Urban Interiors and Interiorities

Urban Interiors and Interiorities

Suzie Attiwill
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2823-5.ch002
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The question of the inhabitation of cities is becoming one of the key issues of the 21st century as the number of people living in cities exceeds those in rural areas for the first time in history. This chapter addresses the conjunction of urban and interior in relation to the potential of interior design as a discipline that is no longer adequately defined by an architectural context but rather as a practice that is relational and attends to the relationships between people and environments. Emerging trajectories of interior design practice will be presented with the aim of positioning the criticality of contemporary interior design practice as a laboratory for the production of new urban interiors and interiorities.
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Significant shifts in the movement of people – physically and in terms of population – are transforming cities and the urban environment. This is the first time in history that there are more people living in urban environments than rural contexts; currently, it is 55% with a projected increase to 68% by 2050. The number of people is also increasing – in 1950, the total urban population was 751 million people and in 2018, this was 4.2 billion. By 2030, there will be forty-three megacities with more than ten million inhabitants (UN, 2018). All of this is accompanied with the highest level of displacement on record with 68.5 million people forcibly displaced (UNHCR, 2019).

Another significant transformation of the urban environment is that produced by tourism. Tourism is the fastest growing economic sector in the world and the impact on cities is massive as tidal-like flows of tourists come and go. For example, Venice has a local population of 60,000 people and experiences twenty million tourists annually; in Amsterdam there are ten tourists for every Amsterdam resident (Boztas, 2018); in Manhattan the number of tourists has doubled since 1998 to 60 million per year (González-Rivera, 2018, p. 3). There are also significant demographic movements in urban populations. Tokyo, one of the largest cities in the world, has an ageing population which will require the city to dramatically change in the way it functions.

This growth and shift in urban populations challenge current infrastructure, services and the resources of governments. This in turn has presented opportunities for corporations to invest and develop large sections of the urban environment. “Will the role of city-makers fall entirely to corporations?” asks Chris Sanderson, co-founder of The Future Laboratory (Sanderson, 2019). Sociologist Saskia Sassen addresses a similar concern with the corporatization of cities. Identifying a shift in the nature of cities from one which is defined as a physical built environment composed of buildings as objects in space to a context that is produced by the invisible flow of high finance where buildings are assets as distinct from places to occupy (Sassen, 2015).

These challenges have led to an increased focus on the urban environment within the design disciplines. In architecture, an example is urbanNext – a website established to “generate a global network to produce content focused on rethinking architecture through the contemporary urban milieu – urbanity that is conditioned by the specificities of the information society, sustainable awareness, globalized knowledge and leisure” (Actar, 2018). The practice and advocacy of architect Liam Young is another example of this shift to the urban. His lecture-film performance City Everywhere: A storytelling tour through the landscapes of technology presents a quasi-fictional city in the near future where the built environment is dissolved by technologies and automation to become a digital infrastructure. Referring to himself as a “speculative architect”, he challenges architects to think more broadly than architecture. His website tomorrowsthoughtstoday.com is a platform from which he advocates a new kind of architectural practice (Young, n.d.).

Architect, theorist and interior design professor, Andrea Branzi invented the phrase “weak urbanism” to describe what he sees as the transformation of the contemporary city into a continuous system of relational forces and flows “where the material reality of computer networks have already created a de facto, dynamic, invisible and abstract metropolis that is progressively substituting (or moving to the background) the physical and figurative metropolis” (Branzi, 2006, pp. 10-11).

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