Using Art in Design

By Goy Zhenru / Goy Architects | August 1, 2016 8:00 AM SGT
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Artworks are often an afterthought in interior and spatial design. Their mere “decorative” title often results in their potential to fundamentally shape and craft different spatial experiences being untapped.
Use artworks strategically to shape and craft spatial experience
But just like materials used to form the structure and finishes of the space, artworks add an integral design layer that enhances the overall spatial experience for users.
The pairing of art pieces with your interior design can be done with simple techniques. There are no hard and fast rules for integration of art pieces into your design and it is often subject to one’s taste and preference. Here is a guide to help jumpstart your thought process.
For this article and in collaboration with Chelsea Zhao of Sundaram Tangore Gallery, we use the interior of a recently completed office space to illustrate the following methods for integrating artwork into your design space.
Visual expression of the art piece: Consider the artwork as part of your overall material palette. Examine the materials, structure and colours used by the artwork and complement it with your interior mood board;
Surrounding context: Consider the existing limitations and functionality of the space where the artwork is placed. Use the artwork to address the existing spatial or aesthetic issues; and
Innate content: Tap into the storytelling of the artwork. Use the artwork as the voice of the space, which sets the overall mood and atmosphere for the users. If integrated well, the art piece may also give a glimpse into the owner’s philosophy and values.
The selection of the artwork need not be done in that order. Depending on your spatial constraints or design intent, certain aspects may present themselves with more weightage than others.
Visual expression
In the reception area, we have selected a piece by Miya Ando entitled Evanescent Vermillion. We chose this artwork because it has a strong and inviting colour that serves as an “art-mark” amid the labyrinth of offices in the building. The colour of the artwork provides a distinctive guide for clients that is visible from a distance. Together with the interior material palette of mahogany timber flooring, bronze tinted mirror and the selected upholstery for the workstations, the vermillion colour blends in effortlessly to form a warm colour palette resonating with the cosy theme of the interior design.
Miya Ando’s Evanescent Vermillion serves as an ‘art-mark’ in the reception area
Ando handcrafted this ethereal metallic horizon using a palette of muted red, gold and pink pigments applied onto plates of anodised aluminium. The artist then sanded and applied heat, acid and patinas to create this art piece that symbolises strength and impermanence. The vermillion used in the artwork is a perfect eye-catching yet meditative piece for the reception area.
Surrounding context
For the interior of the meeting room, the design intent was to create an expanded experience of the 12 sq m space. Together with interior design strategies such as mounting fullheight mirrors, continuous use of floor material into the pantry space and light illumination washing both ceiling and wall surfaces, the use of the right artwork will also create an illusion of spatial expansion in the meeting room.
Considering the existing spatial limitation, we selected a featured artwork that serves like a window to an external environment. This approach of “borrowed view” is also a strategy commonly used in architecture and landscape practices to break the physical boundary of the given land area. As the client requested for a calming and soothing atmosphere, we found Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis collection as the perfect fit for the space. Framed in a two-inch-thick black timber frame, the black-and- white Gelatine silver print showcases the grandeur of Botswana zebras galloping uninhibited in their natural surroundings. The detail in the print captures the morning rays through the dust stirred up by the relentless pace of the zebras.
Sebastião Salgado’s Plains zebra is used as a portal to the external environment
The artwork is “framed” architecturally among clean geometry of cabinetry works as well as a neutral selection of meeting tables and chairs. The effect of this composition allows for a natural focus on the artwork, thus dramatically dissolving the boundaries of the small meeting room.
Innate content
The last artwork in discussion is an untitled piece in Golnaz Fathi’s Every Breaking Wave 2014 collection piece. In the director’s private office, we wanted the voice of the artwork to resonate with the company’s spirit. We found the works of Fathi befitting for the office’s quantity surveyors, who comprise nine women.
Golnaz Fathi’s untitled piece gives a voice and punctuation to the director’s office
Traditionally trained in classical Persian calligraphy, Fathi is one of the few women to achieve the highest accolade within this discipline. Her painting showcases a fine balance of raw energy and immaculate discipline at work. Similarly, this work attitude is essential in the demanding and fast-paced building industry. Fathi experimented with abstract forms of representation, using modern media to aid her explo- rations while basing her work fundamentally on calligraphic practices and techniques. Visually, the piece’s bold black strokes juxtaposed against the linear construction of the open file racks add a visual interest to the composed space.
In the above examples, we have shown that artwork forms a critical material element to complete the design intent of the space, and demonstrated its ability to resolve spatial issues while giving a “voice” that sets the atmosphere of the space, enhancing the overall spatial experience of the built environment.
Goy Zhenru is a registered architect with her own studio, Goy Architects. She is also an adjunct lecturer for Nanyang Polytechnic’s Specialist Diploma, Spatial Design. She can be reached at
Sundaram Tagore Gallery was established in New York in 2000. The gallery is the first to focus exclusively on the rise of globalisation in contemporary art and is devoted to examining the exchange of ideas between Western and non-Western cultures. It has galleries in New York, Hong Kong and Singapore. Sundaram Tagore Gallery Singapore is located at 5 Lock Road in Gillman Barracks and can be reached at or
This article appeared in the The Edge Property pullout of Issue 739 (August 1, 2016) of The Edge Singapore.

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