Architecture is seizing on the concept of surface design

New builds are increasingly integrating surface design into their projects – welding conceptual aesthetics such as colour, light or texture together with architecture to enhance the mood of a space 

As new technologies enable landmark buildings across the world get evermore unusual in their design and construction, clients and architects are increasingly looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. And for those working in the area of ‘surface design’, that means there’s plenty of scope for new ideas and innovation.

“‘Surfaces’ is the buzz word for the industry at the moment,” says Christopher Newton, director of London’s Surface Design Show. “Not only do they provide the most visual aspect of a building either externally or internally, but they also play an increasing role in the performance of a building in terms of energy use, sustainability, performance and comfort.”

Mainly attended by architects and interior designers, part of the attraction of the annual Surface Design Show is its awards, with the 2015 edition garnering 181 entries across 11 categories. The shortlisted projects reflect the international nature of the industry, ranging from the patterned concrete exterior of the Ulappatori residential tower in Finland to the innovative interiors of Shanghai’s Yang Design Museum and the futuristic pyramidal aluminium panels of the Techno Prisme Storage Depot in France.  

Ulappatori Finland
Petri Rouhiainen designed this apartment block in Finland, using a cost-effective way to repeat a custom-designed pattern

Dubai is particularly well represented, with four of the 35-strong shortlist hailing from the city. Two of these Dubai projects are the work of the small but growing London-based design practice Giles Miller Studio. “What we see out in Dubai is that a lot of clients are willing to take a risk with a young design studio and put projects into our hands,” explains Miller. “It’s the perfect context for what we do.”

Miller, who trained as a furniture designer before doing an MA in product design, describes his creative approach as “using texture to create imagery”. He adds: “It’s a relatively new realisation that textured materials can be used in these kind of architectural applications and interior designs. It’s an emerging industry.”

For Dubai’s Kempinski Hotel at Mall of the Emirates, Miller and his team created a 10 metre-high metal installation behind the reception in the building’s lobby. Suspended on the wall, it casts patterned shadows to create a subtle, dune drift effect. But while much of the studio’s work to date has been interiors, Miller is itching to get outdoors.

“We’re designing exterior paneling now that can be applied to a building and would create its whole character,” he says. “I think that’s the level that surface design should be at now – it’s what we’re hoping to do next.”