Petra Blaisse: Blinds are an integral part of architecture


Petra Blaisse is one of the rare designers who works on both interior and exterior architectural projects. Among her many specialties are innovative curtains and blinds that challenge the status quo and captivate the eye as it moves between inside and outside. As jury member for the VELUX International Design Award, she is uniquely positioned to reflect on the architectural and aesthetic function of window coverings, and encourages design students to forget conventional approaches when coming up with innovative ideas.

Dutch designer Petra Blaisse works around the world in a fascinating mix of cultures and creative crosscurrents. Her Amsterdam design studio, Inside Outside, specializes in bridging interior and exterior design, intermingling the aesthetics of architecture and landscape architecture as they create everything from carpets and curtains to gardens, public parks and urban plans.

Blaisse has an intimate understanding of how we manage a space's character with window coverings – by blocking, filtering or playfully experimenting with light as it enters the room. Whether the project is in Seattle, Stuttgart or Seoul, Blaisse and her team of designers collaborate with some of the world's top architects to rethink the boundaries between inside and outside.

Window coverings are an integral part of architecture – and everyday lifeFor Blaisse, the things we use to cover our windows play a fundamental role in a building's design. "I view blinds and curtains as an integral part of architecture," says the Dutch designer, "things that must converse fluently with the essence of the architecture."

Blaisse strives to make window coverings complement rather than compete with a space's overall context and patterns of use.

"Ideally, window coverings become an active part of your daily routines and influence how you move about in a space. If they are done right, they play a role in the choreography of everyday life as you move through your day and your changing needs for privacy, climate and light. These are things that we adjust to all the time."

Change the blinds, change the room
The movement of light and shadow through different materials is endlessly fascinating to Blaisse. She distinguishes between "dead" window coverings that block all light and "live" coverings that are translucent, and let you see movement on the other side. And there's no doubt as to where her preferences lie.

"Personally I don't really like dead window coverings. They are too definite, and they express no movement whatsoever. As soon as some light passes through a window covering, however, it comes to live. Materials can also be more or less alive. Imagine if they are silver or mirror-like and reflect what's happening in front of them, or pick up ambient colour. Other materials provide three-dimensional depth through unique weaves, folds or tufts. They are interesting because they let light through in different gradations."

According to Blaisse, the play of light, shadow and the elements, time shifts and weather changes, are endlessly beautiful in itself. That's why she believes blind design should often be more minimalistic than majestic. If they are to be used as a canvas, one must proceed with care. "Depending on their transparency, coloured and patterned window coverings can have an enormous effect on interiors and the impression of a building from the outside."

A fascinating game of light and movement
Even though Blaisse has worked at the cutting edge of her craft for more than thirty years, she is still surprised by the effect window coverings have on a room. For example when she worked on a house with large roof windows and automatic blinds.

"It had just rained and everything was wet. All of a sudden the sun came out, and the blinds moved to cover the roof window, so the raindrops on the window reflected on the white cloth of the blind. Then a cloud covered the sun and the blind retreated, so the raindrops cast their shadows on the walls. It was a fascinating game between that roof blind, the weather and the glass – such a beautiful collaboration."

Encourages students to break the rules
Kent Holm, Global Director of Decoration and Sun Screening Products at VELUX Group is convinced that the competition could not have found a more competent jury member than Petra Blaisse.

"Petra Blaisse has beautifully demonstrated the strength of design that refuses to be categorized," he says. "Her work transcends the usual classifications to connect inside and outside, light and shadow. We're thrilled to have the chance to work with her, and we hope students will be inspired by her example to think in some highly alternative ways."

Blaisse is curious to see what students from around Europe will come up with in the design contest. "There are so many possibilities on this threshold between inside and outside," she says. "I'm interested in discovering what new impulses the students will offer. I hope more students will go beyond the existing recipes and try to create something that is truly experimental. I always say that to be successful in the design profession you have to be incredibly driven and curious."

The VELUX International Design Award
The VELUX International Design Award 2014 was established to discover the blinds of the future. The competition invites design students – either individually or in teams – to join in the VELUX Group's innovation process to develop coverings for roof windows that go beyond the ordinary – and make a real difference in the quality of people's lives.