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FdA Interior Design students explore luxury for the Southbank Tower


Written by
Isabelle Gressel
Published date
24 March 2016

The FdA Interior Design course is a two year undergraduate degree course centered on a series of live briefs. Tomris Tangaz the course leader collaborates with industry organisations and designers to create exciting projects for the students. In her words:

“The FdA course situates itself around the ‘live’ experience and within cultures of collaboration, enterprise and professional practice. Being involved in real projects exposes students to different contexts, working alongside project architects, developers, planners and community stakeholders. It’s motivating for young designers and valuable for providing vital experience early on so that they can begin their careers with confidence.”

Second year FdA Interior Design students are currently working on their final live brief, designing a luxury penthouse for the Southbank Tower in central London, which is being redeveloped by real estate private equity investor CIT. Tangaz explains:

“This live project with developer CIT is aimed to present a radical definition of luxury – the outcome will be intelligent, well-informed, visionary designs for living in the future. Students are studying technologies, techniques and materials, that are at the leading edge of our cultural moment.”

After their site visit, we spoke with students Sam Laver, Nathanaël Soussana, Isobel Youngman and Nour Mady to discuss the project and the course.

FdA Interior Design students Sam Laver, Nathanaël Soussana, Isobel Youngman and Nour Mady

FdA Interior Design students Sam Laver, Nathanaël Soussana, Isobel Youngman and Nour Mady

This is an intensive project. Are you working individually on the project or as a group?

Soussana: We’re working in groups, but the four of us are not working together. I’m working with Nour Mady. And Isobel and Sam are working together along with two other people.

So how did you divide up?

Soussana: It was through natural selection. [The group laugh]

Starting with Soussana and Mady, how did you approach this project? What was your starting point for your inspiration looking at the theme of luxury?

Soussana: We began with the personal and conceptual rather than material. We’re both looking at typical personalities, or issues, psychological issues and trying to think of how we can translate them into design. So we are studying different profiles of people who may have a kind of a passion for being alone or individualism.

Mady: Yes, we’re not really looking at luxury materialistically.

That’s interesting. So how do you begin? Are you sketching? Creating mood boards?

Mady: Right now we’re still developing the ideas of luxury. So it’s still very conceptual. It’s still an idea that we’re pinning down. What is luxury for us? Based on that we’re going to decide who the user is. Afterwards, once we have developed the user and his/her needs, we’ll be able to start designing. Looking at case studies helps too.

Yes, it’s a process, it’s an idea, it’s not at all just jumping into a design saying ‘I want to design this’. It’s more like ‘this is what I think is luxury, let’s see who are the precedents, who else explored that same definition of luxury and what do I like in this and how am I going to incorporate this into a space later’. All this is conditioned by the user that we pick. It’s a whole process.

Glass House, Philip Johnson 1949

Historical Inspiration: Glass House, Philip Johnson 1949

How about you [turning to Youngman and Laver], what’s been your approach?

Youngman: We’ve started off with first thinking about how we personally define luxury for ourselves and then combining our ideas together expand from there.

Laver: It’s quite nice actually because you can sort of bounce off each other’s ideas. Sometimes you come to an idea and it’s sort of bland but then if you combine everyone’s idea into one, it makes it a lot stronger and you build a bigger idea from lots of ideas. It’s more of a personal depiction of luxury rather than what you see luxury as materials, money and stuff.

It’s interesting that you are speaking about luxury in a non-materialistic way, as that is the first thing most people would associate with, specifically from an interior design perspective.

Mady: Yes, as designers you’re supposed to go beyond the definition that everyone sees because you’re trying to innovate and create new concepts, looking at the original definition and trying to develop outside of that, taking it further.

Dymaxion House, Wichita, Kansas, Buckminster Fuller, 1946

Historical Inspiration: Dymaxion House, Wichita, Kansas, Buckminster Fuller, 1946

You visited the Southbank Tower recently. How did you find that experience?

Lavy: It was interesting, like a different way of life, in a weird sense. We looked at the space and then we looked at showrooms. And the showrooms were designed by two different designers and designed for two different clients, each very different. And yet the bathrooms were completely the same which I found strange and the kitchens seemed similar.

Mady: Yes, the base design for the kitchen was the same.

Lavy: However the rest of it was a completely different palette, completely different design of furniture and materials.

Did you find it helpful to visit the site?

Mady: Definitely, you visualise it into your head, start seeing the space and get the vibe of the area and building. Experiencing entering the building and seeing how you are greeted by the receptionist, you see how exclusive it is and realise how different it is.

Lavy: They had these really high tech lifts. As soon as you entered you got to see the whole room and how high up it was. You could see the whole of London.

Mady: It’s much more interesting to work on projects that you’ve seen in person because you understand the vibe, the environment around it, materials and people. You then understand it better.

Lavy: It also give you a sense of space.

Southbank Tower interior showing bespoke living environments

Southbank Tower interior showing bespoke living environments

I’m understanding how you get your concept and how visiting a space changes your perception of it. How do you get from all of that to a physical space and making something out of it. How do you go through that process?

Soussana: It’s a whole process of mapping and thinking. As Mady said, you pick a user, analyse them and build up a life around them of what they like and what would make sense in that space. You get inspired through books, articles you’ve read and other research. Then you start designing and see if it works or not. It’s a process of research, development and selection.

I understand. And on a practical note, do you first sketch or use software?

Soussana: Yes, I would first sketch.

Mady: Yes, sketch, collage, looking at lots of pictures, taking things from different pictures that you like and putting them together, sketching and then more precise drawings. The drawings change like a thousand times [Everyone laughs]. Then you start modelling and visualisations on 3D design software and other programmes.

Southbank Tower interiors showing bespoke living environments

Southbank Tower interiors showing bespoke living environments

Do you enjoy the process of using programmes?

Soussana: Yes, definitely. It comes at the end. No one should jump directly into the process of using software because it’s a really raw and academic art.

This is your final live brief project for the course, what have you specifically enjoyed developing these past two years?

Lavy: I really enjoy when it comes to making the portfolios. I enjoy the whole Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign aspect of it. You bring your own skills when you start the course and the tutors teach you how to use it properly. Then you can design your own depiction of what your project is. I enjoy the design but I prefer the publications area of the course, the moment when you are putting all your work into one book. At the end of each project, we make a book each and get it printed professionally. Then when it has been graded, you get it back and it’s yours to keep.

Southbank Tower interior showing bespoke living environments 2

Southbank Tower interior showing bespoke living environments

So at the end of two years, you must have a strong collection for your portfolio?

Lavy: Yes, although it’s also quite stressful because what you see on screen is so different than what you see in person. You’ve got to get it right.

Soussana: I mostly like to create images. So in every aspect of the project I would make sure that each idea I have I would create an image that I like. I aim for someone who looks, who watches it, to like it as much as I do. Whether it’s a floor plan or a map I like spending time on it. I enjoy the craft and detailed aspect of design.

Youngman: We did a project about chairs at the end of last year. It was the first full project that we had done at that point in the course from start to finish. We made chairs for an eccentric user. It was satisfying having an end product and seeing the development all the way through. The first term was more focused on learning skills. As Sam was saying, having a publication at the end of it and seeing all of your work collected into one book was really satisfying. It was nice to have a physical object.

Do you get to use the workshops a lot at Chelsea?

Youngman: It depends on the project. We did with the chairs.

Laver: If you need to make something at any point in the year, you can go in there and they help you to make it.

Contemporary Inspiration: A Rematerialisation of Systems, Body I and Body II, El Ultimo Grito

Contemporary Inspiration: A Rematerialisation of Systems, Body I and Body II, El Ultimo Grito

And how about you Mady, what have you most enjoyed?

Mady: For me it’s the general idea of being able to express an idea that has made me learn how to use lots of programmes and different techniques. Sometimes you have an idea and the only way to express it or the best way to express it is something you don’t know how to use. So you push yourself into learning this. I have many more skills now and I like mixing different programmes and making something with my hands, scanning it, putting it into a programme and working with that. It’s nice to be able to represent your ideas visually. I think that this course really helps you to do that.

That’s a strong learning curve!

Mady: Yes, it’s great!

Find out more about the FdA Interior Design on the Chelsea website