Not every designer embraces technology, but the founders of FORT Architecture, an up-and-coming architecture and interior design firm in Calgary, Alberta in Canada, understand the importance of teaming up with AV professionals to develop creative solutions that blend design and tech. Here they share their thoughts with us on cross-industry collaboration, how they approach designing with technology in mind, and just how important having great sound is in the spaces they design for.
Connected Design: First off, tell us a little bit about FORT.
We are a full-service, boutique architecture and interior design firm based in Calgary. Our work is split between residential and commercial and we design a variety of spaces from new builds, to renovations, hospitality, restaurants, breweries, and more. We have a very hands-on approach, often working on site with the client and the contractor at the same time and we really try to focus on creating client-driven designs — designs that are more influenced by our client’s style and aesthetic than our own.
In recent years, the A/V industry has been making a concerted effort to connect with the interior design community so that we can better work together. Do you typically collaborate with AV professionals and firms?
When it’s in the budget to do so, we like to bring our A/V consultant on board at the start of the design process to ensure that everything gets built out appropriately. It’s always beneficial to coordinate early on in the project, because if there are 20 TVs that need to go onto the wall in a pub, or if an iPad needs to be built into a wall of a home with a lot of custom millwork, it’s only going to benefit everyone involved to have that type of information up front.
How do you approach integrating technology into the spaces you design?
With technology, you either want it out of sight, or you want it to complement the room — to be an accessory in the space. You’ll always have some clients who want the biggest and best system and to have it out on display, but a lot of people want their technology to be more minimal — or even to have it disappear completely. We find that most clients have a general idea of what they want technology-wise coming into the project, so our challenge is always to figure out how to integrate their selected products into the space in a successful way.
This pair of wall-mounted Leon Ente SoundTiles features personal photography by the homeowner from a safari he took in Africa
Is there a recent project you have worked on that you feel was successful in blending design + tech?
Yes, we recently worked on a residence in downtown Calgary where the client originally wanted to do some large, Bang & Olufsen sculptural speakers, but our A/V consultant, Joel Sutherland from Contemporary Home Systems, introduced us to Leon’s Ente SoundTile that combines speakers and art in one single product, and that’s what we ended up using. The client loves the sound tiles because they’re a conversation piece — not only is the artwork on them his own photographs that he took on a safari in Africa, but it’s always a fun surprise for his guests that there are speakers hidden underneath. It’s great to be able to get such an amazing sound system in such a small footprint and it’s a brilliant solution for clients who are looking for more flexibility with their audio system because the sound tiles can be moved around within the home and the artwork can even be swapped out. They’re a great solution for spaces where construction isn’t an option and the client wants something less permanent.
Do you feel that sound is an important element of interior design?
Absolutely. We like to say that we design experiences, not spaces, and sound plays a really important role in contributing to the feel of the space. People often don’t recognize the value that good audio can bring to a space, but you notice it right away if it’s bad, so it’s always something worth investing in at the beginning of a project.
What interior design trends are big right now that we should be paying attention to? Is there something you’d like to see more of from tech manufacturers?
We have noticed a trend toward vintage audio equipment lately, where people are looking for speakers that are more of a stand-out accessory type of piece. Materials like cane, rattan, and decorative meshes are big right now, too. It would be exciting to see those items being integrated into speakers and such. And colors, we’d love to see manufacturers following color trends.
What advice would you give to an A/V professional looking to connect and collaborate with interior designers?
It’s all about education. We don’t always have great integration between our two industries, but we wouldn’t have known anything about the sound tile if our consultant hadn’t suggested it, so it’s important for both industries to share with each other. Don’t be afraid to reach out; every one of our clients integrates audio/video to some extent, so collaboration is only going to help projects to reach their best potential.
You can see more of FORT’s work on Instagram @fort.architecture and on their website, fortarchitecture.com.