Features

Design Catalyst: Peter Geyer

June 1, 2009

Peter Geyer reflects on the Australian interior design profession and discusses its future under the new regime of lower budgets with ESD convictions.

JH: How has the Australian design world changed since you started out as a designer in the late 1970s?

PG: The following are some of the ways that come to mind for me, focusing on the areas of corporate and retail design and design strategy.
The extensive use of computer technology has made major changes in the way that designers operate their businesses. There is also greater accountability to both clients and their advisers. When I started, clients commissioned a designer based on their reputation or familiarity. Today it is rare for a designer to be commissioned without having to tender against three to six other firms while having their commission scrutinised by project managers. Also when I started in the profession almost all large projects for significant corporates were given to architects. Geyer Design broke that mould when we were appointed to the largest project in Melbourne in the late 1980s – BHP!

JH: Design today is more environmentally sensitive and interior designers need to be aware that many architects are at the forefront of ESD matters. Many interior designers, however, are at the vanguard of matters relating to occupational health and safety.

PG: Today there are more ‘players’. When I started out there were only about six interior design firms with more than, say, three people in Australia; now there must be 60 or more.
Lastly, Australia has come of ‘design’ age and Australian clients are more confident than they used to be.

JH: If you were the Prime Minister what would you do to improve and expand the role of design in the lives of Australian people?

PG: I would like to fund a video or TV series and associated books to educate the wider public about the value of design. I would create a curriculum subject called ‘Design’ and teach it from the late primary school years onwards.
If Australia is looking for new industries to develop and export to improve our GDP, why not get really serious about design; other countries are. I would support (subsidise) Australian manufacturers and practitioners who are committed to producing design excellence.

JH: Much of your work is in the commercial interior sector. Have the economic, social and technological changes of recent years substantially altered the workplace and your design work within that area?

PG: For me Bankers Trust Australia was the groundbreaker case study for changes. The design of the corporate workplace had been gradually evolving since the first large open plan concepts were developed in the early 1990s. Our project for Bankers Trust in Chifley Square, Sydney, in 1992 was the first major corporate open plan concept in Australia. The project was one of the first of the ‘radically open’ plans adopted by a major corporate entity globally. In the project we designed for them BT occupied over 400 offices in a total workforce of 1100 people; our design resized the area to 42 offices for a workforce of 1800.
Other important projects such as the Campus MLC in North Sydney developed the initial concept further by increasing the vertical connection between various floors in a multiple floor fitout. Westpac in Sydney (which also included collaborating firms such as DEGW and HASSELL) perhaps takes this concept as far as any, for a vertical workplace.

Strategic briefing has become an important part of delivering a highly effective workplace and we have been at the forefront among designers in this area for over 15 years now. Personally and in a career sense, I feel I have added far more value by connecting this deep and early strategic thinking to the design solution that results from it, than any other aspect of my career.

JH: Who have been your major influences?

PG: I met Sandy Mitchell-Greenwood at RMIT, whom I later married and I have to acknowledge her influence in moulding this very rough diamond and giving me the sophistication I may convey (at times) these days.

I am influenced by many creative designers from all walks; from design and architecture: Carlo Scarpa, Charles and Ray Eames, Tadao Ando, Peter Zumthor and Denton Corker and Marshall to name but a few; lateral thinkers like Albert Einstein; filmmakers like Federico Fellini or Stanley Kubrick; artists such as Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrlua or Olafur Eliasson; and fashion designers Yohji Yamamoto and Hussein Chalayan. As for music, I admire the music of Erik Satie through to Miles Davis, the great trumpeter, (early) Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa.

A consuming passion is art and we own many great works. We value art more highly in many ways than design! I have learned much over 20 years of choosing art for clients and meeting with advisers and gallerists. Great artists have a perspective on life and society that is unique and often wiser than your own.

JH: What will be the key challenges for interior designers in the next decade?

PG: In short, being relevant. The economic boom times that have lasted for over 15 years have meant that designers have been in their element. If ideas were flamboyant, clients were happy to follow or prepared to stretch their initial budgets. Those days are finishing fast and contraction in all forms is a likely reality for the next two to three years. The interior designer therefore has to prove their worth in the areas of sustainability while producing elegant work on lower budgets. The biggest competition will come from the architectural firms that have been building their in-house interior design presence over the past five years, as they will become even more aggressive when tendering for commissions. Finally, designers need to hone their communication skills in order to work well with their clients.

JH: If you weren’t a designer, what else would you be?

PG: A hot rod designer! With the complete freedom to express yourself, it would be expected that you would regularly produce designs that would push the boundary, be outrageous and make people smile, even laugh.
Best of all, there would be no governing rules, no Bauhaus, no snobbery.

  • Lynn Chalmers May 9th, 2010 1:14 am

    Nice interview, great to see Geyer continues to be right at the edge of design thinking. I am working in Canada now and look back on my time with Geyer Design as my most enjoyable as a young designer.


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