Grand designer

Building 4 Education asks interiors specialist Steve Dickson about current trends and developments in the world of interior design

Steve Dickson is a senior director and interiors specialist with FaulknerBrowns Architects, a practice where the interiors section has long been a key part of its design service. The team itself is a collective of senior design staff, supported by experienced technical staff, and helps to ensure that clients’ and users’ needs are in balance with the architecture and the interior spaces.

What were the main issues when you set up the interior design facility?
FaulknerBrowns Architects have always offered an element of interior design from within the firm. Originally, the interior designers supported the architectural teams on an individual design package basis. The role at that time was to ensure that we developed a crafted solution, so there was never a single moment when an independent interior design business was conceived. The interiors section’s role has simply evolved as the business’s market diversity and complexity has developed. The business development was supported by the interior designers’ skills, expertise and project experience, so it was a rather smooth development. Our collective qualities now allow the interior design service to lead a project when required.

How closely do you work with the clients?
As senior director responsible for the interior design service, my role is quite diverse. It covers commercial project management, managing day-to-day project issues and maintenance of our sector expertise, ensuring we provide creative design solutions. We work very closely with our clients, especially at the project inception stage, during the design development phase and, hopefully, the post-occupancy stage.

At what point in a project would you/your team get involved?
Our preference is to contribute from the outset and to maintain a presence throughout the whole design and construction phase of the project. We certainly like to work closely with the entire client and stakeholder team during the brief development stage. It is imperative that we understand the client’s aims and ambitions for the project and that we contribute to their understanding by sharing our experiences and knowledge. As the design progresses, we develop the project to a scheme design ensuring that we engage with the client at all of the key design phases. Interior design at FaulknerBrowns is not about picking colours and finishes. It is more holistic and comprehensive.

Does the interior design aspect ever feel like an afterthought in terms of the time and money devoted to it?
FaulknerBrowns Architects see interior design as an intrinsic part of the design process and integral to the development of the character of an environment. Our approach has always been to ensure that we create appropriate internal and functional synergies; that the volumetric attitude of the building is stimulating and that we provide learning spaces which are enabled by technology and are inherently flexible. If you take this approach, then the value of the interior is underpinned by the overall design strategy and is, therefore, never an afterthought.

Explain the importance of interior design in educational settings
In my experience, interior design can significantly influence how we feel and behave within an internal space. It is, therefore, essential that we create appropriate responses to the brief. We can influence and support the types of educational processes; create spaces which encourage concentration or social learning. There are many studies which explore the psychology of spaces. We have to ensure that we use these analytical approaches to create stimulating learning settings for students.

Can it help inspire learning?
Certainly! Our ambition is to provide inspirational environments for all ages and abilities. We have completed many learning environments for schools, universities and public-sector markets. What we have taken from our post-occupancy studies is that our buildings are in tune with the needs of their users. What we have seen from our client responses is improvements in footfall, dwell time and PC usage, combined with very positive commentary from the building users.

Lorna Lee, the head of libraries, museums and galleries for the London Borough of Waltham Forest, told us: “Walthamstow Library has been a great success, as demonstrated by an increase in user satisfaction across the service. It provides a wide variety of environments in which to browse the book stock, read with the family, study, use PCs or participate in one of the varied activities which are delivered from the library.

“The first-floor reference area, accessible by lift for the first time, is particularly popular with students studying for exams and its flexibility has enabled it to be used for larger events, such as the launch of Black History Month.

“The first year after opening saw over 500,000 visits to the library, which has been sustained over the past year. We have also issued over 500,000 items over the past two years since reopening.

“The new refurbished space has also enabled us to develop partnerships, for example, with job agencies, the PCT and CLaSS, our adult learning service, with whom we worked to deliver our skills for life programme.”

Can you summarise the biggest changes you have seen in the interior design world during your career?
Over the years, we have seen many changes. The construction contract process has become more varied, ranging from traditional to single and two-stage design and build. We have seen a greater and more complex stakeholder engagement process being developed. However, the biggest influence on interior design has been the pedagogic developments driven by technology. These changes have dramatically influenced the types and style of learning settings and are proving to be a constant theme in all sectors of education markets.

How much do financial constraints hold back your visions?
As a creative member of the design, we have to accept responsibility for creating quality environments within the briefing constraints and that includes financial. Obviously, there is a point when this becomes very challenging. However, it is our job to create a valued approach to our schemes and to ensure we manage the ambition of the design to achieve the client’s objectives.

What do you see as the future trends in interior design in the education sector?
Trends are always dependent on behavioral, technical, financial or political influences, making them difficult to predict. What we know is there are still incredible technological changes under way, which will inevitably influence how education can be delivered. This, in turn, will influence the types of environments that designers provide. Currently, it is interesting to witness the change in the relationship between educational providers and students. As a result of greater individual financial investment, we have seen a demand for greater ownership and higher expectations on quality.

To what extent has technology changed the way you work?
We do use many tools in the office, including Revit to help manage our data and design processes. Historically, we have always had the ability to model in 3D which helped us to visualize our schemes to our clients. With BIM, we can now play a more central role in the design development and data management. What we enjoy most is its ability to drive collaboration across the designers and to integrate the design information across the supply chain.

Steve Dickson is senior director and interiors specialist at FaulknerBrowns Architects W:

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