Opinion: Is it fashionable to be unfashionable?

Fast fashion is making way for classic design as our tastes shift to a more sustainable approach

When I consider what makes great design, I think of celebrated furniture designer Ray Eames's wise words: 'What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.' Eames, along with her husband Charles, designed the iconic Eames lounge chair, which was first produced in 1956 and is still manufactured today. It's the perfect example of how thoughtful design can transcend time. 

Great design, just like great fashion, can last a lifetime and be passed from one generation to the next. This is the key to sustainability: creating design that lasts. However, these days being ‘trendy’ doesn't mean adhering to a sustainable approach. As with fast fashion, much of contemporary design focuses too much on current trends, becoming obsolete when the next trend lands. 

The same can be said of architecture. A beautifully crafted building can last for generations – think of the Palace of Versailles in France, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Alhambra in Spain. These buildings were designed for function as well as longevity. While their uses have changed, they are still as relevant as ever. If the bones of the building are sound, then it can have many different lives. 

Take for example The Office Group’s The Smiths Building. It was built in 1912-13 as a factory for the production of car speedometers. When TOG bought the building in 2015, we made sure to retain its character as we repurposed it as office space. The story of the speedometers informed the design details, paying homage to the building's heritage. For example, the graphic patterns on the glass fronts of the meeting rooms are inspired by the markers on a speedometer. We also used classic materials, such as oak and blackened steel, that won’t date to be as sustainable as possible. 

To me, sustainability means longevity. A building in which the design is outstanding and timeless is the one that will not be knocked down but instead can be repurposed. Similarly, an interior that appeals in years to come will always remain in fashion. 

When The Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York City was refurbished in 2016, the original interior was so iconic that each and every piece was auctioned off. This rare gem of modernism showed that groundbreaking and timeless design can gain value over the years. What is more sustainable than the items of the interior being given another life through continued use? 

For the TOG design team, it's a great example to keep in mind when we choose furniture or even select our next building. We also design our buildings with a wide range of clients in mind, which means focusing on classic and sustainable environments. 

The more we do this, the longer the life the building will have. Having this outlook gives great meaning to the work we do. 

Nasim Köerting is TOG's head of design