction they achieve more interesting architectural space. Not so. Furthermore, many architects have no knowledge about furniture or product design and the like, so they frequently reject it due to their lack of confidence in that field. I have seen so many examples like that. It would help if they opened up, came clean, and gave more respect to interiors.' One way to overcome these misunderstandings is to begin to reappraise design education. Perhaps there should be further collaboration between interior design and architecture courses, as well as locating the courses near to each other in the same college, so that students from both can experience joint projects. According to Shaygan:

'One of the classic Swedish practices used in the 'old days' advocated that designers should always try to have 60 per cent structural, 30 per cent interior and 10 per cent landscape architecture in their project portfolio.' In contrast to this more holistic approach to designing space, Meriel Scott of design company Precious McBane has a less 'enveloping' approach to the design process from outside to in. Illustrated in its most recent project, Zetter on London's Clerkenwell Road, Precious McBane was more than happy to work alongside architect Chetwood Associates in converting a 19th century warehouse into a unique and stylish hotel.

In this case, the client commissioned the architect first and then, realising that undertaking the interiors was too much for it, selected Precious McBane to come up with an interior solution that would be free-thinking, innovative and quirky. And quirky is certainly its style.

Initially wary about this young practice, Chetwood Associates was very 'gracious' in responding to Scott's initial ideas, realising that its own proposals were 'pretty basic' in comparison. From early on both teams worked happily together in retaining the original character of the building, playing with original features and introducing colours and textures that enhanced the theme of old versus new.

Luckily for Precious McBane, Chetwood Associates was not precious about its own vision for the interior and was intrigued by the end results. The resultant attention to detail is important and each bedroom has not only its own colour scheme but also its own personality expressed through bespoke furnishings and accessories. Bold patterned wallpapers and coloured carpets throughout were created specially using cleverly manipulated archive designs from well-established UK carpet suppliers, all within a moderate budget. It seems that it was a risk well taken. Clear communication and dialogue at all times allowed both the client and the architect to understand and respond to the interior design vision, and vice versa.

Posterior design Originally from a sculpture background at Central St Martins, Scott began her career creating art installations using space and objects, going on to develop 'couture' furniture, such as the 'corset' chair - a satin boudoir chair that laced up at the back.

As well as furniture design, Scott specialises in one-off interiors. Other projects include a make-up studio for Bloomberg using 26,000 lipsticks displayed within the floor; furnishings for sale flats; a forthcoming launch of products; interiors for a chain of new 'out of town' lounge bars; and colour consultancy for a range of clients, including architects. Collaboration is essential in these schemes and Scott says there is a more fluid approach to their work that is non-formulaic.

With the Zetter project, Scott says she enjoyed working with the formality of the architects and felt she was able to push them into new ideas and ways of thinking, while in turn being pushed by them, maintaining a balance through to the end result.

'Good interior design is about being able to enhance a space in responding to a client's brief using objects, colour, texture, furnishings and furniture, ' says Scott.

Each project presents Scott with a challenge in how to make a space 'fabulous, comfortable as well as functional' while bringing together different disciplines effectively to create successful public (or private) spaces.

Katherine Skellon is an interpretative designer and lecturer in creative practice for Narrative Environments. She can be contacted at katherine@skellon. net

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