Design database: What’s in a name?
CORNELL (US)—Jan Jennings, professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University, has produced the first searchable online database for names of contemporary design with images of existing buildings, which, she says, have for the most part gone unnamed and undocumented for decades, and in some cases, centuries.
“We had to invent a naming practice, a vocabulary, for students to use in talking about design,” Jennings explains. “Interior design had borrowed language from architecture and visual arts, but when you came down to it, we didn’t have a typology for contemporary design practices that have been occurring across history, style, and culture.”
Thirteen years in the making, the project, called Intypes for the Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, has so far named nearly 70 interior archetypes.
“Some of our alumni are using these words in the field,” Jennings says. “When they do that, they hear the word being used later by their colleagues. If the word is used without translation or definition, then it really has become a word that contributes to a design language.”
For the database, master’s students research a spatial category or element, studying history, cultural implications, and use of that type of space, and then suggest names for particular designs. The suggestions then go to the Intypes Research Group for consideration.
“Some of the things we’re naming seem so obvious,” Jennings says. “The students do all of this research and come up with a name, and people go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what it is.’ We don’t name anything that the entire research group doesn’t agree on. And sometimes we start with one name and then change it to another that works better in practice.”
Jennings says creating the database opens up a whole new field of study. Now that there are names for specific interior designs, researchers can study issues related to them individually, such as their sustainability.
For example, “the white box is a large, volumetric white room with hot lights. It began being used by museums to showcase artwork. But it creates heating and cooling issues, and it takes a lot of maintenance to keep it looking pristine,” Jennings explains.
Jennings hopes the project inspires designers to think about such issues and opens the door to more formal research in interior design.
“Interior design is its own field and profession,” she says. “We’re hoping the project provides a new way to talk about the field and lends it the credibility it deserves.”
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