Locally Crafted Intentions

Just like in fashion, design trends are often seen to be cyclical and are typically born of societal needs and pressures.

Trends can often be identified by common catch phrases; we’ve all seen them. Most recently, we’ve seen labels such as “all natural”, “organic” and “green” frequent the advertising vehicles of our food industry, fashion, and in the design world, our building materials.

If you’ve been around, or studied the history of design, you will be familiar with past trends and styles like “Arts & Crafts” and “Art Nouveau”; styles born of a distinct dissonance between art and technology.

The Arts & Crafts movement was a rejection of the mass production and industrial mechanization brought by the second Industrial Revolution. Architects, writers and artists like William Morris began to identify beauty in the expression of deliberately unfinished materials. This period of art and design “for the people, by the people” developed a certain flavor of harmony with the natural environment and recognized traditional skills and trades.

Emerging in parallel to the cinema, the successive Art Nouveau style was a fascination with movement and expression. Disparity between art and technological process saw rise to a tension that manifested as a distinct creative force in the early 1900s. A sentimental desire to return from rampant industrialism to the self-employed craftsman was seen as liberation from capitalism, and resulted in youthful idealism and idiosyncratic beauty. We experienced a demand for the exceptional over that of the utilitarian. Art Nouveau was a short-lived rebellion in the midst of vast technological growth, but has been long since treasured.

With the passing of the World Wars and the Great Depression, societal need began to drive style. Born of a need for function and immediate production, Modernism by contrast was rich with cleverness and efficiency, but it lacked the intimate craft of previous design styles. Kits of parts were mass manufactured for quick and easy assembly. Designs were brash but sleek, simple but intelligent. Most important to the era, they were attainable where skilled tradesmen had been lost and resources were scarce following the high demands of war.

Today again, it seems we are experiencing a broader shift back to the craftsman-style intentions of our ancestral movements. Calgary in particular is seeing an interesting shift in industry, post-recession. While we might not be experiencing a total come-back of the ornate details or intricate characteristics of Art Nouveau in design, we are starting to recognize a similarly driven trend or desire for unique, small-sourced, individually crafted goods, and even more exciting: services.

The 2007 recession left many qualified and impassioned individuals out of work. But where there’s scarcity (of jobs and resources), humans have an innate ability to innovate and persevere, and it seems that is exactly what has happened in Calgary. We are seeing a shift in influence and potential: big box businesses and chain brands are becoming tired and suburban sprawl is generating new real estate opportunity for “the little man”.

Coupled with people passionate about their individual sustainability in the face of economic shortfalls, our city has burst with independent owners: coffee roasters, breakfast bistros, neighborhood pubs, cocktails bars and so many specialized retail facets. Buzz words now trending: “locally sourced” (or locally made), “artisan”, and “custom”. Our own neighbors and family friends are popping up with one-off restaurants, locally driven brands, and peer curated collectives.

As designers, we tend to recognize trends simply from experience and regular exposure, but it seems that this time around, the trends are becoming apparent to the public too. Curiosity is inspiring vision and infectious ambition is leading to grand execution. The more we show our appreciation for these grassroot gems, the more enthusiasm we see garnered.

For an architecture and design firm whose responsibility it is to create inherently “custom” built environments, this presents enormous opportunities to work with local heroes, develop meaningful brands, and lasting experiences not for a broad audience, but quite specifically and simply for ourselves. We are coming full circle to that “for the people, by the people” paradigm.

With this renunciation of design and service that once catered to a vast market, we are starting to see and enjoy design and service that is more concentrated, responsive and contextual. As designers, we communicate with our audience through our medium as any artist would; our medium being the built and branded environment. This expressive new movement presents us the ultimate opportunity to communicate with our users and directly impact their experience of local culture; a lasting and powerful connection that any seasoned designer aptly endeavors to make.

The next time you make coffee or brunch plans, think out of the box and try something other than your regular franchise joint. Dig into the local culture that you and your peers have the power to build and support your own city and community!

Ellysa Evans, Jr. Interior Designer
Davignon Martin Architecture + Interior Design

Categories: Architecture, Art History, Business of Design, calgary, design, interior design

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