April 8, 2022 One Studio, Two Schools: A Unique Collaborative Studio Uses Design to Address Critical Impact Issues

Collab studio

In spring 2022, two schools within our college created a new collaborative studio to provide a unique and engaging experience for our students. Katherine Ambroziak, associate professor in the School of Architecture and associate dean for Academic Affairs and Research, and David Matthews, professor in the School of Interior Architecture, lead the joint studio that connects cultures from around the world with southern Appalachia.

“The goal of the studio is to impress upon the students the social dimensions of design and that responses to critical issues affecting a society have both a functional/logistical approach and a human-centric approach,” said Ambroziak.

In this studio, Architecture and Interior Architecture students first studied impact issues, which are unresolved problems created by external factors that cause a direct and negative effect on socio-economic, cultural or environmental events, in Japan, Finland and Spain. In this research, students also learned social perspectives, design-behavior responses, historical/contemporary contexts and cultural aspects. Studying different cultures can elevate students’ perspectives about societal issues and customs, traditions and rituals, which they then can apply to design in their own environments.

For example, Japan’s volcanic and seismic disruptions are so intense, an eruption could have catastrophic results when compared to most world regions. Impact issues such as this have an experiential relation to design.

In fact, the influence of social issues on design is extensive. “Examples in Japan include wood joinery (the ability to sustain and dismantle structures during a natural disaster), rituals created to emphasize being in the moment (free from worry such as an intent of the tea ceremony) and a heightened sense of community by being prepared and helping others in a natural disaster influence design,” said Matthews.

Designers engage and transform human experiences through design based on the issues that affect day-to-day lives. Researching the uniqueness of other cultures through analysis and reflective comparison allows students to deepen their ability to design within their own context with sensitivity to address issues.

Collab studio

Using the design fundamentals students learned from the unique regions of these three countries, student groups representing both schools are now creating their own theses that identify the impact issues of southern Appalachia. Students are encouraged to base their designs on any part of southern Appalachia, from northern Alabama to West Virginia. In this vast region, students might choose to focus on the mountain ranges and rural landscapes or the urban areas scattered throughout southern Appalachia.

“In this experience, I have learned how to collaborate and communicate effectively with others within my group, as well as further my knowledge of Japan in its entirety,” said Emily Roach, a 4th-year Interior Architecture student. “Moving forward, we are investigating urban areas of Appalachia and researching impact issues specific to certain cities.”

As student groups work through their designs, they are introduced to current issues in Appalachia affecting people or places that remain unresolved such as those related to geography, climate, political conflicts, environmental degradation and access to resources. Each team is creating a design that will potentially resolve a chosen issue.

“Collaboration within this studio has exposed me to different ways of thinking about design and design research in particular,” said Briley Houston, a 5th-year Architecture student. “Through our experiences and my work with people from the Interior Architecture program, I have found that the material potential of an object goes much deeper than the architectural scale.”

The College of Architecture and Design is well-known for our interdisciplinary Architecture and Interior Architecture studios in students’ first year, but this fourth- and fifth-year collaboration is unique. The interdisciplinary team approach allows the students to more deeply know their alter-discipline team members who potentially have different learning styles and perspectives. This prepares students for careers where interdisciplinary teams are the norm.

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Learn more about the School of Interior Architecture

Learn more about the School of Architecture