Connecting People To Nature Using Architectural Design
In Direct Trade Supplies very first interview feature, we hooked up with Robert Bedner, a professional architectural designer who’s collaborated with the likes of world famous Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn in the 80’s.
Since then he has made a living in Paris, New York and London, before launching his architectural company Research + Design in Plymouth. What separates Robert from the rest is his unique approach to building design; concentrating on the spiritual, natural and healthy well being of humans, and how they can use their homes and buildings to connect with their environment.
His philosophy is not only refreshing but is also an important eye opener to the way we can improve the way we design, run and live in our homes. Robert and his experienced team of thinkers, plotters and doers, look to replace the materialistic and consumer driven appetite with a more transparent, honest and organic outlook.
Coined as ‘biophilic’ design, a term stemmed from work by Edward O. Wilson in his hypothesis book, Biophilia, it highlights the bond between humans and other living systems. In comparison to phobias, which is based on fear, philias are full of positive feelings that humans have towards environments, activities and objects in their natural domain; a core sentiment being delivered by Robert and Research + Design.
Q&A Session: Featuring Robert Bedner, Research + Design.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how you’ve ended up at Research + Design and your company’s services?
I’m originally from Greenwich Connecticut in the United States and worked my way over on an oil tanker to work for renowned Architect Sverre Fehn in Norway in the late 1980s after reading his book at University. Since then, I gained professional experience working in London, Paris and New York for some well known practices before settling in Plymouth in 2001 and I’ve been here ever since.
I opened up Research + Design in 2006 with the idea that it would be an architectural practice that builds on my past experience and connects people to nature through architectural design. Research + Design apply this philosophy to a wide range of building types -everything from interiors to extensions to new build homes and residential developments.
Have you always been interested in architecture, design and home improvements?
I was interested in architecture and construction from a very early age. At 15 I took a greyhound bus across the USA with a friend, we visited architecture schools and other great buildings.
Home improvements in the UK are kind of a recent thing with Grand Designs etc. For myself, much of my work seems to have originally gravitated to smaller scale projects that were concerned with extensions or home improvements – Research + Design is now taking what we have learnt dealing with small scale projects and applying these same ideas to larger developments.
So far as a designer it was fantastic to receive the Abercrombie award in Plymouth for best minor development in 2011 as well as an Alan King Award for the same project. The project came in on a low budget which was extremely challenging – we achieved this through the way it went out to tender and a fairly rigorous cost control.
What do you regard as the most fundamental factors to a successful project?
From a design point of view, its the challenge of following the initial inspirations all the way through to completion. There was someone who said great design starts with an immeasurable thought and then this becomes measurable when its constructed. Once its constructed, if the project is successful, the project comes full circle back to the original inspiration – you can feel these thoughts and inspirations as soon as you arrive.
From a building point of view, quality, cost and time are the golden triangle in design and are closely linked – you cant change one without affecting the others. If a project needs to be fast-tracked for instance (ie time element) we have to consider the implications on quality and cost.
The projects that excite our office are usually generated from either our own or our clients enthusiasm for a project or a particular place. It’s this idea that building constructions are the zone of material between us as human beings and the natural world that surrounds us, and that sometimes it’s the connection with things like the garden or the fireplace or the shower that matters most to us as people.
You mention on your website that you specialise your designs in coastal and natural environments, why is this and how does it differ to city landscapes?
Our practice has a keen interest in biophilic design, a type of design that believes human health and well being are inextricably linked to nature, and that human beings have an inherent affinity for nature.
Coastal sites and sites in rural locations often have spectacular views and the natural qualities that clients are attracted to, but often these qualities get lost, either through ultra sustainable green designs that focus on energy values or ultra contemporary and iconic architectural images that “look cool”, yet these do not respond to the specific landscape or how clients feel in the particular spaces.
Biophilic values can be applied in urban areas as well. In some deprived urban areas, children have never seen the stars at night or the horizon or gathered around an open fire. The buildings they live in meet all the current building and energy regulations but they are missing what we see as essential qualities in life. We try to address these shortcomings.
A lot of our customers buy from our lighting range, so when it comes to kitting out a home with lights, do you have any ‘does and donts’?
- Focus on the quality of light you are trying to achieve. Think about the colour of the light, is it bright white or blue tinged or does it have a yellow glow at night? Power usage is great with LED lighting but its not always the best.
- Try to think about shadows as well as light in places like the lounge, bedroom and entrances.
- Consider combining natural light with artificial light – for example putting lights in soffits surrounding skylights – at day it’s a skylight but at night time the skylight turns into a light fixture.
- Think about integrating the lights within furniture or into wall or floor surfaces.
- Remind yourself how you enter and use the spaces, and integrate the lighting design into this.
- Consider dimmers.
- Use fixtures that are not IP rated in bathrooms.
- Hang pendant light fixtures from low ceilings.
- Always think that lights need to be placed in the middle of a ceiling.
- Use fluorescent fixtures in bathrooms (very clinical light).
- Use mains voltage downlights or spotlights in areas susceptible to heat or burning (they get very hot).
To the average homeowner, are there any tips you can give to help them improve their lighting experience?
We often try and hide good value fixtures and switches into wall and ceiling constructions so that when you enter the room all you see is the light, the wall and ceiling surfaces, not the fixture. This is great for people on a budget and it also focuses the attention on the quality of the light versus the fixture itself. Different fixtures and bulbs work well with different surfaces; we prefer the yellow incandescent bulb look when the room has exposed plywood panelling.
How much time and energy do you spend on planning what lighting to use?
Lighting is integrated into the designs of all of our interiors and is often built into the designs. For example, we designed kitchen cabinet units with oversized doors. The tops and bottoms of the cabinet doors were bevelled with lights behind. The bevel is a trick that creates a very sharp edge with the light when its shining.
When you enter the kitchen all the lighting is hidden – the top cabinet lights are hidden behind the oversize doors and wash light over the ceiling, the lower lights are surface mounted spots, also hidden and provide light for the marble work surface.
If you could predict or wish for one way in which modern lighting can improve, what would it be?
Now that lights have achieved such low power usage it would be great to see more bulbs that are concerned with the quality, colour and warmth of the light that they emit. The bulbs themselves could also be designed more as aesthetic objects in themselves instead of the forms being determined by engineering. Places like bathrooms need bulbs that make a warm soft light for relaxing instead of a cold bright clinical light.
Do you have any exciting plans/ideas in the pipeline?
We are excited about designs we are doing for a garden room in Blackheath London where we are applying biophilic principles as well as creating some very interesting external garden lighting for entertaining.
As well as this we are working on a community space in a deprived area of Plymouth which will feature an interesting garden space, a water garden space as well as exhibition and performance areas.
Any last words..?
We have enjoyed answering your questions. We encourage people to find out more about biophilic design, its uses and Research + Design!
All images credited to: Joakim Boren Photography and are Research + Design Copyright.