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Changing Trade Perceptions

Why the “digital canvas” approach to tech appeals to architects and interior designers.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Tim Sinnaeve, managing director of Barco Residential, about the distinct role interior designers, architects, and integrators each play in projects and where both challenges lurk and how success can be achieved. He shared some examples of ways he’s helped shift the perception of technology by the design-build community and I found it fascinating. As a designer, his approach has shifted my perception of what’s possible and left me equal parts intrigued and encouraged.

You see, as Tim puts it, when the focus of the conversation or of the sale itself becomes the complexity of technology and everything that has to be done to harness it, technology becomes the least-enjoyable element of the build. As a result, a behavior pattern is instilled that is universal — if something complex can be avoided, avoid it at all costs. As humans we’re wired to avoid things that cause pain, so it makes perfect sense.

Tim’s advice? When working with architects, designers, and especially their clientele, don’t just show them what you can do but rather bring them into the vision of what you and your team can create that fits within their design parameters, so they understand the result and it becomes merely a practical question of you make it happen. He told me, “In my experience, within the design and architecture community most have been exposed to just 10 percent of what’s possible. As an industry, if we can take that up to 80 or 90 percent, imagine what might happen.”

He’s absolutely right. When architects and designers start seeing technology as a tool to create, the whole world changes.

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Putting that into context, Tim shared with me a concept he has about something he refers to as the “digital canvas” and, in my opinion, this is one of the most compelling ways of sharing and selling the vision of what technology can do. He shared a story about a show home where the architect and the designer had what at first appeared to be conflicting concepts for a living room. The architect had been excited by the vision of turning the wall into a digital canvas and project images on the wall, and the designer wanted a high-back sofa close to the wall, which would have interfered with the image. As you can imagine, a battle was brewing. The solution? Use a short-throw lens to projection map the room to keep the design intent intact — and pick up innumerable benefits as a result. When the designer saw the room on opening night, and he saw this image of Manhattan on the wall, he exclaimed, “This is amazing. When I designed this space, I had New York loft style in mind and now you’ve actually put us in New York!” He noted, and I agree, that was the perfect illustration of someone with no affinity for technology whatsoever, who experienced what was possible and has likely been forever changed in his thinking.

Home Theater Design – Projection Mapping
By using a short-throw projector, the integrator allowed the designer to keep his vision intact, while allowing projection mapping to stun every person who walks into the room.

As designers, our role is to bring everything together, to make a house feel like a home for our clientele. We inherently establish an emotional connection to the family, their friends, their careers, and the lives of their children as they grow up and out of the home and again as they bring grandchildren home to visit or live. We personally experience their life events. We help them navigate the stages of their life and we tend to develop close and personal relationships that transcend our role as designers. While we exist to create function and flow, and we modify that to each individual’s needs, sometimes technology just doesn’t rise to the surface as something we need to be thinking about. But it most definitely should be.

Similarly, architects create the footprint for the home and the foundation for all that it will be capable of. Their role doesn’t require the understanding or integration of lifestyle-enhancing technology, per se. Unless it has proven successful in the past or is clearly part of the scope of work, sometimes technology may just not be front-of-mind, and that’s perfectly understandable. In the case of the show home, technology solved a challenge and created a completely unique experience. That’s a differentiator that can be taken straight to the bank.

The thing is, there has to be an incentive for architects and designers to take the time, energy, and resources to welcome technology into their work. Oftentimes, technology is viewed as a necessary evil — something that can interfere with the design or the aesthetic that’s trying to be achieved. The best example would be a TV, which, no matter how nice or expensive a TV is, is an ugly black hole, and the bigger the TV gets, the uglier the black hole gets as well. For designers this can cause countless sleepless nights, and that’s time we’re not being compensated for necessarily, so you can imagine where that leads.

Tim’s advice? Change the conversation and turn tech from a necessary evil into a design material. That’s right — a design material. To me, this makes perfect sense, and even though I’m admittedly a tech-loving designer, this way of presenting shifts my perception immediately about how I can use technology to enhance my own designs and what my clients might get from me as a result that they won’t get anywhere else.

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Now when I look at a project I see numerous ways we can deliver an image to a room in a way that my design won’t have to be compromised. Better yet, my designs can now be enhanced in ways I never thought of. I’m free of constraints that previously provided one, maybe two options, at best, and I’m excited about technology in a whole new way.

While not typical, many architects and designers have been successful with technology and so much so that some actually differentiate themselves from others by promoting how technology sets their designs apart. I think this is important because when this happens, and the more this happens, the collective work the trades do together can be far better understood and appreciated. It’s my belief that when homeowners experience this collaborative effort, they are much more likely to refer the design-build-integration team to their friends, family, and neighbors. At Slayman Design and Cinema we focus on executing interior design, but we fully embrace and facilitate technology, working closely with integrators and acousticians to deliver high-performing homes that are both beautiful to look at and a pleasure to live in. We believe that this close connection between the trades ensures the best possible result.

As we wrapped up our call, I asked Tim to share just one more thing for us all to consider, in sort of a ‘What Would Tim Do’ manner. He paused for a moment and then said, “As an industry, if we don’t succeed in helping architects and designers find ways to differentiate their work through the inclusion of technology, then there will always be a site fight brewing somewhere. Sadly, it’s going to be a site fight where, as an industry, we can win a battle here and there, but we’re never going to win the war. And the war needs to be won because that 90 percent of the potential is absolutely there, and it’s just a missed opportunity if we let it slip by.”