Behind the Beauty Shot

Ken Wilson had a dream. The Washington, D.C., architect—whose firm, Envision, is famous for its elegant sustainable interiors—wanted the world to know that there’s more to interior design than the customary glamour shot. As an avid networker Wilson was aware of his colleagues’ work with green materials as well as their skillful integration of architecture, interior design, and the natural environment. The traditional beauty contest associated with interior design and the awards the industry gives itself seemed as outdated to him as it had to me. So when he asked—representing the International Interior Design Association (IIDA)—if Metropolis was interested in recognizing work that went beyond beauty, I was thrilled. This would be an opportunity to show and talk about interiors in a new way, one that begins to reveal the many sophisticated decisions that go into making our best rooms.

The IIDA/Metropolis Smart Environments Awards attracted 54 entries, from which the judges (Eva Maddox, Neil Frankel, and Jeff Barber) selected six highly diverse projects. The “smart” appellation also reflects Wilson’s vision. As a LEED-accredited designer, his work has been pushing the boundaries of sustainability for years. For him green is simply part of design excellence. He sees smart design focusing on the well-being of the users, which implies that as creatures of the earth human beings need sunlight and clean air in addition to ergonomic environments.

The winning projects—some already published elsewhere, usually anathema to editors in search of exclusivity—presented us with a design challenge of our own: How could we show the rich and instructive information hidden inside each beau­tifully composed photograph? How could graphic design make transparent something previously hidden? We have, after all, established the kind of layered graphic presentation—sidebars, factoids, charts, captions, quotes, illustrations—that can reveal more about a design project than the usual picture-text-caption format used by design magazines. So how would we adapt our evolving graphic style to the new challenge of bringing together the formerly competing practices, architecture and interior design, to show the results and benefits of seamless collaborations?

Nancy Nowacek, our art director, came up with a graphic language based on hexagons. “They suggest molecular structures,” she explains, “which speak to the invisible but fundamental principles guiding a green design process as well as the organic world, which sustainability is trying to rebalance. They also remind me of beehives, which speak to the pioneering spirit of cooperation between disciplines resulting in green projects. I found that when these hexagons overlap, they optically shift the picture plane from two to three dimensions. They seemed to be the perfect metaphor for the interdisciplinary collaboration that green design connotes.”

In addition to the organizing hexagons, Nancy adapted our tried-and-true graphic devices to help reveal the new complexity hidden in these beau­tiful interiors. And so what you see in this issue is a dream come true. Our publisher, Horace Havemeyer III, and I have been talking about this moment for the past 20 years. It took the sustainability movement and many different designers’ skills to get here. It’s a good day when at least three dreams can come true.

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