Shifting Studios: [from project typology based problem solving to inquiry, circumstance, and conditions.]
Collectively, the college of architecture at UNL recently underwent curricular restructuring that established a common first year for all College of Architecture students. This restructuring allowed interior design faculty to take a critical look at our own curriculum, courses, and overall approach to educating the next generation of interior designers. One result of this process was the transformation of teaching and learning in 3rd year design studios from project typology based studios, to inquiry based studios asking students to position and define the interior built environment as a catalyst of change, while addressing relevant and current topics and issues.
In the past, 2nd, 3rd & 4th year design studios were a series of design “problems” using the project typology approach. In this type of studio, students are given a space, user group, and an equally prescriptive program of a particular project type. This framework often limits student’s solutions to the re-application, or at best, slight modification to space typology standards. The design exercises become a repetitive process of integrating systems within an overall framework. Students create spaces that are familiar, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. All important aspects for interior designers to learn, but we felt that six consecutive semesters of this method didn’t allow our students to reach their full potential. So, we started to ask: “How can design studio become more than responsible space planning?” “What does the next generation of interior designers need in order to be primary and valuable team members in the pursuit of designing the built environment in the 21st century?” “What are new learning outcomes for these advanced studios?”
After evaluating our newly restructured 1st & 2nd year curriculum, driven by the new common first year faculty, we decided to build off of a diverse first year giving students roots in how to think and make like a designer…and develop a rigorous discipline specific second year, whose studios would position project typology based problems that were repetitive in its method and approach, while building confidence and competency in integrating the multiple systems of space making in interior design. Thinking about a new studio framework, we first discussed future practice and new emerging typologies.
As a faculty, we recognized how digital tools and global attitudes have influenced a set of new and emerging space types (co-working, alternative flexible learning spaces, maker-spaces, live/work models, the “office coffee shop” culture, etc.). We discussed how these new tools, social behaviors, and attitudes should be influencing our approach as designers and our methods of educating students. Instead of labeling problems as a space type, which can be compared to a box of pre-determined puzzle pieces needing to be put together, we should be giving them a “context”, or a set of circumstances. This method of posing the problem as a circumstance, give students the opportunity to learn how to position their skills and knowledge critically to construct viable, new, and meaningful spaces. The parts are not pre-determined, the problem is not a type, but a condition, and allows for an infinite number of potential configurations and points of view.
The new learning outcomes for these studios are:  Students will apply pro-active observation to current events, relevant topics and societal issues.  Students will be able to recognize, and communicate the role and transformative power of design.  Students will engage in immersive inquiry that allow for the ownership and communication of new ideas.  Students will apply design research to inform a point of view that leads to design intentions that will have positive impact on local, regional, national and global issues.
Note: The pedagogical framework was implemented in the 3rd year studios in UNL's ID Curriculum. The "Food and City" studio featured in video that implemented and tested the framework, was taught by part-time lecturers Jackie Bacon and Amanda Swartwout.
Student work belongs to: Caitlin Garner, Virginia Gormley, Chloe Neuvirth, Erin Miller, Kelsey Miller, Elizabeth Rhone, Kayla Stock, Jessica Svehla