Student Teaching *
Today's students design a better tomorrow
Judith Gura -- Interior Design, 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
For the past several years, I've been teaching design history and theory to students pursuing college degrees in interior design, both at the New York School of Interior Design and at Pratt Institute. It's been fascinating.
Typical of the New York melting pot, the students have come from different parts of the country and different parts of the world. Ages have ranged from 17 to over 50. I've taught women as well as men, some with fine-arts or architecture degrees or professional experience, some with no design background at all—a lawyer here, an accountant there.
Why do these diverse students pursue this course of study? Because they believe it will be rewarding, that it will be a vehicle to help them to make the world more beautiful. Typical student idealism, right?
Perhaps not. Serving on the jury evaluating senior theses for the NYSID class of 2004, I discovered I'd been underestimating these students. Whatever their age, background, or experience, they'd taken the designer-not-decorator dictum to heart. Every individual was clearly thinking about more than beautiful spaces, more than functional ones, more than even environmentally friendly ones. These students don't just want to make the world better looking. They hope to make it a better place to live.
The NYSID's senior thesis requires each student to reconceive the interior of an existing structure—and, in all the projects I saw, there was not a single loft apartment, suburban mansion, or high-style beach house. Instead, I encountered ambitious projects I had never expected: a Roman Catholic church in a disused power plant, a multipurpose center for abandoned children, a community arts library, a new museum for Negro Leagues Baseball, and a rethinking of a funeral home.
These interiors were not necessarily "beautiful" in the sense of "decorated." That was precisely the point. The students were after substance, not surface.
Why make such challenging and unglamorous choices? "It's a way for design to explore social issues," Michelle Everett says of her plan for a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in a 1918 beaux arts department store in Kansas City, Missouri. Walter Vosburgh says of his bereavement center, "Death touches almost everyone's life. Design can help the experience be more comfortable and tranquil." His plans include a mortuary, a chapel, a counseling center, a dining space, and guest rooms, all in a Stanford White mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. Ask Adriana Jaramillo, a native of Colombia, what inspired her combination residence, school, medical facility, and adoption center in a 100-year-old commercial structure in Bogotá, and she explains, "My country has had political conflicts for years. Children who lose their families have no place to go."
"It's like night and day," says NYSID area coordinator Peter Brandt, who's been teaching thesis students for over a decade. "They're doing much more complex and sophisticated work than they were 10 years ago. The computer is a big factor, but the competition between schools and the expectations of professional architects have contributed as well. We provide better students, and, in turn, firms look for more in the students they hire. It's a circular effect."
"These students care about societal issues," adds Neville Lewis, a respected industrial and interior designer who served on the jury with me. "Because of them, there's a great future for the profession."
Walter Vosburgh designed a bereavement center in a Stanford White mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.
Michelle Everett's Negro Leagues Baseball Museum converts a 1918 beaux arts department store in Kansas City, Missouri.
In transforming a disused power plant in Yonkers, New York, into a Roman Catholic church, Nicola R. Fiorelli treated traditional liturgical elements as freestanding sculpture.
Adriana Jaramillo chose a 100-year-old commercial building in Bogotá, Columbia, for the site of her center for abandoned children.