Take the Black Death, which plagued Europe and Asia in the mid- 1300s and led to the advent of the Italian Renaissance. Or the tuberculosis outbreak in the early 20th century, after which vigilance against illness prompted an inclination toward stark cleanliness that inspired sleek lines, minimalism and the rise of modernist architecture.
Following the Roaring ’20s and the heyday of the art deco movement, scarcity during the Great Depression democratised design and made way for a simpler, more practical aesthetic, as seen in the work of the likes of industrial designers Charles and Ray Eames, whose names are synonymous with mid-century modern design. And, while other pandemics such as the Spanish flu and cholera may not have birthed seminal design movements, they did, however, alter public policies and forward-moving urban planning by emphasising the importance of healthcare systems, social distancing measures and housing reforms.
Like Covid-19, these cataclysmic events were unprecedented and ushered in, whether directly or indirectly, remarkably powerful periods of creativity. The sequence is plausible. After long intervals of isolation and stifled expression, humans emerged with a sharpened perspective and an extreme desire to create, leaning into hardship to reintroduce beauty and radical change in a battered society.
For many across the globe, the passage of time has slowed and even paused in some instances. In examining the state of our world after 2020, it is with a renewed sense of optimism that we anticipate and rethink both the challenges and the possibilities ahead.
No other event in modern history has had such a profound disruption across cities, countries, and industries, and it’s difficult to imagine any individual, business or economy that will be left unchanged.
But it is with hope that perhaps collective disaster is what will ultimately spur the world to rebuild together. Exploring the opportunities and key movements ahead, this report draws from research and conversations with respected architects and interior designers.
TRAGEDY HAS HISTORICALLY KINDLED A FLAME IN DESIGN, OFTEN BY NECESSITY.
1 CONSCIOUS DESIGN
For reasons of sustainability, the new normal will entail reconsidering production cycles and breaking consumption patterns
Around the world, designers such as Amsterdam-based Studio Formafantasma have been exploring design’s role in overproduction – a concern echoed by Infrastructure co-founder Darrel Best, who notes that “the design cycle has become almost as frenetic as the fashion cycle. Designers have felt a compulsion to produce new collections, whether truly relevant to the moment or not.”
Architecture firms are putting the climate crisis at the centre of their practice. Take Snohetta, which has taken carbon-neutral several steps further with the invention of Powerhouse, a new standard referring to their carbon-negative designs. “As one of the worst polluters, the construction industry could come under heavy scrutiny,” predicts Sean Affleck, director at Make Architects. “To reduce its carbon footprint, the industry will have to look more closely at reuse, prefabrication and modular construction, material choices, and intensive landscape greening.”
Darrel says that the industry has a long way to be able to shift completely to a more circular model. “However, as long as we’re making an attempt to transition towards something that is more ecological and environmental, we’re still winning a battle. This should give us pause to think about how we can integrate more sustainable design into what we’re doing.”
An effect of the comfort brought about by emotional resonance and tactility, consumption will be more conscious than ever. As trend forecaster Li Edelkoort boldly predicts, “Owning less things will make people happier.” Having discovered that to survive, they don’t really need much, people’s mindsets will shift to more selective consumption of objects they feel a true attachment to.
In line with this change in mindset about our consumption habits, homeowners are also beginning to value objects based on their longevity, use of sustainable resources and the amount of perceived pleasure they derive from its use.
AS TREND FORECASTER LI EDELKOORT BOLDLY PREDICTED, “OWNING LESS THINGS WILL MAKE PEOPLE HAPPIER.”
When it comes to production, sourcing, and consumption, provenance is key.
As far as trends go, the value in localism might have first broken through in the food and beverage industry, in which renowned restaurateurs and chefs placed a premium on the provenance of ingredients. In 2020 and beyond, where a product is sourced or made will be just as important on a mainstream level – a direct result of how global lockdowns have deeply disrupted and, in many cases, even halted, supply, production and trade in the industry.
Forced to look around and inwards for alternative options when it comes to furniture and accessories, designers and consumers alike are finding that supporting local shouldn’t be a last resort – it should be their first choice. With burgeoning design movements in cities big and small across the world, the possibilities are endless if one is willing to experiment, think out of the box, and take pride in local talent.
An early expression of this perspective was the Naples design fair Edit Napoli, conceived in 2019 to shine the spotlight on a new generation of designers and, according to its founders, “focus on the rise of the designer-maker at the forefront of a movement that is challenging the traditional chain of production and distribution.”
Less optimistic observers may point out that hyperlocalism connotes a contracting pool of options for both producer and consumer. Yet, the silver lining lies in its potential to not only encourage a new breed of creativity, but also to supplant a system long dominated by a storied, small group of brands.
“China and Italy’s furniture and construction trades are relied on so much, so it’s an opportunity, perhaps, for other companies to step in and step up,” Charmaine Chan, South China Morning Post’s design editor, reflects. “It wasn’t until this crisis hit that we realised how little is made locally, so we might be seeing more local manufacturing.”
3 A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN
Will open floor plans remain desirable in coming years?
Open floor plans have been a dominant trend in residential design for years – and are a defining characteristic of many modern homes today. While this allows for spaces to flow freely, the connectivity can be detrimental to functional privacy, as many working from home have come to grasp.
With the pandemic suddenly forcing us to use homes simultaneously as offices, classrooms, meeting rooms, and gyms – often with multiple residents at once – people are realising the negative consequences of open floor plans. This experience will spur an organisation in homes, equipping spaces with flexibility for different uses and offering aural, olfactory, and spatial privacy. JJ Acuna, founder and creative director of Hong Kong-based design studio JJA Bespoke, anticipates a shift towards designated home offices or even rooms dedicated to productive work. “People are going to invest in proper spaces where they can operate businesses from home that forge a life-work environment that’s not just a selling point,” he says. “One can only work for so long on the sofa or at the kitchen counter without being distracted by the kids or feeling uncomfortably for sitting too long.”
In a time when many are drawing consolation from cooking, the kitchen, has also come into the spotlight. Stylish open kitchens might begin to lose their appeal as dedicated kitchen spaces become more ideal for experimentation.
With homes as our last refuge, practising good hygiene in every possible way has also become imperative. We might even see a cultural shift in which the West adopts more Asian practices such as removing shoes before entering someone’s home. Mudrooms, a typical feature of farmhouses, could become a prominent addition because their potential to be designed with washbasins and sterilisation equipment to mitigate germs. It’s clear that cleanliness, efficiency and flexibility are the drivers to watch in the interior design space.
4 THE NOT-SO-SECRET GARDEN
Flipping the switch on nature, a return to courtyards may be on the horizon.
In the exhibition Countryside, The Future at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, architect Rem Koolhaas explores a pivot from cities to rural areas, challenging the idea that urbanisation is the world’s destiny and proposing the countryside as a frontier for experimentation.
With billions sheltered in place, similar, albeit less drastic, articulations of Koolhaas’ train of thought have emerged. After all, when the best thing about living in cities is the buzzing energy outside, what happens when one can’t go too far beyond the front door?
Bringing a form of the outdoors in, courtyards will become an important source of inspiration in both home and retail design in the years to come. As Chan, author of Courtyard Living: Contemporary Houses of the Asia-Pacific, explains in the South China Morning Post, “These types of dwellings continue to be desired for many of the reasons they were built in the past. Internal gardens and voids admit air and light, create social spaces, extend living areas by becoming protected outdoor ‘rooms’, enhance privacy and cater to indoor-outdoor living.” Amid the pandemic, the benefits of sunlight and open air to one’s health have been emphasised. Adds Affleck of Make Architects, “Natural ventilation will be more popular than air-conditioning systems that simply recirculate used air.” Lockdowns have also intensified a hunger for the outdoors. It makes sense, then, that when restrictions are lifted, there will be a greater appreciation for spaces that blur the divide.
Not limited to the realm of home design, renditions of the courtyard concept may increasingly become prized features of commercial spaces, from hotels and restaurants to retail establishments. Foster + Partners, for one, recently made a strong case for outdoor spaces in its designs of Apple’s flagship stores in Miami and New York, which have been transformed into community plazas that encourage interaction with nature.
In the months ahead, businesses may return to normal but what they look like and value will be very different after this.
5 THE BOT REVOLUTION
The world has been catapulted into even more advanced and ingenious technology.
Forget refrigerators that talk – we want refrigerators that disinfect.
Just when we thought we had seen everything, Covid-19 brought into focus a need for sharper, consumer-attuned innovation. Smart gadgets are bound to get even more creative, particularly in tackling personal hygiene. And, while technology in the home has flourished for years, the pandemic is poised to elevate every household’s standards of cleanliness, as well as physical and mental health for both older and younger generations. More than convenience, the features of a smart home, such as reactive technology, remote control, and automation will be desired for their efficiency and ability to fortify the home.
As a result, innovation will stem from real needs and experiences. Frank Chou, a Beijing-based furniture and product designer, has come up with a sterilising lamp, which functions as a tray and lamp that emits UV light. Users can place keys, phones and other small items to be cleaned before proceeding to use them in their homes. Casetify launched a UV sanitiser for mobile phones, claiming to destroy 99.9 per cent of germs that live on one’s handheld gadget. And then there’s Arizona-headquartered Zero Mass Water, which invented a solar hydropanel that generates ultra-pure water from sunlight and air. The company strives to make a basic need – drinking water – widely available even in low-infrastructure places like Mexico and the Philippines. In the US, the product is used in residential homes and commercial establishments.
Not far behind are existing technologies not commonly seen at home. In bathrooms, for instance, the high-tech toilet and portable bidet prevalent in countries like Japan, and automatic faucets and dryers typically only seen in public washrooms, have been a long time coming. Now that these are presenting concrete solutions to problems such as the shortage of napkins recently experienced in Asia and North America, perhaps they will find their way into private sanctuaries.
The bottom line? Consumers will emerge from the crisis with a wholly different mindset and, in the post-pandemic era, tools and developments that can readily demonstrate value will be deemed more urgent over gadgets that are merely nice-to-have. Innovation will stem from real needs and experiences.
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text BY CATCHON