I_2009_RobertNieminen

Editorial: Turning a Corner

July 20, 2009

If you were one of the many absentees of NeoCon® this year, I wish you could have been there. Despite the less-than-sunny outlook leading up to the show, it was, in my estimation, one of the more memorable shows the Mart has hosted in recent years.

I say that not because the elevator lines were shorter than usual (they were) or because there were so many lavish parties (there clearly weren’t as many as in years past), but because there was tangible, positive energy in the air. While Mart officials have released figures indicating that attendance was down by almost 30 percent, the attendees who did make it to Chicago were noticeably upbeat and many had projects in the works—a sign that the industry is finally beginning to turn a corner.

Topping the list of markets showing signs of activity were health care and government projects. Attendees with health care projects in the works had money to spend, and the economic stimulus money pumped into GSA projects seems to have trickled down as well. Exhibitors seemed to have caught wind of this forward movement well in advance of the show, as almost every showroom we visited had some product or line designed for health care environments.

Another positive signal for the industry was the number of products launched at the show, with multiple launches by a number of manufacturers, both large and small. Interiors & Sources’ managing editor, Jamie Nicpon, reported that “despite the economic climate, manufacturers were surprisingly aggressive with the amount of new product launches (across nearly all product categories, including textiles, flooring, seating, desking, surfacing, etcetera). I think this was a good sign and hopefully indicative of things to come … and perhaps, it is a sign that there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Perhaps what stood out most about the show, however, was innovation in product design and technology. Teknion created quite a buzz by partnering with Powermat to launch its wireless technology system that powers electronic devices in the work environment—earning the company the Best of Competition award. Likewise, Armstrong Ceilings’ new suspension system, DC FlexZone, offers the ability to distribute safe, low-voltage direct current (DC) power that can significantly improve the flexibility and reuse of interior spaces by enabling easier repurposing and reconfigurations without the need to re-wire. Wolf-Gordon and partner Vescom introduced another innovative product called Silvadur™, which is a silver-based antimicrobial agent that uses a patented delivery system to transport and secure silver to the wall’s surface—acting as a natural, non-toxic way to destroy bacteria and other pollutants. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the buzz that Knoll’s Generation chair created at the show. This ergonomic task chair essentially rearranges itself in response to its user, allowing for seemingly unconventional postures. Other products at the show that caught our attention can be found in our NeoCon Product Wrap-Up.

Speaking of innovation, be sure to read our cover story on Gensler’s transformation of a Southern California structure called Building 15 (perhaps better known as the home of Howard Hughes’ legendary Spruce Goose). The 225,000-square-foot hanger, constructed entirely of wood, has been a center for aviation and aerospace research, and has housed helicopter and armament manufacturing, reports contributing writer Elzy Kolb. Building 15’s more recent incarnation as a motion picture production facility now shares space with Tishman Speyer’s development offices and a marketing center for the firm’s 64-acre Playa Vista office campus. The design of the bright and welcoming 3,700-square-foot development and marketing space—which qualifies for LEED-CI certification—respects the history of the building while creating a contemporary office space.

If I haven’t yet managed to give you a reason to feel some optimism about what’s ahead for interior design, perhaps I’ll let someone else do the talking. In his forum article in this issue, ASID president Bruce Brigham suggests that a shift in thinking and research is underway that will transform how we design and the tangible benefits that would result. “One thing becomes abundantly clear from this new understanding of design: The view that interior design is simply the ‘icing on the cake’ no longer holds true. We are approaching a new paradigm—one that recognizes that design is the cake, and for that matter the meal before it, as well.” Here’s to hoping that he’s right, and that we’ll turn that corner soon.

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