House & Garden | Diary of a Somebody

Ilse Crawford

How can a building be brought back from the cold?

Ilse Crawford

February 03 2011
Ilse Crawford

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

God’s teeth, it was cold on site yesterday. On a trivial level, this presents an outfit challenge that I rarely see addressed on the catwalks. How to go from chilly building site with dust and dirt and uneven floors, to client meeting, to supper with husband, without changing? But it’s not always a bad move when you get it wrong. Once, when Soho House New York was on site, my flight was late and I ended up among full-on construction in the highest heels and frock. Normally it was woolly coat and boots. For the first time ever there were men to help me carry furniture up six flights of stairs.

There is something about buildings that have been derelict for a long time that goes beyond the physical cold. It’s the absence of life in them for so long that gives the chill a particular edge. It was worth it, though. This was a particular beauty. A Baptist chapel with rooms attached, listed down to every detail. Amazing rooms with panelling, huge windows, the lot. The conundrum, though, is the tortuous and risky planning process. The pinning down of the life that will be lived in the building happens afterwards, when significant (or even insignificant) changes are impossible. The opposite of real life, where the nuances of human activity are what drive and shape the design of the space. This is what makes so many buildings today feel so compromised, soulless and strange; it’s not necessarily the architecture so much as the sequence and the process that leaves humans out of the picture till the very end.

Am doing a bit of moonlighting at the moment; I am guest-editing an issue of Vogue Living Australia. It’s a bit masochistic but a chance to lay out one’s ideas and make sense of them. Reality is always the best critique. The red thread is “being human”, so we are looking at a wide range of things, from art to retail, homes to travel, where the design is part of a bigger story of putting the human experience at the core, for example a jewellery store in New York which is in the workshop where the jewellery is made, a house in India made from a series of pavilions to allow for the extended family, a gallery in London which combines restaurant, architecture and great exhibitions.

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