It Just Might Work: School of design for High Point

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by Jordan Green

New York has Parsons School of Design, which feeds into the fashion industry. Savannah has Savannah College of Art and Design, which contributes to the city’s preservation efforts.

Why shouldn’t High Point, with the largest furniture market in the world, have a school of design? The tie-ins and possibilities are practically endless. The biannual International Home Furnishings Market, which sets tastes in furniture and interior design around the world, is a constant churn of changing trends. There’s every reason that a High Point School of Design should incubate talent to feed the industry’s appetite for new ideas and products. The school could aggressively leverage relationships in the industry to provide internships with exhibitors, showroom managers, designers and architects.

Furniture itself, which also extends to outdoor pieces, is only the base of the field, which also includes home interior and landscape, showroom presentation, photography, magazines and catalogues, and websites to market products.

Design, like craft, is woven into the city’s historic and economic DNA. While craft is a maker discipline that focuses on refining production techniques, design is more of an aesthetic practice concerned with presentation and a synthesis of different elements. As Jason Oliver Nixon, part of the High Point design partnership Madcap Cottage, said during a design symposium at the last furniture market, the lines between furniture and fashion are fluid. Furniture and fashion, like food, are lifestyle fields, he said, encouraging designers to keep their eyes open and allow themselves to be inspired by all kinds of creative expression. A school of design could cultivate High Point as a year-round incubator of trendsetting design, not just a place where the industry’s elite alight twice a year to buy, sell and freely exchange ideas.

There’s no reason why High Point should remain a parochial backwater where cultural tastes are concerned. Restaurants, local retail and cultural festivals would naturally follow a cohort of creative, energized young people.

High Point University is certainly equipped to open a school of design, and already has a school of art and design with majors in graphic design and digital imaging, home furnishings, interior design, furnishing/product development and design, and visual merchandising design. But I think it would be better if the High Point Community Foundation took the lead and raised money from the scions of the city’s “string and splinter” families who have an active interest in maintaining the city’s entrepreneurial legacy. While High Point University has the resources to act quickly, the university’s vertical power structure wouldn’t be conducive to such a project. A school of design needs to be open-sourced and collaborative to cultivate an abundance of ideas. And whether High Point University is involved or not, a school of design needs to be integrated into the city and near the furniture showrooms rather than within HPU’s walled-and-gated campus. High Point School of Design should be in a renovated early 20th Century warehouse or mill, so that the adaptive reuse of industrial building stock can be part of the curriculum. It needs to be centrally located so it can play a part of an effort to promote walkability and public transit as a laboratory of reenergized urban design.

The entrepreneurs who stood up furniture factories and hosiery mills almost overnight a hundred years ago, put thousands of crafts people to work and made High Point the furniture market of the world are proof of the city’s can-do legacy. A school of design could help the city overcome its current self-defeating posture.