Design Illuminated Through Travel

by Anita Makwana, Director, Interior Architecture & Design

It started 11 years ago when I took my first trip to Italy.  As a Designer, my goal was to use my architectural history book as my guide.  This motivation came from a place of pure passion.  I had only seen photographs of amazing places.  I wanted to see them in real life.  Photographs stir powerful emotions. Wouldn’t seeing it in person evoke even greater feelings?  This proved true more than I had ever imagined.

After that first trip to Italy, the travel bug bit me.  I continued to Spain to see Gaudi and Calatrava’s work and all the history in between.  Gaudi’s designs were inspired by things that occur in nature. Then I went on to Greece, Portugal, Peru, Australia, Kenya, Argentina and most recently Antarctica.  Every trip reminds me where that desire to travel came from; my passion for design and expression.  Regardless, it always evoked some form of response, sometimes “I love it!” or “I hate it!”  It doesn’t matter as long as it elicits a reaction.

The Adelie Penguins of Antarctica build their nests by using  rocks and pebbles so they can lay their eggs on a rock mound.  If there is any snow or water, the pebbles act as a drainage system and protect the egg.  A very simple concept, yet we use the same idea in a French drain.  Again, something that happens in nature relates to design.

The icebergs of Antarctica left me speechless.  It felt like I was on another planet. I didn’t understand the reality that a place like this truly existed on Earth.  Some of the icebergs were so architectural and sculptural that it was hard to believe that nature created it.

In them, I saw cathedral spires, and sloping window lines. I saw community spaces in the iceberg gaps created by the continuous lapping waves.  The same iceberg always appeared different as the day passed and the light changed.  Given the vast remoteness of this frozen world, the silence I “heard” was life changing.

It gave me the ability to see without distraction.  I appreciated getting away from the “noise” of daily life to focus.  It reminded me that I need to do this on regular basis to recharge, whether a few moments in a conference room or being at home with the TV off.

The ecosystem of The Great Barrier Reef is a whole community that is dependent upon one another. Systems exist for their very survival yet they also create a beautiful seascape.

As Designers, it is our responsibility to infuse the same concepts into our work.  Understanding a project’s system and how they work together is one piece of the design puzzle.  What elevates us is the ability to create beauty within it.

The importance of travel is that it keeps things fresh. I love seeing how others may solve the same problem because design isn’t 2+2= 4. It is 2+2-1+7= 6+4-2+4.  The design journey and its solution may vary, yet at the end, there is a solution.

My inspiration isn’t just what I see, but also who I meet when I travel.   Good design requires listening skills and adept communication.  My favorite experience is when you come across someone who doesn’t speak the same language, yet we manage to find a way to communicate.

Some things are universal while others are up for interpretation.  This applies to the unique opportunities both travel and design affords us.  Experiencing things for the first time allows for an unrealized appreciation or a totally, unique thought or idea.  It’s all about an open mind.

About the Author: Anita Makwana is Director, Interior Architecture & Design for Ware Malcomb’s Irvine Corporate Headquarters.