On the Same Page pix
As president of New York's AIA, Joan Blumenfeld hopes to bring architects and interior designers together
Andrew Yang -- Interior Design, 1/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
The Perkins + Will partner and president of the New York chapter of the AIA.
The Perkins-designed Fallon Worldwide in Minneapolis.
A fitness room at Swanke's Planned Parenthood of New York City.
A process diagram showing how Perkins + Will plans offices.
Integrated work and storage space at the New York branch of Sotheby's, completed by Swanke Hayden Connell Architects when Blumenfeld was design director.
|When Joan Blumenfeld earned her master's from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1979, she could never have guessed the dramatic turn her career would take. After working for years as an architect and joining Butler Rogers Baskett in New York in 1990, with the idea of starting an architecture studio there, she found herself in the middle of a recession—and made the switch to interiors. She eventually became design director at Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, working on its interiors practice. In the course of projects for IBM, Reuters, and Sotheby's, she realized that interior design dovetailed with her interests in planning, policy, and the workplace.
Those topics now inform her roles both at Perkins + Will, where she's a partner, and at the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, where she became president this month—picking Architecture: Inside/Out as the theme of her one-year term. While making workplace interiors engaging to the AIA audience might be a tall order, she also hopes to make the discipline an important issue for the city's most influential patron, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
How has the changing workplace affected design?
Over the past 10 years, workplaces have become focused on flexibility—responding to market changes—and on integrating technology. Paired with the fact that organizations are generally trying to be flatter, the result has been standardization. People are coming out of private offices, and companies are turning those spaces into amenity areas such as fitness or meeting rooms, intended to get staffers to interact out in the open. Today's workplace design is more a response to functional requirements than a status thing.
Can you describe the Swanke and Perkins approaches?
Both firms have strong planning or strategies groups, essentially examining how large organizations function, then aligning business goals with the physical workplace. It's the kind of abstract thinking that's essential to high-quality interiors.
Tell us your history with the AIA.
I've been a member since 1988, but I wasn't always active. I thought of it as a private club that didn't have very much to do with me. After 9/11, though, I got involved with New York New Visions by accident. (The person at Swanke who was supposed to go to the meeting wasn't available.) Many of our recommendations for ground zero were adopted—such as remapping streets and instituting sustainability requirements—and that got me excited about public policy and process, which also happen to be important for the AIA.
Simultaneously, the AIA's Center for Architecture was being built. Soon, I was fund-raising for the project as well as co-chairing the AIA's committee for planning and urban design, setting up monthly public panels and lectures.
When did your interest in policy begin?
I'm a politics junkie. At my family's dinner table, politics are our sports. Even for my two kids. And I love reading books about topical politics.
What's the connection to interiors?
There's a parallel between interior design and urban planning. Interiors deal with the field—adjacencies, circulation, flow—rather than the object. And they're much more consensus-driven. All of which is integral to urban design, too.
What are your goals as AIA president?
To have more clients and architects understand the complexities and advantages of good interior design. A lot of people who approve interior design contracts are not well versed in the field—such as facilities managers and directors of purchasing. There's much that can be done to make the workplace more humane. If I could get more people to be aware of that, that would be huge.
You're building on a strong foundation.
Yes. This AIA chapter is very activist. We've taken many policy positions, and we're involved with the city's planning department and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. We've even hired a lobbyist. Now we need to get more architects who practice interior design involved.
So, what comes first?
I'm excited about a letter we just wrote, co-signed by the IIDA. We asked Mayor Bloomberg to consider a design-excellence program for interiors, just like the one for architecture. The mayor truly understands the relationship between interior design and functionality—one of the first things he did at City Hall was redesign his workplace. We've met with his commissioners already, and a follow-up meeting is planned. If that program is the one thing I do as president, it would be an amazing achievement for the city.