The history of interior design has of course shaped the modern design industry. Ages, styles and design principles have evolved over time as a result of globalisation and modernism. However, the extent to which interior design has shaped the world we have come to know, stretches far beyond the mere aesthetics of contemporary design.
The course of history has been a bloody one. However, there is no doubt that it could have been bloodier. The evolution of and adaptation to specific theories and practices that underpin design, may well have had a direct impact on the state of the world and how it came to be.
Specifically, the use of interior design practices for power- which in some cases, in fact, replaced the need for battle to attain power and status. More recently, the notion of power has come to adopt connotations of legacy and remembrance. Interior design has become a profound tool in securing high status, legacy and power.
Designing for happiness and harmonious living is by no means unique to the 21st century. The ancient path to living harmoniously has provided contemporary designers with the understanding of fundamental principles of well-living. From Ancient Greece to Ch’an Zen China, the calculated scientific methods for designing with the human form and wellbeing in mind, have stressed the importance of earthly contentment for peaceful and happy environments.
Designing for Power and Status
It is 1649, Charles I is executed and England is about to embark on a journey that shapes and informs modern design. The years between 1649-1660 are consequently spent preparing for a period of great opulence in art, architecture and design. The restoration of the throne by Charles II and his followers, who spent years in exile returned from France and the Netherlands with a taste for the latest continental styles. Foreign-trained merchants and artists working in England were introduced to new flamboyant forms and rich material.
Eager to match the artistic efforts of his French counterpart- Louis XIV, Charles II embarked on a construction and reconstruction mission. This is marked the start of design power politics across Europe. Palaces under renovation at Richmond, Whitehall and Greenwich were underway and new plans were being made for Kensington. Winchester Castle was Charles’s answer to the Palace of Versailles.
Some suggest that the use of interior design to establish power and status has prevented the need for war in some cases. The history of war has often been a result of power politics. Settlements through alternative means, such as design, has removed the need for battle. Hence, quite literally changing the course of history.
Using interior design to compete for power is not limited to the practices of the past. Modern day interior design is used to boost commercial power and set status. Look no further than London’s Bloomberg- winner of 18 architectural and interior design awards and renowned for its prestigious interior design.
The £1bn London headquarters constitutes the world’s most sustainable office building and certainly one of the most expensive. These claims to fame have not been plucked out of thin air, and derive from the planning stages of Bloomberg. They wanted to be the biggest and the best.
Bloomberg announced that “maybe in 1,800 years from now, people will discover the ruins of our building too’, just as they had discovered the ruins of ancient Roman Temple of Mithras in the grounds of Bloomberg’s site. He continues to say that “they may marvel at this latter-day sustainable temple of financial reporting.
It is clear that the design of Bloomberg’s HQ has and will continue to shape the course of history- similarly to the influence of the ancient ruins of the Roman Temple.
Designing for Happiness and Harmony
Historically, many civilisations have created their own versions of psychological happiness emanated from the age-old need to create harmonious surroundings for people to thrive in. The root of Western civilisation- Ancient Greece, designed structures based on the human form and proportion. This connectivity of humans and design is one reason for the enduring power of Classicism.
Far more ancient, Vastu Shastra and Feng Shui, circa 5,000 and 4,000 years old respectively, combine spiritual and pragmatic principles in order to harmonise humans with their environments. These practices are now as popular as they ever have been. The design of our internal environments according to these ancient practices have been used to resolve the problem of ‘sick building syndrome’- by making the interior design physically and psychologically satisfactory and inline with the five basic elements.
Vastu Shastra and Feng Shui state that buildings should be designed as a union of physical and metaphysical aspects. Each related to five basic elements made up of matter- each of which associated with a different colour, and each colour possesses its own energy. Essentially the interior design process was moulded into a science circa 6,000 years ago and is still used to manipulate the space in which we reside today.
Using interior design to find beauty, harmony and happiness in unexpected places has changed throughout history. Newcomer, Wabi Sabi, developed out of Taoist and Z principles. In contrast to classical Western civilisation- with a focus on aesthetics, opulence, perfection and symmetry- Wabi Sabi rejects all things artificial and focuses on an awareness of the transience of all things, to find meaning and beauty in simplicity.
The focus on harmonising the space around us has done a lot to remove man from the ‘state of nature’. That is, within a Hobbesian word, every man from themselves whereby war is always imminent, in a situation lacking society and meaning. The life-changing promise of Wabi Sabi is said to be not only harmonious interior design, but psychological liberation and earthly contentment.
Food for Thought
If zero consideration had been given to the effects of interior design in realising its influential capabilities, where would we be? Ultimately, we would have rooms and buildings full of function but lacking human form and proportion. Would the course of history look any different if our moods and wellbeing were unable to be uplifted by our internal surroundings? Our guess is yes. As a collective species, we spend 90% of our time indoors. It is reasonable to presume a series of increasingly sinister decisions to have been made throughout history, in the absence of interior design strategy.