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Who is “murdering” our interiors?

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By Bobby YAWE

As I thought of this article, the title of a book by the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga (first Vice President of Kenya), “Not Yet Uhuru”, came to mind. I was profoundly driven to qualify my analysis here in the same breath. Allow me to declare before I narrate my argument that it is “Not yet Interiors”.

 How do you turn a building into a refuge, a place to call home, and not just stone and mortar? Through what we do with the interiors, as it is the only truly personal element of the structure that is the occupant; this makes even a rented house a home.

Why do our structures continue to remain plain and blunt? It’s because someone has been “murdering” our interior designers and by extension our interiors. I have used the word “murder” instead of kill because of the difference in meaning.

To kill is to take life while to murder is to take life in a premeditated manner. With murder, there is a plan and a motive unlike is the case with running over a pedestrian. Even in law, the two are treated separately and the penalties are different. The jury might still be out on this one, but I have concluded from undeniable evidence that the interiors have been murdered.

Visit any of the developments going on in Nairobi for instance, and those that have been completed over the past few years and you realize that even though the externals of the houses have become impressive, the interiors leave nothing to desire.

Many of us belittle those who run our public universities with statements like they are producing substandard graduates yet the school of the built environment at the University of Nairobi recently restructured the degrees of architecture and land economics to become reflective of the changes that have taken place in the industry.

 Degree in Interior Design

Yet, apart from me, no one else has seen it prudent to publicise this fact. The University of Nairobi has a degree in Interior Design and having interacted with some of the graduates, I am confident with the level of the qualification. Now since I have decided to go academic on this article, here is a definition and function of an interior designer:

Interior design concerns itself with more than just the visual or ambient enhancement of an interior space; it seeks to optimize and harmonize the uses to which the built environment will be put. Thus it is “practical, aesthetic, and conducive to intended purposes, such a  raising productivity, selling merchandise, or improving life style.” Interior design is a practice that responds to changes in the economy, organization, technology, demographics, and business goals of an organization.

These solutions are functional, enhance the quality of life and culture of the occupants, and are aesthetically attractive. Interior design includes a scope of services performed by a professional design practitioner, qualified by means of education, experience and examination, to protect and enhance the life, health, safety, and welfare of the public (Source: National Institute of Building Sciences)

So when the various city and county councils and state corporations such as NEMA who are entrusted with the wellness of the public at large have not seen it necessary to require the signature of an interior designer on building designs and environmental impact assessments, it becomes clear that a murder is being planned.

 Culture and quality of life

I like the part of the definition of an interior designer that states, and I quote: “. . . the quality of life and culture of the occupants”. In essence, we have interiors done for other cultures and enforced on us.

In the past few months when house hunting with friends, I have seen them reject houses because the so-called guest bedroom is not en-suite. This room is normally occupied by a visiting parent, so you can imagine the awkwardness, they said. Most African cultures dictate that your in-laws should not sleep under the same roof. So why is it that architects who claim to subscribe to their cultural norms (unfortunately only with burial issues) design houses and forget to incorporate those norms? Simply detaching the guestroom a.k.a Servant Quarters from the main house and providing a cooking area will resolve the issue.

Who knows interiors?

From this, it is clear that the conspiracy also includes some architects, who even though interior design was separated from the profession over 100 years ago, still insist that they can handle the design of interiors.

This has resulted in the houses having master bedrooms sharing walls with children’s bedrooms, toilets opening into sitting rooms and dining rooms, doors splitting en-suite rooms from bathrooms. It is obviously clear why there is so much stress and tension in houses.

It is said that a jack of all trades is a master of none; and what is happening in the built environment is that one group is trying to monopolize the entire industry from concept to design to sales of developments. The problem might be due to a lack of awareness by the public but through such publications as Ideal Interiors, we hope that the masses will get to understand and appreciate the different players in the creation of a home or a healthy workplace.

 Changing spaces

A cave man takes only the outer shape of the cave to shelter him from earth’s aggressive elements, and finishes the interiors to his needs and functions. On the other hand, the current generation allows itself to be forced to live within predefined internal spaces by so-called developers.

It is criminal how we have structural walls all across a house; which means that the layout has literally been cast in stone. Our lives change and our use of the home needs to change as well. The only way to achieve this is to have flexible partitioning.

The person jointly responsible for this cause of events is called an engineer who looks for the least calculation required root when working out the support of the structure, be it a house or office. Together with their close ally, the architect, they have forced us into boxes within boxes, and within more boxes by placing supporting walls everywhere. The whole day you are subjected to talk about “thinking out of the box” while seated in a box just to go home and try and internalize the same while sleeping in a “box”.

With ancient materials like wood and brick, there has been no rationally justifiable reason why we have not been offering flexible spaces especially to the residential occupant.

Even the great fortified castles of yore were built with flexibility in mind, where the outside was built in solid impenetrable stone but the interiors where usually finished in soft sensual wood. Visit the older churches such as St. Andrews, St Francis and the All Saints Cathedral to appreciate the qualities of wood.

 The verdict

The Interiors were murdered and continue to be murdered. If International Criminal Court (ICC) lead prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was to look into this injustice, he would have very few choices but to declare this a crime against “humanity”.

We need to stop this systematic elimination of individuality and freedom of expression by stopping and thinking serious before acquiring a box within a box in the pretext of a home. Insist on a shell then have a say on how the interiors are done.