Notes from the Field: Natural Selection

By Cheryl Katz

When embarking on a new project, the navigational tool that often steers our design thought process is the broad brushstroke lessons learned from nature. We choose a house’s palette from paint colors with names like Harbor Gray, Seaweed, Clover and Whispering Wind. We arrange the way one space relates to another by “carving paths†from one room to the next. We strive to bring the outside in using sheer fabrics that allow light to filter through, positioning chairs so as to have the best view and employing materials that are from the earth–stone trumping manmade. And though inspiration comes from a change of season or a walk along the shore, for the truly devoted acolyte seeking a deeper understanding of nature’s power to inspire a strong visual vocabulary, a trip to the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at Rhode Island School of Design is a must.

The Design Lab, founded by long time faculty member and RISD alum (’20) Edna Lawrence, is a veritable feast for the eyes, as impactful now as it was when it first opened in 1937. Lawrence’s hope–that the Design Lab would encourage art and design projects among students and faculty throughout the college by offering them the opportunity for close-up, hands-on investigation of the visual patterns, structures and processes in the natural world–is palpable. And, as if that in itself was not enough, there is the unmitigated pleasure of the space, with its hallmarks of current trends: glass-front cabinets, artfully arranged objects, perfectly mismatched chairs and, yes, even taxidermy.

The Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at Rhode Island School of Design is located at 13 Waterman Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

Photos by Jeffrey Katz

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