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Symposium report: 'Looking into the Modern Interior'

Symposium report: 'Looking into the Modern Interior'

At the symposium ‘Looking into the Modern Interior: History, Theory and Discipline in Education and Practice’‘Looking into the Modern Interior: History, Theory and Discipline in Education and Practice' was co-convened by the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) and the Modern Interiors Research Centre (MIRC), Kingston University. It was co-organised by Bridget May of Marymount University, Virginia and Anne Massey of Kingston University. Five MIRC members – Professor Anne Massey, Professor Penny Sparke, Dr Trevor Keeble and post-doctoral researchers Patricia Lara-Betancourt and Fiona Fisher – travelled to Atlanta to attend the symposium.

‘Looking into the Modern Interior' provided a forum for the discussion of historical topics among design educators and design historians, fostering links between history, theory and practice. The symposium attracted over 50 established and emerging scholars in the fields of interior design education and practice, design history and art history, representing institutions from around the world.

Westin Peachtree Plaza Lobby (copyright Charles Dawley 2006)Charles Rice from Sydney University of Technology opened the conference with a paper on John Portman's Peachtree Center, within which the conference venue was located. Other speakers engaged with public and private interiors and their designers, and included papers on bathrooms in connection to graphic design and the notion of ‘nakedness', post-world war public schools, prefabricated kitchens as models for sustainability, and Islamic centres, among many other topics related to interiors in the USA, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Czechoslovakia.

MIRC's Professor Penny Sparke and Dr Trevor Keeble were among the speakers. Sparke's paper, ‘The Garden Inside', explored and illustrated the significance of plants and flowers in the design of modern interiors, providing an intellectual framework for an under-researched area of study. Keeble's paper, ‘Table Stories', offered a fascinating example of ‘story telling', showing how his own tableware is rooted in narratives of personal, marital, familial, national and historical identities. Keeble's account situated the domestic interior and contemporary homemaking practices across the disciplines of design and material culture studies.

The keynote speaker was noted scholar Dr Paul Greenhalgh, Director and President of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Art School in Washington DC, who discussed the links between Expositions and World's Fairs and the invention of the modern interior, showing how spaces in expositions, homes, department stores and museums have all been driving forces in that invention.

‘Looking Into the Modern Interior' was MIRC's first international joint symposium. It reflects the developing relationship between MIRC and the IDEC, which originated in Montreal when Professor Penny Sparke presented a keynote lecture there a couple of years ago. MIRC is planning to host other international joint conferences and events, with Queensland University of Technology in Australia in 2011 and with the IDEC in 2012 to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

For further details on the symposium, please visit the Modern Interiors Research Centre website.

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