2016 Inception Award | Between: Three Screens

Anna Conrick


Ethnographic approaches to process-led design practice


Interior Design and Anthropology are disciplines that have traditionally operated in distinctly different academic and practical realms. As a practitioner trained in both modes, I believe there exist important and unique intersections between the two practices, that may be of real value to the practice of Interior Design. My work explores these intersections through the proposition of a transdisciplinary working process which integrates anthropological methodology and process-led design. My major project takes the form of design praxis – a live testing of these ideas in situ and the generation of a series of 1:1 scale rhetorical propositions.

Melbourne’s Astor Theatre is one of the city’s last remaining jazz era picture palaces, and was the primary site for my research. With full access to the theatre over a three month period, I was able to rigorously test my working process, generating a series of 1:1 outcomes which I then installed in a separate gallery context, which became my secondary working site. Hosting an installation event prior to the submission of the project gave me the opportunity to observe and document a range of interactions with my work, and allowed for critical re ection and evaluation of the process.

My working process consists of three key stages:

Firstly a period of ethnographic eldwork – an active and site speci c practice that utilises traditional anthropological working methods including excavation, participant observation, interview- ing, primary document collection and thematic data analysis. Employing anthropological methodology enables the designer

to develop an understanding of site as a multi-layered complex, existing simultaneously as material and imagined entity. My work at The Astor included an excavation beneath the stage area, collection of archival documents, interviews, photography, lm and sound recordings.

Secondly a period of making and material exploration which ad- heres to a process-led approach. This is essentially a process of playful experimentation, where the act of making becomes a way of thinking through the ideas that emerged from eldwork, and a way of exploring relationships between idea and material expres- sion. Attempting to apply these ideas in a variety of ways, my nal project consisted of six different propositions. With each I employed design strategies lifted directly from the eldwork process, speci cally chosen for their relevance to the particular object/area/ image/idea that I was working with. To this end, I worked with strategies of layering, frame, focus, iteration and re-enactment, and with materials of lm, fabric, plaster, ceramic and found-items.

Finally a period of assembly, which focuses on the relationships generated through the installation of object in site. Installing the work in a site speci c manner allowed the makings to develop new connections between the primary and secondary site. Examples of this can be seen in the re-made archival imagery which became an adhesive window treatment in the gallery space, projecting colored light forms across the oor as the sun set, and the tile series, generated through plaster detail studies of The Astor, which clad a stairwell creating a balcony viewing experience within the gallery.

Between: Three Screens was the testing of an idea, and so it requires a process of critical response and analysis in order to evolve. I believe that one of the most valuable outcomes of this trans-disciplinary approach to design lies in its highly exible nature and ability to be applied to a diverse range of territories. Whilst my focus was predominantly on the material territory provided by a building envelope, working through this process expanded my understanding of site to include to a range of social, cultural and temporal territories that are not primarily based in ma- terial expression, yet can be accessed, studied and worked into. As the beginning of an ongoing personal practice and exploration of site within the expanded eld, this project proposes a means to engage with and value both the material and imagined aspects of place and placemaking.