Interiority and Community at MIARD
Its students are published and prize-winning, their work professionally produced, impressively presented, and sharply documented. But MIARD, Piet Zwart Institute’s Master Interior Architecture: Research + Design, is far from a hotbed of Fordist-style commercial production. Focusing on locating, interrogating, and reacting to the contextual realities that shape and complicate the participants’ lines of inquiry, it seeks to embed students’ practice-led design research within broader spatial and social ecologies.
Central to the course is an investigation of the interior. The historical ambiguity and spatial indeterminacy of interiority gives way to a discipline that must consistently question itself, and MIARD embraces interior architecture’s evolving boundaries. The programme operates from the microscopic – how is space experienced at the level of the dust particle? – to the global. Course Director Alex Augusto Suárez explains that while the students’ multidisciplinary and self-directed research can journey far from conventional definitions of the interior, it is in this tension, this stretching of limits, that the critical vitality of the programme lies. What new, expanded, or reformed definitions of interiority arise? How does the research communicate through and with scholarship on the interior?
Understanding that the practice of the designer must expand in the face of global challenges, the programme encourages innovation and the application of new technologies. The academy’s many workshop hubs or ‘stations’ facilitate practical experimentation, and students are encouraged to conduct field research and material testing as they consider and develop future forms. Whether it’s an analysis of petroleum’s social impact visualised through the material itself, or confronting questions of extractivism when working with quarried stone, contextualised material research is a crucial node of MIARD.
The programme also focuses heavily on working across multiple media, exposing students to a richly diverse range of analogue and digital processes with which they can realise their research. Since the tools used to make and share work are continuously in flux, the programme teaches the newest technological methods alongside drawing as a form of research, in order to challenge the limits of formal expression. Each participant is provided their own fixed studio space in which they learn through doing, something that – while once a backbone of arts education – has become a luxury in creative studies.
Concurrently, the programme’s robust critical theory offering places emphasis on discourse that provides a conceptual and specifically historical grounding to the technical research – a refreshing direction to take at this hyper-futuristic educational and artistic moment. The bi-annual lecture series ‘MIARD Talks’ grapples with the spatial implications of issues ranging from coexistence in metropolitan Thailand to the weaponisation of affect; from clubbing in Manhattan to utopian architectural propositions; from the role of spatial practitioners amidst anti-racist and anti-colonial protest movements to the commodification of natural resources. MIARD does not shy away from the fundamental and sometimes grizzly questions pertaining to both the design field and the social body at large. Suárez works from the position that space is not neutral, but can be political, loaded, constructed, and weaponised, and so students are encouraged to take a position, to challenge that position, and to publicly communicate that position through inclusive and responsible research.
Somewhat unique to the programme, and crucial in our grossly individualised time, is MIARD’s supportive focus on its own community across staff and students. In 2018 it began publishing its Digital Archive, a growing collection of student projects, theses, and graduation works. This archive, which for Suárez and staff has become a reflective pedagogical device, provides an overview of the themes and questions that have been engaging students over the years, illustrates the comprehensive range of practices developing in the programme, and places student and graduate work at the very fore, all the while generating opportunity for the MIARD community to make connections with potential collaboration partners, employers, and clients.
In addition, launching this year is the Alumni Project; a multi-pronged support system conceived to assist the multidisciplinary graduates as they enter an often prescriptive professional field. Alongside an online database collating opportunities for funding, grants, jobs, and residencies – also available to current students – the Alumni Project will offer teaching assistant positions to students or alumni who wish to gain experience, and will initiate a process of commissioning graduates. Since 2014, the annual Alumni Awards have granted funding to forthcoming alumni research projects, and this year the sum of the grants will increase. Another prong of the Alumni Project is the introduction of an annual thesis publication in print, which will make use of institutional funding to consolidate and circulate the quality written output from MIARD students into a reader, positioning their practices amidst broader conversations in the field.
Many MA programmes leave students feeling under-equipped, under-connected, and even disposed of after graduation, but MIARD’s efforts to concretely support and publicly represent its alumni speaks volumes of its commitment to its own community and the development of their future trajectories.
Words by Harriet Foyster