The Air we all Breathe

“Pipes, ducts, radiators, switches, grilles, fire detectors, sensors, sockets, cabinets, air-conditioning units, ceilings, emergency lighting...”

A research project to develop new prototypes for an interdisciplinary approach to the interior and its installations for conditioning the indoor climate.

In the context of climate change, technical aspects of buildings are becoming increasingly important. The parameters for their implementation are largely technological, while their spatial functioning has cultural, social, sensory, and ultimately ethical aspects. We believe that an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to the interior and its installations has great potential—not only for better coordination of conventional solutions, but above all for the development of new spatial models that take the complex effects of the built environment into account.

Cultural significance

Global warming, the depletion of raw materials, air and water pollution, and the loss of biodiversity are the most important issues of our time. Climate was the first reason for interior design, and is still a major influence for it. Interior spaces and the climate are coordinated. In the pre-modern era, (interior)-architectural means such as walls, windows, pitched roofs, ceilings, verandas, and fireplaces were used to control the temperature and the regulation of the indoor climate. These means were often accompanied by socio-cultural rituals, from cleaning to storytelling.

The fireplace, for example, was the source of heat, but also the place where food was originally prepared and where people sat together. Later, it moved from the centre towards the wall, but stayed a central element of the room, framed by a mantelpiece and decorated with ornaments. The radiator has been moved to its logical place under the window, and thus has shifted from the centre of attention to a servicing role at the edge of the room, losing its cultural importance.

In modern times, climate conditioning has largely been solved by mechanical, electrical, or digital technology, and has become a field dominated by specialists. This technical layer has been added to buildings, and interior decoration has mainly a functional-technical meaning. As a result, the interior detaches itself from its history and loses its cultural value.

Sensory experience and user comfort

Installations intend to create comfort, but their influence on the design of the interior and its appearance as objects are seen as secondary. The sensory qualities of the interior—light colour, smell, air movement, and haptic characteristics—form a connection between man and the elements, and as they become the heart of the interior design,the physical reality of the space becomes secondary.

Apart from the user aspects of rooms and furniture, the indoor climate has a major influence on the user’s satisfaction with their spatial environment, particularly with the temperature, light, sound, and air quality. The technological developments in climate installations and other systems are becoming increasingly complex, and consequently, a users’ influence on their micro-climate is becoming smaller and smaller. They are based on standards which do not necessarily take the actual comfort of the user into account. 

The hidden impact

Due to a growing awareness of the ecological impact of energy consumption in buildings, technology and associated regulations for conditioning indoor climates seem to be playing an increasingly important role in the realisation of building interiors; however, at the expense of structural / architectural resources. A growing industry dedicated to the production and application of technical building systems has thus become an economically-oriented discipline.

The technological infrastructure of installations swallows a significant proportion of available construction budgets, reducing the resources available for design. Technological developments and the limited lifespan of these technical infrastructures and systems mean that they have to be replaced every 10—20 years; detrimental towards climate change and exacerbating a waste problem. In addition, an emphasis is often on the immediate savings that these systems deliver within a local context. This does not take the entire ecological footprint of the investment into sufficient account—including material, transportation, and the working conditions of its production.

Position and goals

As a hypothesis, we state that conventional installation technologies for conditioning indoor climates involve high production, consumption, and disposal costs. These can (partly) be replaced by the design and organisation of the interior by, among other things, using archaic methods to temper both the outside, in-between, and inside climate. The background idea is to consider air as a global common good that connects everything with everyone—so that not only discrete separate climates are created; but that a spatial approach is found to intermediate spaces, and connections can run from local to global—in order to see the climate issue in a larger context.

We also think that current building processes provide too few possibilities to arrive at an integrated thought on the design of the interior and its installations. Various areas of expertise act separately from one another, while weighing up the various parameters that could possibly lead to simpler, more specific solutions. The starting point for this would be an interdisciplinary exploration of the criteria that has been put forward by technicians, designers and users when thinking about an interior.

In doing so, a repositioning of the current moment in design history is important; in order to anchor interior design more firmly in its culture, and thus assign value to its stratification.

The aim of this research is to set up an alternative route—to map out and weigh up the complex aspects of the interior and its installations, and to generate parameters from this from which the development of new spatial models can justify themselves in our current reality.