Interior design

Designing for Humans: Meet Anja Dirks

July 6, 2023

In this interview, Anja Dirks – founder of the Utrecht-based Studio id+ – discusses the elements and approaches that can potentially determine future design processes.

Anja Dirks Studio Id+ Utrecht

How is Studio id+ designing healthy environments for humans?

Some rely their design on the fantastic light coming from the pavement outside and then convince themselves that buildings should be seen as much more than just a shield to host office spaces. As interior designers, architects, and constructors, we should see the experience of the inhabitants as a whole before considering a project, as the work environment contributes to their health and well-being.

Spaces are our most consumed product. Our designers realise the full potential of the design of a space and how they affect our lives and well-being. When designing, we must consider the inhabitants' experience, so students get a better experience in the school areas and vulnerable groups at the hospital can depend on the areas to contribute to the better healing process.

Designing a new building should comply with the latest research within the field of work forms, as existing knowledge enables us to design for healthier, safer, and better work environments. Our ambition is that our designs are tested.

I remember an experiment with dementia and interior design. A room had a very nice interior design with eight chairs; however, the furniture and surroundings were typical healthcare premises. It confused the patients as they couldn’t recall where to sit as it all looked the same. So the experiment was focused on the impact a chair has on comfort for people with dementia. The inhabitants were told to bring their chair to the common area. The results were positive as the inhabitants knew where to sit in the room as they could recognise their chair and felt comfortable in the surroundings.

At Studio id+, we believe that a design of a room continues to develop, and the realisation of a space doesn’t stop – it continues to be alive. The interaction with the occupants is what we call human experience and that must be the driving force behind every element and future design of a space.  

At Studio id+, we believe that a design of a room continues to develop, and the realisation of a space doesn’t stop – it continues to be alive. The interaction with the occupants is what we call human experience and that must be the driving force behind every element and future design of a space.

How do you build with users in mind?

It is crucial to research, and I know Antwerp Researchers who are investigating various working forms, and what to consider when designing office spaces as the space is identified as a high contributor for higher work performance. It is best if you look at what the term ‘home’ means to the individual as they need to work here, then it is beneficial to base the design on top of those explanations.

In our sector, I see a trend where projects are based on research. It’s the safe approach to be sure that existing knowledge has proven that the solutions are beneficial. Our ambition is that our designs should be tested, and it still stands. Being able to turn research into understandable information is crucial so that we can continue to build for happy inhabitants.

I see many projects where there is no correlation between the client vision and the benefit of the users. It’s our job to seek the ‘why’ behind the problem.

The ‘why’ reveals the purpose of the building, and it’s easier to draw a design reflecting the benefits for both the customer and the user. Research can help consider the different aspects and establish clear positioning. However, it will continue to be a battle, and general training is required to provide architects with this mindset. At Studio id+, we have a starting point on the technical side as it’s all about sharing knowledge regarding a complex market, so specialization can occur and more beautiful buildings with soul can be created.  

How important are sound and acoustics when designing an interior?

Why would an interior architect hear a completely different sound? Sound and acoustics are more relevant than ever. The density of people living in cities is growing and because of this the amount of sensorial stimuli is very high. Sometimes we don’t even realise it. People don’t realise when the acoustics in a room is comfortable. They only become aware of it if something is wrong, like not being able to understand what someone is saying, or when annoyed by the noise pollution in your surroundings.

Acoustics is often neglected, but it offers a major contribution to the reduction of those sensorial stimuli. Creating awareness of the impact that acoustics have on your daily lives is very important. The users’ needs to feel, hear, look and experience the building where all senses are encountered in the design.  

What trends do you see in the future?

I believe that cooperation is the path to create even stronger buildings with better indoor environments. To share knowledge and specialisation is a way to combine skills and competences for a better future. Because why would an interior architect and an architect design for a different sound? Acoustics and sound are more relevant than ever as more people sit in small office spaces with a high sound level. People must be aware of the circumstances.

Research seems to go side by side with architecture as the intention within interior architecture needs to consider the needs the users and the long-term effects on how it has an impact on people. As it might be that you will get bad results where your employees are less productive and are getting sick faster. People with a need for care simply urge a higher demand for care. In the future, I recommend not just focusing on the construction budget, but also considering long-term effects and consequences at an early stage.

Sometimes I ask architects if they consider acoustic design as important. Nine out of ten times the answer is not quite clear from the start. And then I say yes, why not? Because if you design a building primarily out of data, you're seven years old in terms of acoustics.

The collaboration between the architect and the interior is crucial, as the market has become complex and more competitive where knowledge and specialisation are features that can make a difference. Because what you do and how you succeed with your building process depends on what you have. Often, you have different clients, however, it doesn’t mean that you need to change your work structure. Otherwise, you quickly lose the soul of the building. We need to maintain high quality in the building materials and the aesthetics of the building to ensure happy users.