Design View Point – Detail And Maintenance

As a designer, I need to be continuously conscious of the different scales in operation in my work. Switching thought and critical consideration between the largest scales, city and neighbourhood, through intermediate levels of street and building and then to spaces and objects. The thought then goes further to the details of all the elements, the materials and the construction; how things are put together or joined with each other. Understanding how something
will be made enhances the understanding of the coherence of any design. At the same time as considering the physical nature of these, a successful designer will also consider time. How will this city, building, furniture, fabric, stitching change over time and change it’s interaction and relationship to the elements around it. As part of this the maintenance should also be considered, how can a bulb be changed, or things be cleaned.

I spend a lot of time asking students questions, very banal questions about these things. They will often get so involved in their cool piece of design work that when I ask them how the cleaner gets into a corner they look at me with a blank stare. They think I am joking until I tell them that their ‘masterpiece’ will look dirty and ugly after a couple of months. I also ask them how certain things will be built, inexperienced designers can create objects that are actually impossible to construct.

This is why the good designer needs to pay attention and understand not only aesthetics but also practical issues around materials and construction as well as day to day usage.

The attention to detail is what raises the mundane or prosaic to a higher level. The close observation of precedents as a learning experience will allow anyone to identify the difference that marks out a quality product from a lesser one. I often get frustrated to see a poor choice of screw on a piece of work let alone if they are aligned. There is a sense that paying attention to the detail means attention has been paid throughout and you can trust the overall quality through its handling of details. Next time you look at a chair or table, see what it looks like underneath. Shortcuts are always in hidden or less visible areas.

A good client and a good designer will always care about maintenance. Why would anyone want to spend time and money on a good solution and then not look after it. And yet we see this carelessness all around us. Everything can and will look better for longer and give longer satisfaction if it is both designed to be maintained easily and then that maintenance is undertaken diligently. The earlier in the process all this is considered the less likely it will come as a surprise in the budget. The more the designer considers it and makes it simpler, the more likely it is to be carried out. This also comes down to choice of materials and techniques that are suitable for the environment in which they have to perform. Residential fittings will more often than not be less resilient than those for office and retail environments due to their differing use characteristics. Cutting costs can be counter-productive if done in a short term way or without consideration of a particular timescale for replacement. In the end it is often more interesting
and informative to look at a building or interior 18 to 24 months after it was finished than in its fresh new state. This is when you can see how it will age over the coming decade. This is when you can see the attention and  understanding of detail and how it can affect the long term aesthetic of our environment.

By Amritt Flora

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