Sitting at Newark airport on a snowy Friday in January (en route to Chicago to moderate the IIDA’s annual Industry Roundtable discussion focusing on the relationships and common concerns between the A&D and the manufacturing communities) is as good a time as any to reflect on the year ahead.
Contract’s year, in essence, begins with the Interiors Awards Breakfast (always held on the last and, coincidentally, worst-weather Friday in January), which includes the ceremonial recognition of our annual Interiors Awards winners, our Designer of the Year, and our Legend Award recipient. This year we have a stellar group of 14 Interiors Awards winners, chosen last October from a field of 490 entries by our panel of esteemed judges: Marlon Blackwell of Marlon Blackwell Architect in Fayetteville, Ark.; Randy Brown of Randy Brown Architects in Omaha, Neb.; Dirk Denison of Dirk Denison Architects in Chicago; Lars Krüeckeberg of Graft in Berlin, our 2010 Designers of the Year; and Kimberly Sacramone of HLW International in New York. With winning projects in Linz, Austria; Dubai; Sydney; Fuzhou, China; Milan; Singapore; and Vancouver, this may be our most international group of honorees ever, and the fact that four of these seven were the work of U.S. designers working abroad is a testament to the increasingly global reach of the American A&D community. Closer to home, winners in New York; Eugene, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Watch Hill, R.I.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla; and San Francisco once again show that good design knows no geographic boundaries.
Our 2011 Legend Award winner, Eva Maddox of Perkins+Will | Eva Maddox Branded Environments, is highly respected for many reasons, not least of which is the poise she brings to all of her professional interactions. But behind her graceful, genteel image lies a keen intelligence, a visionary mind, and a strong entrepreneurial heart, all of which have helped her build a highly successful practice that has changed the way subsequent generations of designers think about the interior environment. Honing the skill of space planning—an idea that was beginning to emerge in the late 1960s when she was just beginning to practice—Maddox added another layer to interior design labeled “branding,” which in essence means communicating the identity of the company through design that represents its culture and personality. By the time her eponymous design firm was acquired by Chicago-based Perkins+Will in 2002, it was inconceivable that any good design not include some branding component. Today, it is a familiar concept that often helps shape design from the earliest planning stages.
In Chicago in 1994, Maddox and architect Stanley Tigerman co-founded Archeworks, an alternative graduate design school with a mission of social justice, another idea that has grown into its own in recent years. Truly, Maddox has been a pioneer—and a legendary example of vision and leadership in the A&D community.
As Maddox represents the great (and increasingly rare) tradition of designers in leadership roles in industry and society, our Designer of the Year honorees represent a newer generation of commercial designers, facile with technology and entirely comfortable with the idea that it is a fundamental tool of the design process.
Congratulations go to Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander, partners in life and in their San Francisco-based design firm, studio o+a, who are being honored as our 2011 Designers of the Year. At a time when we are experiencing more social and cultural change than any other period since the Industrial Revolution, Orpilla and Alexander have been astute enough to grasp the design impact of this massive change, and capitalize on it successfully. As design practices go, theirs is relatively focused: A majority of their clients are high-tech companies located in or near the San Francisco Bay area. But their small, agile firm has survived and thrived through all of Silicon Valley’s dramatic upswings and precipitous crashes since they first founded the practice in 1991. During that time, Orpilla and Alexander have built themselves a reputation as the go-to designers for the original dot-com companies and all their successive iterations. Think eBay, PayPal, and that little phenom called Facebook—all recent studio o+a clients—and you have a good picture of where Orpilla and Alexander stand today, at only the halfway point of their careers.
Interestingly enough, even high-tech dowagers like Microsoft and AOL are now coming to studio o+a to help their organizations recapture the entrepreneurial spirit that has been lost to corporate growth, while newbies continue to seek them for their down and dirty process yielding good, functional design on start-up budgets. This kind of client list gives Orpilla and Alexander considerable range and impact in the technology sector. Their astoundingly simple formula—serve the client’s needs, plan space intelligently (if differently), invoke the energy of the fast-moving technology market, and set it all against an artistic backdrop that feeds the highly creative, human side of the business—just may help inspire the next face on the cover of a magazine. For now, it is theirs.
Contract congratulates all of its 2011 honorees, and wishes the commercial A&D community a happy and prosperous New Year!