Design Outside the Lines

Built environments can guide our thoughts, behavior, and habits. So, in a world that is rapidly changing, why do many of the spaces we use every day remain the same? Bergmeyer Interior Designer Eliza Steele shares her thoughts on designing outside the lines.
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I recently listened to a TED talk featuring renowned architect Takaharu Tezuka exploring his unique design for a kindergarten in Tokyo, exemplifying that there can be many solutions to one problem. Normally when we think of a kindergarten, we think of a big box neatly filled with small desks, a reading rug, shelves of books, decorated bulletin boards, a white board, and a few windows. Deviating from the typical, Tezuka's kindergarten is designed as a large ring with flexible glass walls that open to the enclosed play yard, allowing the students to run and play freely. Rather than using traditional playground structures that offer a prescribed method of play, the children use the building's structure as their playground, fostering imaginative thinking.

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I am a big believer that children learn by doing, not by sitting and listening for many hours a day; I think that creating a learning environment that allows children to move, explore, and be curious is valuable. I’d also challenge that one of the most important (and effective) ways to learn is by trying new things and making mistakes. By allowing children to have more freedom in their learning environment, their minds are stimulated, and their development thrives. If we can embrace the true nature of children rather than forcing them to conform to the social expectations we have for them, they can think and create with fewer limitations.

This idea made me consider the creative limits imposed on our built environments and how these limitations can guide our thoughts, behavior, and habits. All of which made me wonder:

Do the built spaces we inhabit limit us as human beings?

Is there value in forgetting everything we have learned about how a certain space is constructed, and designing from a clean slate, free of preconceived societal and cultural expectations?

Should our expectations of behavior in a particular space evolve as society advances?

Recently, I read about a place that embodies this exact idea: transforming our preconceptions about a specific space in favor of the unconventional. When we think about what a museum is, we often think of art being displayed on white walls in compartmentalized exhibits. We walk through, quietly observing and admiring the artists' creations from a respectful distance.

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Enter the Depot, the storage facility for the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, which has transformed the traditional museum experience into something entirely unique.

Due to the museum’s large art collection, much of their art sits in storage. Rather than hiding it away, rarely to be seen by the public, the Depot was designed to invite the public in to view the extraordinary art while also providing spectators the opportunity to watch and learn about how the art is cared for on a day-to-day basis. Unlike the spacious white art galleries that we are used to in a museum setting, the Depot is mostly made up of concrete walls and large glass cases that protect the artwork.

The art is stored in different climate zones depending on need and then by size, allowing visitors to view art by different artists, from different time periods and locations, right next to each other. This ingenious storage solution allows their full collection to be continuously appreciated while encouraging visitors to create meaningful connections and draw unique conclusions from the displays of juxtaposing art pieces. While the Depot strays from our expectations of a museum space, its innovative design allows us to stretch our minds and explore ideas that may not occur in a traditional museum setting.

At a time when society is changing so rapidly, it is worthwhile to think beyond the space itself to consider the space’s users in their most fundamental, human sense.

What are the things that we as humans need?

How can design be a tool that makes us confront the possibility of becoming our greatest selves?

What are other spaces that can be designed differently to better suit the people within?

In all our work, I challenge us to think about how design can be used to help us challenge societal convention, breaking us out of the box that society so often puts us in.