RMIT’s end of year interior design graduate exhibition for 2012 used an old mechanic’s workshop in the city as its canvas. Graduate and exhibitor Nick Rebstadt reflects on the show.
INDEX, RMIT University’s annual interior design graduate exhibition, was simultaneously an event, a celebration, and a provocative – at times wacky and endearing – display of interior design. What makes INDEX special is that it is organized, funded and constructed almost entirely by the graduate students as a collective, and its character changes with the students from year to year. One INDEX is never the same as another, particularly as the venue for the exhibition is different each year.
The INDEX12 venue – an abandoned art deco building, once a motorcycle repair shop, in the CBD – was initially chosen by one of the graduates as a potential site for their own final project. It’s in a quiet, almost leafy residential street on the edge of Melbourne’s legal district, and has a giant “X” marking the entrance. The brick facade, complete with its peeling paint and mismatched translucent glazing, evokes a nostalgic industrial atmosphere that was reinforced by the scaffold-based exhibition fitout inside.
What does stay the same from year to year is that the exhibition showcases research projects from the graduate students, which together form a body of work, conversation and collaboration that stretches the past a year – though it was another three years in the making beforehand. Every project is comprised of a thesis book of design research from which the project is formed. The book embodies the idea, which in turn embodies the project.
These books are displayed near the entrance to the exhibition, along with a plan of the exhibition itself, so journeys into the project spaces make a great deal more sense.
What binds the projects together is not what they are, but what they do, which is to question what interior design could be. The contemporary interior positions itself within, and beyond, the built form. It is concerned with what goes on within it as much as it is with the constraints of a plan. This ambitious but appropriate definition is reflected in the projects, which don’t shy away from this changing paradigm shift. As I cheerfully explained to a parent of a soon-to-be interior designer, “we don’t ask what a space looks like; rather, we question what that space is, and what it means to live in it.”
It’s the living, inhabitation or occupation that’s really the most important part, and this moves beyond the built form, but is still related to it. This is evident in the types of projects on show, which span from urban developments through to tiny (though significant) shifts in environmental conditions.
Verity Kimpton’s Drawing You In is a proposition for a redesign of Gatehouse, a shelter for marginalized street sex workers in St. Kilda, Melbourne. Her project explores what it means to “belong,” and proposes spaces that use materials that work with, and not simply service, the inhabitants. That’s what makes it so innovative. It allows the reasons for being within the space to influence and shape the design of the interior in a beautifully empathetic way.
This is further reflected in Sheree Matthews’ i see, you see – a series of carefully selected interventions within the fabric of a retirement home dementia ward. Through considered research, the project proposes a series of small changes that increase the quality of the everyday lives of residents. These subtle changes, although meaningful, ironically are a bold move for a designer to make. i see, you see successfully resists the temptation to completely redevelop the site, and instead designs achievable solutions that are based on a “reading” of the space.
In contrast to this, Angus Edwards’ project Linear Space takes interior design thinking to an urban scale, completely redeveloping Melbourne’s Batman Park through the use of diagrams and graphic techniques based on sightlines and paths, in an attempt to unify the CBD and the north bank of the Yarra River. Phoebe Smith’s Feeding off Form explores temporal spaces, materials and encounters through a whimsical series of nation-wide events in the lead-up to Penthouse Mouse, a pop-up bar-gallery-runway for the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival. Her events are designed with a generous ‘material core’ which the design and event encounter ‘feeds’ off. Each is unique, built from materials found locally at the site, and the event involves the community’s participation in sourcing and fabricating them. Many of these materials have been found in a pantry, fridge, garden shed or the odd building site. They range from discarded bottles through to salt and toffee.
Many INDEX projects are as much about the process of designing as they are about the final outcomes themselves. This in turn reflects the characters of the students – wacky, pragmatic, caring – and makes them seem a little more “human” and accessible to the audience. Often, the research leads us in a completely different direction from where we thought we’d end up, but it works. The journey of creating a final-year thesis project is as much about finding your own interior reference point, or your process as a designer, as it is about completing a project. And for those involved in viewing the INDEX exhibition, it’s also a chance to meet and preview the work of the next generation of interior designers.
9–14 November 2012
17–23 Wills Street Melbourne