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Leanne Wookey and Tajal Rutherford-Bhatt, directors at tp bennett, tell us about the firm’s heritage, history, developments and how the next 100 years is likely to commence…
This year, tp bennett celebrates 100 years of practice. In that time, there have been some big shifts in terms of both style and approach within the industry. Design has changed.
Arguably, the biggest change we’ve seen in the past 100 years is the division of architecture and interiors into distinctive specialisms. Historically, the design of interior space was balanced across architectural teams, with schools like Bauhaus combining passion for architecture with furniture and product design, allowing practitioners to turn their hands to multiple skills. Frank Lloyd Wright famously delved into interior and product design because of his desire to blur boundaries and encompass every single detail of a project into one cross-pollinated style. Arne Jacobsen, similarly, is known for his work at St Catherine’s College Oxford (1962), in which the building’s modernist architecture resonates throughout every element of the project, from the interior and furniture to the cutlery used in the dining hall.
Sometime in the 1980s, however, the approach to interior design changed – partly as a result of changes in fashion and style – and the two disciplines started to be perceived as distinct disciplines. tp bennett established a dedicated interiors division in 1998 with the aim of honing specific skills. This evolved quite organically and collaboratively alongside the architecture practice but allowed us to keep a fresh outlook on the specific requirements of good interior design. Now, our practice has a 50/50 offering of architecture and interiors work.
From an association with cushions and curtains interior design has evolved into a discipline that requires knowledge of wellbeing, inclusivity, neurodiversity and the human experience of space. The current challenges have opened up the vision and creativity of clients who are becoming more interested in having control over their interior environments and how they impact the people using them.
Google, with its renowned focus on play, and WeWork, which understands the human collaboration elements of work and need for good coffee, have really challenged the perception of interior office design. 100 years ago, a workplace was just that and every part of it was focused on quantifiable productivity. Now, we are working on projects with organisations like Open Society Foundations which include spaces of reflection and rest, which are authentic to the brand and also to the wellbeing needs of the employee.
Change is often a psychological hurdle but there is a lot that is very positive about the way things are evolving and changing to benefit environment and society. Often, the occupier of a building is unknown when it is designed, but many clients are looking beyond the typical locations to attract new colleagues. Moving forward, a greater focus on sustainability and wellness will see buildings and interiors designed with future flexibility engrained from the outset.
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