Interior design as a business and a creative practice is experiencing a renaissance not seen since probably the Renaissance when people dramatically re-evaluated their ideas of public vs. private urban spaces as well as divergent functional needs for the places of dwelling, labor, and leisure. The COVID-19 global lockdowns upended centuries of “common sense” about organizing shared spaces around day-to-day activities. A home turned into everything: office, gym, quiet study and loud entertainment center, industrial-grade food storage facility, childcare program, and a place of worship. It became clear the New Normal was overdue for a major redesign. The once-niche market is projected to grow at an impressive 8% compound annual growth rate to reach $255 billion annual valuation within five years. The next generation of in-demand interior designers and architects will be informed by the post-pandemic vision of co-working and co-living, in style.
Fashion maybe the fifth element animating a holistic approach to interior design based on cultural diversity and environmental sustainability. Moreover, interior design and fashion share a natural fascination with unique textures, shapes, colors, and pushing the boundaries of functionality. Commerce, style, and personal space have been merging steadily. First the equestrian artisans at Hermès began selling scarves. Then American department stores introduced clothing and cookware as a single shopping experience. Then Giorgio Armani launched his signature hotels, resorts, and restaurants. Then Ralph Laurent rebranded a fashion brand into a lifestyle platform and a social movement. Young global design stars like Harry Nuriev now seamlessly merge interior design, fashion, politics, and the proverbial kitchen sink.
Previously, I’ve looked at the schools pushing the fashion forward. Now let’s explore leading international institutions at the intersection of interior design and style. Here are six academic institutions at the cutting edge of creativity and design:
Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
Sustainability is not a buzzword in Scandinavia. It has been an evolving way of life for centuries. #AaltoUniversity programs in architecture, landscape, and interior design draw on knowhow from generations of enthusiasts passionate about co-creating and co-living with nature. “Architecture is technical and artistic; it is a social art and also an artful science.” The manifesto rings true as ever.
Founded in 1871, a crafts training program grew into one of the largest Nordic design institutions. It is now named in honor of Alvar Aalto, a Finnish architect and designer whose seminal work includes furniture, textiles, glassware, and sculptures. To understand Aalto’s impact on the interior design industry, look up a retrospective of his pieces and then browse any IKEA catalogue… Meanwhile, Helsinki is emerging as a fashion-forward creative economy hub for the Nordic region. The Design Museum recently celebrated the innovative history of Finnish design with the Intimacy exhibition bridging the craftsmanship heritage with wearable technology. Sustainable design thrives on the Baltic shores.
Academy of Art University, San Francisco, CA
Founded in 1929, this institution has become synonymous with the legendary Bay Area arts scene. Nearly a century later, the institution remains true to its original motto. “Built by artists for artists.” Such commitment to the spirit of collaboration can still strike many as being ahead of its time. Under the visionary leadership of Dr. Elisa Stephens, it became one of the few American universities with fully realized online education programs long before the pandemic. School of Interior Architecture & Design benefits from proximity to Silicon Valley. It allows not only an insight into the hottest wishes of potential customers and successful start-ups, but also access to the latest technological knowhow, including test-driving new tools and apps under exclusive partnerships. (Disclosure: I served as a Director of Fashion Journalism program at the Academy of Art University from 2015-2019).
For example, a brand-new virtual design course is run in collaboration with Gravity Sketch, a pioneering 3D design program breaking boundaries between design, gaming, architecture, space exploration, and a host of next metaverse-savvy fields. Being an early adopter of next-generation tech often translates to priority internship and employment opportunities for alumni. Meanwhile, the city itself provides ample opportunities for immersive style education from people-watching in trendy neighborhoods to fashion-savvy museum exhibitions such as Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy at the Legion of Honor and Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love at the deYoung. Even tackling theory is practical here!
Scuola Politecnica di Design, Milan, Italy
Ciao from a high style location that needs no introductions. Founded in 1954, same year as the iconic luxury brand Valentino, #SPDMilano has been at the forefront of translating the consumer-coveted Made in Italy ethos into the world of interior design, product and automotive design. Italian designers were among the first to embrace the conceptual corporate transition from selling consumer goods to curating consumer lifestyle. Missoni, Fendi, Versace, and others branched out into home textiles, tableware, bedding, and furnishings long before it became an expected norm. With courses available in English, students ease their way into the rigors of design studies, dolce vita style. Being in Milan also means having access not only to Milan Fashion Week, but some of Europe’s most influential interior design trade fairs as well. Just Salone del Mobile and Milan Design Week alone attract hundreds of thousands of industry practitioners from around the world to check out the latest from over 30,000 exhibitors. Imagine that as your homework resource!
ICS College of Arts, Tokyo, Japan
The first and only interior design school in Japan was established in 1963 as “Interior Center School” by architects Takeo Amito and Junpei Nakamura. It embraces the tutorial system approach to learning focused on the relationship between mentors and apprentices. A partnership with Middlesex University in London enables students to receive international diplomas. Japan has introduced to the world several influential interior design concepts such as kintsugi which honors the beauty of imperfections with gold or bonsai and ikebana which engage with trees and flowers in meditative ways.
Let’s not also forget the Marie Kondo revolution of tidying up! While recent style headlines from Tokyo highlighted Olympic uniforms, the city’s impact of global fashion imagination is unparalleled. From the history-making creativity of Kenzo Takada, Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto to the game-changing influence of cosplay and fashion metaverse to the way arts and urbanity continue to shape legendary spaces like the Harajuku district. #ICSCollegeofArts puts you front and center into this vibrant mix of tradition and potential.
Shenkar College of Engineering, Design & Art, Ramat Gan, Israel
One of the biggest design education institutions in the Middle East, #Shenkar was founded in 1970. Its Interior Building & Environment Design program combines a thorough study of engineering (under extreme environmental conditions) and a deep dive into social dynamics (no less extreme). With historical roots in textile design, this school has been successfully interweaving the future of creative industries for decades. Preservation of ancient craftsmanship in design goes hand in hand with exploration of the latest in 3D printing, laser cutting, and virtual modeling. It also helps that Israel has put fashion and arts at the core of its cultural diplomacy strategy.
Its primary fashion platforms – Fashion Week Tel Aviv and Kornit Fashion Week – prioritize diversity, technology, and accessibility. The same three principles apply to the sustainable goals for the 21st century interior design and architecture. As more and more people shift perspectives to identify as more spiritual, this development will have an impact on our use of personal and public spaces. This could be aa fascinating opportunity to learn what design for the future could mean in a place sacred to billions of believers in the three Abrahamic traditions. Here is where the challenges of climate change meet the opportunities of social change in the most dynamic ways.
Abu Dhabi University, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Few places in the world have experienced such a rapid and profound urban design transformation as the United Arab Emirates. Within mere decades, it has become a global phenomenon with major architectural landmarks and a dynamic fintech hub. Established in 2003, #AbuDhabiUniversity has been integral to ensuring long-term success of these initiatives. Its interior design program is rooted in key strengths: maverick engineering, startup ambition, multiculturalism. The student body engages with leading professionals from across the MENA region and beyond while tapping into the ongoing grand legacy of Arabic architecture and interior design spearheaded by the likes of Zaha Hadid, Bernard Khoury, Ammar Khammash, and many others.
Hard to imagine topping Louvre and Guggenheim as design research destinations, and here these institutions come to you via signature outposts, because world culture is the cornerstone of Abu Dhabi’s development goals. While diving into your studies, you can also explore if that are conceptual and practical links between the global phenomenon of modest fashion and humble architecture or conscious architecture. The world is full of connections waiting to be discovered and shared.