How Environment influences Design

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Frank Lloyd Wright attributed his signature horizontality to the influence of the prairie, where he grew up and where his first aesthetic was formed. You can see it clearly in his architecture. It made me think about the importance of the natural environment in informing the art and architecture of place.

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On Shetland in the far north of Scotland is a museum dedicated to the local textile arts, the most prominent of which is Fairisle knitting. The designs typically are made using four needles to knit a circular yolk, often radiating out in a starburst pattern. The early designs are full of the color of the landscape - heather and moss, misty blues and greys, soft browns and stone tones. They are gentle and contemplative.

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Then when we reach the 1930s something odd occurs - red, orange and dark brown, diamonds and strongly symmetrical patterning, bold art deco designs. I asked the curator what on earth had happened and his answer was "linoleum". Mass-produced floor covering had reached the island and the visual impact blew the inhabitants wee minds. 

The new aesthetic was applied to the traditional craft and very smart it looked too.

The muted landscape knits were, and are, still produced but now they were joined by a man-made influence as the island joined the 20th century. By the same token, the old Fairisle patterns travelled beyond the island as far as the US, giving those linear prairie dwellers a chance to experience the enveloping wash of a tiny, misty place on the edge of Europe.

http://shetlandtextilemuseum.wordpress.com

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