Striking a Balance

Laura Zoulamis and Melanie Scamman of Bowerbird Collective on intuition interconnectedness, and interdependence in design

“Relationship-centered design is about designing for people’s multifaceted needs and complex relationships.”

Q. Your firm recently designed several lauded small and large commercial spaces. How do you come up with your design schemes? Is the process dramatically different from how you approach designing a home?

A. Our approach is driven by detailed discovery sessions where we are poised for inquiry with open minds and listening with all our senses engaged. Through intuition, we understand that ongoing relationships are powerful, and our inquiry continues as we explore relationship through the design process. We often search for more connection between people, and we look for how we as human beings depend on our interior spaces to support us with how we work and live.

Q. Can you talk a little more about intuition in design?

A. Intuition is something we tap into every day of our lives as designers. Yes, we must use our left brain in our work for logical, analytical, and detail-oriented skills, but right-side brain, intuitiveness, and creative thinking is imperative in the design process.

Since intuition is subjective, our challenge is creating an environment that not only matches our client’s objectives but that subjectively matches the purpose of a space and those who are connecting with it. With workplace environments, this can be challenging as there are multiple facets to consider.

Q. Do you believe there’s a correlation between a well-designed working environment and better health?

A. As we consider these facets, our focus is on designing holistic human-centered environments or, rather, relationship-centered environments that optimize operational performance and work spaces that increase productivity, motivation, happiness, and retention. We spend roughly 30 percent of our lives working, which equates to 25 to 30 years of our lives. Thinking about it in those terms, it is of utmost importance that our work environment must also support so many of our human needs. Spending nearly 90 percent of our lives indoors, the built environment significantly dictates and impacts our overall health and well-being, social interactions, and potential for growth and creativity.

Q. Many companies have shifted to an open-concept working environment. How does this dictate your relationship with connectedness in design?

A. We are in relationship with everything around us. Everything is interconnected and interdependent, and as we focus on human needs and their requirements, we dive deep into finding solutions for what people need in varied settings.

In designing spaces, one must acknowledge that we absolutely do not exist in isolation. There are so many ways we’ve heard this communicated: “no man is an island,” or “we don’t live in a vacuum.” Nothing is independent. For example, architecture and interiors are interdependent–one cannot exist without the other.

Q. Finding a color palette along with an aesthetic for an office space that will please every worker seems like a daunting task. How do you approach creating a cohesive design?

A. An example of cohesiveness that we love is that of the French Impressionist artists, who departed from realistic detail and precision to being “in the moment” with constant changing of form and light. They had interdependent factors that they had to consider when painting from moment to moment. Their gestural painting style created “optical mixing,” where two colors painted side by side created a perception of a third color; thus the relationship between colors was important and how viewers connected to the painting again created interaction. Recently, I was struck by Monet’s paintings while visiting the newly designed MOMA. They exemplified the spirit of ever-changing and interdependent forms, light, and perceptions.

Q. What happens when the perfect balance is not achieved?

A. We were recently discussing interconnectedness after watching one of David Attenborough’s new documentaries, Our Planet. The episode about Antarctica explores the magnitude of the role that the sea ice plays. The sea ice is directly responsible for life in Antarctica. The very base of the food chain is the “green algae” that creates a thick carpet just below the surface of the ice. The algae serve as food for the krill, and the krill in turn feed the humpback whales. With the rapid melting of the sea ice, there is nowhere for the algae to grow, and thus krill stocks have more than halved, seriously affecting the whale populations.

So, just like in the natural world, if even one design element falls out of balance, the process and solutions will not be successful and won’t meet the dynamic needs and relationships of people and their spaces.

MH+D is proud to partner with acclaimed architectural photographer Trent Bell on his architecture, design, and photography podcast. To hear Trent Bell’s conversation with Zoulamis and Scamman, please visit