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Mix Roundtable: how can the next generation of designers leave a lasting impression?

In partnership with Amtico, a new cohort of designers considers how they can make an impact on the design industry and the planet.

Feature in partnership with

Amtico Flooring

27/02/2024

6 min read

See the highlights

This article first appeared in Mix Interiors #230

As part of the largest youth population in history, the newest generation of designers are dealing with a world at a critical crossroads. We gathered a selection of our Mix 30 under 30 Class of 2023 at Amtico’s London studio to discuss creating in crisis and designing for longevity and legacy.

Collaboration is key when it comes to sustainability challenges.

While it might be a little trite to label Gen Z the eco-conscious generation, it’s hard to overlook the planetary damage this generation will inherit – something that continues to shape their worldview and attitude towards materials and designing for longevity. Indeed, for our panel, sustainability and circular thinking is a key issue that affects their work, despite the challenges met by clients and even colleagues. Is there an undue burden on young people to be the agitating voice in the room?

“Generally I think when you’re fresh out of education you still have that mindset and fluidity, and it can sometimes feel like you get bogged down with the older generations saying no, no, no,” said Peldon Rose’s Ashton Holmes. “But I do think that we have the resilience to enforce change and it’s the small things that we can do in between to allow the big changes to happen.”

“We also need to be conscious that each generation has big ideas”, adds Florence Goater, IA Interior Architects, “and it’s important we collaborate to keep moving in the right direction.”

As a group driving the ‘Recommerce’ marketplace more than any other, Gen Z are well positioned to challenge the mindset of clients and occupiers who would traditionally prefer new products.

“I have found changing perceptions such a challenge,” said Morgan Lovell’s Aston Cooper-Loffler. “It’s so rewarding to work with companies, who might be very corporate, but are now starting to use a furniture reuse scheme. [One client] works with an external company that stores furniture which we will relocate to different sites. Clients are apprehensive, but we show them existing spaces that utilise second-hand furniture and it completely changes their perception. I think people are really starting to buy into that.”

“There has been a real movement towards green education in the last few years and there has been a noticeable change in attitude,” said Amtico’s Bronwen Barr. “We work with contractors and clients to show them the benefits – both sustainably and economically speaking – on choosing a more sustainable, long-lasting product. Not only when it comes to production methods, but also its end of life and recycling options. We find it important for [designers] to continue pushing back.”

The designers agreed on the importance of prioritising longevity over trends, focusing on bespoke designs that evolve with the client’s needs. “We’ve banned the word trends so that we design for longevity,” said Jenny Olver, Woods Bagot. “We never want our clients to look back and think, this is dated.”

MoreySmith’s Will Nock agreed. “It’s designing for evolution, not revolution, otherwise it won’t last more than ten years, which isn’t sustainable. [At MoreySmith] we have some great design ‘building blocks’ and they are designed to be added to, but nothing is taken away. Every addition is another layer of context.”

For many around this table and Mix Roundtables in the past, it is the bureaucracy and roadblocks when it comes to pushing more sustainable options that makes the challenge of using truly sustainable products all the more difficult.

“I find it frustrating that a huge company can get an EPD for their product for many thousands of pounds, but a smaller, more sustainable company can’t afford that, despite using way less embodied carbon,” explained Nock. “I find that because of the pace of the industry, it’s easier to simply pick a product with an EPD. It needs a rethink.”

Design education needs a practical rethink.

“My experience of university was very theoretical,” said Ashton Holmes, Senior Project Designer at Peldon Rose, who is met with agreement from the table. “There was no real ‘practical’ element to it at all. We create these lovely, aesthetic schemes, but I don’t think the reality hits home until you start in the workplace, and then you are in front of clients and have to fight your corner for your design and the environment.”

Cooper-Loffler agreed. “I found that if you did start to push them on the realities of design, like accessibility, like budgets, it wasn’t quite there yet. Of course, it’s important that we’re always pushing to create these big conceptual and inspiring spaces but, ultimately, we’re creating spaces for people, to improve their day-to-day experience. It also sits with us of course; we have a responsibility to continue learning and growing, and advocating for those who haven’t got a seat around the table.”

“Coming from Brazil, my education in the UK gave me a chance to connect with so many different cultures and people, finding out what other people are doing and what they find interesting and important, and to try and create a ‘utopia’ from a lot of different voices,” said tp bennett’s Nathalia Garcia. “How can something ‘utopian’ be put into words or actions, something real? That’s a transition you have to make when you start working.”

Nock concurred that designers need to engage more with other disciplines to produce new and exciting work. “Nothing is new. New ideas are just the convergence of old ideas. There’s this thing called the Medici effect, which looks at the intersections of different disciplines creating innovation. I do think there’s a danger of too much siloed thinking and that designers should be encouraged to go and work – for example – with environmental psychologists for a month, and then take what they’ve learnt and bring that back.”

“I feel like education doesn’t end at school and it doesn’t end when you get home from work either,” added Garcia. “That’s a passion and an energy we can bring to our teams.”

The design of the future is hidden in the design of the past.

“This is not the time to seek the comfortable familiarity of the past, but rather to build and make something new,” Jony Ive, former chief design officer at Apple, recently implored a graduating class at California College of the Arts. Is there something to be learnt from tried-and- tested methods of design and production? Despite the excitement around new technology, our guests are increasingly interested in looking at traditional methods to solve problems for people and the planet, including combining ancient building materials used in construction for millennia and modern technology.

“A great example is a company called World’s Advanced Saving Project (WASP),” Nock enthused, “which has been 3D printing houses out of the earth that the site was on – so the material themselves have no kind of embodied carbon, it’s just transporting the machine to the site. They are using principles which have been around for centuries and bringing it into the 21st century to solve modern problems.”

“I hope we can take inspiration from Asia and how they’re using their construction methods with bamboo,” Holmes expanded, lauding the ancient material that is often overlooked as a future-forward product but is seeing a bit of a renaissance in modern construction methods across Asia. “It’s a truly sustainable approach to building – we’re going back to Mother Nature herself. There may come a day when we’re growing buildings from genetically modified plants.”

“These methods fell out of vogue during the 1800s because it was associated with the ‘primitive’; it was a purely elitist ideology,” added Nock. “It was nothing to do how it performed or how effective it was.”

When it comes to technology, it’s the way we use it that matters.

It’s clear the digital landscape is set to undergo a rapid transformation in the next few years, most notably in AI, which has certainly made a mark in the world of design. It’s a point of contention for many, and as a generation raised with advanced technology from a young age, the table are optimistic.

It’s a pattern that we’ve seen for many decades, notes Woods Bagot’s Olver, referencing the work of socio-economic scholar Carlota Perez. “There’s the installation period, where the rich destruct and create the new – we’ve had that in the past 20 years with technology advancements. Then comes the crisis or recession, which is where we are right now. The damage has been done, now what? The deployment phase is next, where this technology is pushed out to the masses. This is what we have to look forward to over the next 20 years.”

When it comes to AI, combining lived human experiences with technology is key to getting the best results, said Scott Brownrigg’s Abrar Saad. “AI should be used as a tool and not something we should be using to design for us. We’re the ones with human experiences and things that affect us. That human element is essential.”

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