Design With Purpose
“We can all admire a building from the outside, but if it’s not working from the inside, can we really classify it as successful?” This was the question Karla Perez found herself asking when choosing a career path. As an architecture major at Brooklyn Technical High School in New York, Perez developed an interest in creating spaces that did not just look great but served a purpose. “My initial plan was to choose between the fields of aerospace engineering and law,” she says. “I always wanted to do something that had a direct impact on people. But once I started learning about architecture, I realized just how much of an impact design has on our lives.”
For Perez, the history of interior design is what sparked her interest in the field. However, the more she learned, the more she noticed a glaring lack of diversity, especially in interior design. “There is a vast amount of opportunity for design to be both culturally and economically diverse with the right kind of advocacy. To me, that is exciting,” she says.
As Perez continuted to study, she found herself inspired by the female pioneers of the field. “The story of the profession is one of innovation and empowerment for women, with the likes of Dorothy Draper and Elsie De Wolfe,” she says. “They were able to get themselves a seat at the table in a male-dominated environment. It’s that vigor that makes me believe interior design has the potential to empower underrepresented communities.”
Perez believes that diverse voices bring something new to the design table and will only encourage innovation. “Statistically, minorities make up the lower socioeconomic thresholds and do not gravitate towards artistic-based careers. By not having a diversified workforce, projects often lack the valuable insight that comes from these minority groups. Public housing and gentrification are two prime areas where this lack of representation is apparent.”
With that in mind, one of Perez’s goals is to design interiors for public housing, a largely overlooked sector. “Public housing has always been a controversial issue. It extends far beyond a developmental or governmental problem,” she says. “We need to be reminded of every person’s right to a clean, safe, and well-designed living situation. Public housing is often home to the elderly and families just starting out. It is my goal to work in that sector, regardless of financial gain. Design and beauty should be for everyone, not just a select few.”
Perez, a recipient of the prestigious IDC Foundation Scholarship, is already making an impression in the world of architecture and interior design, but she is not limiting her aspirations. “I believe my degree can be applied in many ways. I want to go to graduate school, possibly focusing on international politics,” she says. “I would like to be able to promote change and be an advocate for my community. I am currently applying towards a master’s in arts that specializes in material culture, to bring design and the arts to the minority community.” Her goal is to use her degree to pursue cultural diplomacy.
“The arts in all its forms have been, and continue to be, a vehicle for social change. So instead of designing spatially with an interior design degree or reforming with an international affairs degree, it becomes a fusion that has a visual and cultural language that can be accessible to all.”