Design Leadership: Meet Interior Design Chair Cathrine Veikos

In fall 2012 California College of the Arts welcomed Cathrine Veikos as the new chair of its undergraduate Interior Design Program.

With the first semester behind us, we sat down with Veikos to check in and hear firsthand about what she brings to the program and how she plans to use her expertise in her future endeavors.

What attracted you to CCA? And now that you're here, what impresses you most about the college?

I find CCA’s commitment to providing an accredited, inter-disciplinary education for interior design professionals exemplary. The interdisciplinary breadth of CCA makes it the best place to be today to foster students that will take on positions of design leadership in the profession tomorrow.

I think the focus on materials and skills in every program makes CCA unique.

Students are always making things, producing work, testing their ideas. Many new materials have been introduced into the building industry, including composite materials that challenge tectonics and the nature of enclosure. Materials, methods, and processes appropriated from other industries and disciplines, and digital fabrication processes have widened the scope of innovation.

Rather than curating existing materials, there is an opportunity here to design and create your own. Understanding materials and the perceptual effects they create in space is essential to the practice of Interior Design -- our Interior Design faculty is so strong in this area.

My own research in materials and surface effects is driven by experimentation into atmospheric and architectural effects, environmental consciousness, and the integration of information technologies in building components and surfaces.

I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to cultivate the program’s existing strengths and to foster new ones.

What are some of the current challenges in interior design today, and how are you planning to address these challenges?

In design, what we make is always mediated by what we see. How we represent our ideas -- not only to others as design communication, but also to ourselves -- is an important part of our own creative process. It is important to understand it as a process that is both culturally and historically contingent.

Our courses engage both the technical and the theoretical layerings of representation. By cultivating a self-conscious approach to digital media that recognizes its impact on design, we can address the challenges of design communication and the integration of both physical and digital media in the design process. Especially at the level of fundamentals, technical skills provide rigor, measure, and confidence to the beginning student.

Designers need to know how to develop and coordinate concepts, implement a design strategy, and integrate with other disciplines. Educators aim to reach new and better forms of practice. In this, the role of research is very important. It should be provocative and optimistic, based in inquiry and with intentions to expand the breadth of knowledge in the discipline. Conceptual, analytical, and practical skills are necessary.

CCA promotes the idea of making art that matters. How are you planning to promote this theme within the Interior Design Program?

My vision for the future of the Interior Design Program is grounded in my strong architectural background in education and in the profession. I am drawn to work that is meaningful -- that makes people think and even changes their awareness or just their habits.

My book, Lina Bo Bardi: The Theory of Architecture Practice (Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2013), is an introduction to and translation of the Italo-Brazilian architect’s thesis on pedagogy, which highlights the value of collaborative work, interdisciplinarity, and a design methodology that is predicated on the serious observation of the habits and patterns of life.

The book provokes us to reflect on architectural education today, on the relevance of theory, the advantages of history, and ultimately on the caliber and constitution of future professionals in the discipline and the work that they will be prepared to contribute to the built environment.

Another book, Sense of Surface: The Drawings and Buildings of Lina Bo Bardi (forthcoming), is an introduction to the work of Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992). It investigates architecture’s visibility as central to the complex process through which meaning is constructed, including the nature and use of ornament.

I appreciate her work so much because it is conceived with the idea that it will add to the city and improve the experience of the people who live there. Bo Bardi saw her first major building commission in Brazil, The Museu de Arte de São Paulo (1957-1968), as an opportunity to engage the collective, the essential, symbolic, and monumental. She saw the redemptive role of art and the near-messianic mission of museums to “create a public” endowed with a civilizing love of art was nothing less than a guarantee of a peaceful future for the world.

Bo Bardi designed buildings, graphics, gardens, exhibitions, sets and costumes for theater, furniture, and jewelry. The exhibitions in which she designed both the exhibition space, the means of display, and curated the selection, constitute an evolving practice of installation that distinguishes itself from industrial or exhibition design through the immersive, transformative, and contingent experience it creates for the viewer.

She was committed to human freedom and the creation of a more understanding world. Her exhibitions tried to make people aware of a reality that they had not noticed.

I see her work as a great example of making art that matters. I am inspired by it.

Are there Bay Area alliances you’d like to strengthen or create?

CCA’s program of studios and seminars (Interdisciplinary studios, like Linkage, UDIST as well as ENGAGE at CCA studios and courses) are so exciting! The fact students can build skills and expertise in their own discipline as well as learning how to share and collaborate with other kinds of expertise at the upper levels of their education is incredible.

I think it is a model for how the profession should be, how innovation is promoted, how important new steps can be taken that will enhance the built environment and the way people live and work.

The Bay Area is the perfect place for these kinds of initiatives. There is an openness to experimentation and great value given to design. The cross between technology and art and environmentalism and design is a starting point in the Bay Area, rather than an end.

The Interior Design Program has made alliances with community groups and nonprofit organizations, like the Alameda Food Bank, the Dolores Housing Project, and the Sierra Club, that I would like to strengthen.

The value of design is corroborated by these alliances; they provide great opportunities for our students to see the real-world possibilities of this approach.

Come and see the best work from this and other studios at the Architecture Jury Prize Exhibition, which runs January 22-26, with a reception on Wednesday, January 23. Our Interior Design Lecture Series is a great place to get an overview of what we are interested in in interior design. Curated by our faculty member, (Events take place Mondays at 7 p.m. in Timken Lecture Hall on the San Francisco campus.)

Amy Campos, a whole spectrum of Interior Design practices have been highlighted -- from small to large -- including designers who have excelled in stage and theater scenography, to innovative workplace environments for tech industry start-ups, to global community and resource-building practices, to corporate interiors.

Join us in spring 2013 for lectures by Gary Hutton (February 11) and Jimenez Lai (March 18). Read a highlight on Gary Hutton from Glance (2003)

I will be lecturing on Lina Bo Bardi on April 15.

Looking forward to meeting you then, if not before.