EXCLUSIVE: World-Renowned Design Expert And Sought-After Public Speaker Shashi Caan Talks About Collaborative Work In Design
Art and design inspire everyone. Whether you acknowledge your interest in design or not, you cannot escape from its magic. It is manifested in the fields of interior design and architecture, which are all around us.
In this exclusive interview, learn more about world-class art, design and inspiration from world-renowned Shashi Caan, founding partner of SC The Collective, a US and UK-based architecture and design firm that’s been a pioneer in collaborative design work, and CEO of IFI (The International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers).
The Philippine Institute of Interior Designers (PIID) has recently organized its National Interior Design Festival 2018 event, held at the SDA Cinema of Benilde School of Design and Art campus, featuring this internationally-acclaimed architect, interior designer, and design futurist. We’ve caught up with the visionary about collaborative work as well as what she thinks of the Filipino interior design sensibilities.
Shashi Caan was in Manila to give a talk on "Acknowledging the Complex Nature of Design in a Borderless Practice" in celebration of PIID's National Interior Design Festival 2018 whose theme this year is "Rethinking Interior Design in a Borderless Practice."
You do exceptional work in both architecture and interior design. What would you say are the differences between those two practices?
I think we need to continue to rationalize the differences between architecture and interior design. There are very distinct differences, and they are not the same at all. They are not interchangeable. There are architectural interiors that are a consequence of architecture itself, and that’s different with interiors that are intentionally designed for its own sake.
There’s a different knowledge required in each practice, such as intimate knowledge in materials, colors and textures. For me, interior design requires intimate details that are shaping emotions, shaping behavior, understanding perception. It is not much about psychology but about perception like how we see and what we see, shaping that intentionally so we can showcase what we want to be seen.
Interior design is always about intentionally curating the experience and there’s a narrative that is intrinsically felt. It is very important to design the environment by understanding that environment. For me, the success of a design is when ten people walk in, and they describe the place with almost the same words. Achieving that kind of design is a science, definitely.
"Interior design is always about intentionally curating the experience and there’s a narrative that is intrinsically felt."
You’ve talked to the design students of Benilde about “Acknowledging the Complex Nature of Design in a Borderless Practice." Can you tell us more about that?
It means to collaborate and work with many people, to define problems across borders with relevance in mind, and provide appropriate solutions to those critical kinds of problems, and to never be frightened to walk all across those borders that you encounter in design.
You’re known about the collaborative culture that you do with your firm. Can you tell us more about how the landscape in design was back when you were just starting your firm, The Collective?
When we started The Collective 16 years ago, we knew that collaborating would be the best way to do things, but it was a new thing to do that time. Today, there are so many models in doing collaborative work in design, as we have become mainstream. What’s fascinating to me is that these days, three people can discuss the same concept and talk about how they cooperate in doing a project. There’s a process in collaboration, and there’s certainly an attitude and a mindset that is important to apply. We think of our projects so much better with those things, and we think of solutions that really matter, and we make sure those solutions walk the talk.
"There’s a process in collaboration, and there’s certainly an attitude and a mindset that is important to apply."
You’re also known for optimizing human potential through design. How do you put that into practice?
I hope we are known for it, that we are optimizing the human potential by design. I think it is really important. It takes a village to build anything in design. I don’t care if it is just a pen that adds something to the design, or any small thing, it still takes a lot of expertise from different kinds of people to materialize an overall design.
In The Collective, we acknowledge each of that talent, and that each does it collaboratively. We make sure that the talents are diverse, it is required. When we honor it, that the talents are diverse, we create better results. How we put it to practice, to optimize a person’s potential, is working with one person at a time, but at the same time having that “like-mindedness." But like-mindedness means open-mindedness about trusting one another. We have colleagues who are professionals first and foremost, and it is good that we have that admiration and likeness for each other. But it is different from having them put together and have that sense of mutual respect for one another, and professional trust that I think is pivotal in any collaboration.
"It takes a village to build anything in design."
What to you are the biggest challenges in design today?
There are many present challenges, obvious ones like lack of time to explore and research well enough and lack of money, cultivating a culture that is understood, and also people working together for longer periods of time.
But the biggest challenge is there’s too much information in the Internet that you need to know how to find the right knowledge and how to use sensible judgement calls. Another challenge is being responsible about one’s imagination, but it still depends on the designer or individual. At the end of the day, it is always the end product that speaks for itself.
"The biggest challenge is there’s too much information in the Internet that you need to know how to find the right knowledge and how to use sensible judgement calls."
Are there any particular design trends that you are currently drawn to?
Cycles of trends is really not my interest. I love the deeper trends, trends that are shaping our social consciousness. Technology is changing a lot of things, that it is demanding change. Population change is a factor too, that we need to think of multiple generations cohabitating in the same environment, so we need trends that are accommodating for that fact, respecting that, finding the right processes and products for even maybe six generations who are going to work together in that same environment. Trends that cater to that are here to stay.
"I love the deeper trends, trends that are shaping our social consciousness."
Your book Rethinking Design and Interiors: Human Beings in the Built Environment, published back in 2011, was such a hit among designers all over the world. Do you plan on writing a new one?
I never see myself in my trajectory that I am going to write a book. But I believed that it was needed to document things to be able for them to be real. And that time, we published a book as it was required to communicate and document. So right now, I do not have a plan to write another book, so to speak.
What can you say about the Filipino design industry?
I think you have an extraordinary culture. I think your social morals and consciousness are progressive by just being who you are. And that’s very refreshing and deeply touching. I enjoy the open-mindedness of your design community, as well as their sensibilities. Your interiors are also very progressive, and in many ways are even leading some designers across the world. You have acquired interiors that are really of international level. Leadership like that is exemplary. I know that if I’d explore your design even deeper, there’s something so authentic of your people in there, and that is very inspirational to me. Also, the community of designers I have met so far have asked questions that are really profound. You have great talents and I know that if I work with them, there’ll be mutual respect and deeper admiration towards each other.
"You have an extraordinary culture... Your interiors are also very progressive, and in many ways are even leading some designers across the world. You have acquired interiors that are really of international level." - Shashi Caan on what she thinks of the Filipino design community
Photos courtesy of PIID