William Morris's "Lea" textile print, 1885

The History of Environmental Design: Arts and Crafts

In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, a group of friends at the University of Oxford joined together with dreams of turning their society towards Romanticism. The group found contemporary, industrial culture to be barbaric and meaningless and vowed to renew a deep appreciation of beauty throughout all media. The group, known as the Arts and Crafts movement, was led by architect William Morris and painter Edward Burne-Jones.
Greene and Greene's Gamble House
Greene and Greene’s Gamble House, Pasadena, CA, 1909. Image by Martin Green.
While the Industrial Revolution introduced new construction materials like steel and concrete, which allowed structures to be put together more quickly and easily, the Arts and Crafts movement yearned to maintain tradition, fine detail, and organic qualities. They focused on the use of natural materials, exquisite craftsmanship and attention to aesthetics. John Ruskin criticized the Industrial Revolution by suggesting that social and moral health is directly related to the quality of structure and design. This inspired the Arts and Crafts movement to fight against the modernization of the Industrial Revolution. The movement that Morris started in Britain quickly spread to inspire Arts and Crafts movements around the world, including the works of Greene and Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Robie House windows
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House windows, 1909.
What we can learn from the Arts and Crafts movement is the importance of creating meaningful environments. Ruskin said that the quality of structure and design can impact social and moral health, and we agree. Consider the the effects on employees who work in an office with tiny, plain cubicles, white walls and flickering fluorescent lights. Now consider the morale within a space that has been designed with all the important aspects of  aesthetic, fit and function in mind where  employees enjoy being present and feel comfortable. In the increasingly industrialized and technological world of the present day, bringing organic and human qualities into the design is something that the designers at The Maude Group always take into consideration. While it can be enticing to create a slick and very industrial lobby with metal finishes and clean colors, we know that bringing in a few more personal touches—be it through a fine wood reception desk or a framing system—we can create a more welcoming atmosphere for both employees and customers.
Bradley University's Hayden-Clark Alumni Center designed by The Maude Group
Bradley University’s Hayden-Clark Alumni Center designed by The Maude Group
As Morris viewed every detail as being important, we look at the big picture but don’t overlook the fine details. What good is a beautiful mural if the printing quality is poor? And what good is a modern reception desk if the laminate begins chipping from wear within a month after installation? While new innovations can always be beneficial, it’s important to keep an eye on the past to remember important lessons that were already learned.