November 2, 2021 Interior Architecture Collaborates across Two Hemispheres

“This is about enabling our students to develop empathy, so they can design for others with different realities than their own.”

Students in our School of Interior Architecture are spanning the globe with their studio projects this semester, and one studio has landed in two hemispheres, two disciplines and two languages.

In a unique global studio, students in the U.S. and Argentina are overcoming differences in language and culture and working together to tackle design projects in both countries concurrently. Led in the U.S. by Adjunct Assistant Professor Hochung Kim, 4th-year Interior Architecture students are working collaboratively with students in the Explorative Design Studio, led by Prof. Jose Luis Fernandez, at Universidad Nacional del Sur, a university in Bahía Blanca, Argentina.

Throughout the semester, four teams comprised of students from both schools are evaluating two specific sites: Fulton District, Chicago, and Mercado Victoria, Bahía Blanca. At each site, students are looking to develop programs and create proposals based on the current issues that are specific to the regional site.

As they work together, the students are approaching the projects as urban interventions using their in-depth research and analysis of the sites’ physical, environmental, social, economic and cultural aspects. Their design proposals will address the macro scale of the urban conditions to the micro scale of the interior of the spaces.

“I feel that I’ve been exposed to different design ideologies and new ways to think about the design process as a whole,” said UT Interior Architecture student, Brooklyn Poff. “It has definitely increased my cultural awareness as well.”

map of South America

Bruno Antonelli, an Architecture student at UNS, stated, “I believe our present is leading people to reinforce emotional and communication skills. We stand in front of a beautiful and unique opportunity to learn new ways of studying, working and communicating but also feeling and understanding people while we grow not only as architects but as citizens, as well.”

Although the teams speak different languages—English and Spanish—all team members share a common lexicon of architecture. “Teamwork strategies encourage students to work together despite their differences in language, culture and educational backgrounds,” said Kim. “The challenge is to communicate and form an idea through constructive discussions and execute the statements in architectural language.”

To get first-hand knowledge of the Fulton District in Chicago, students in Kim’s studio traveled to the Windy City in September. There, they had opportunities to understand the scale and infrastructure of Chicago and learn architecture history that ranged from Art & Craftmanship to Post Modernism. Students in Argentina visited the proposed site in Mercado Victoria to examine the abandoned warehouses in relation to the existing infrastructure.

Students’ resulting design proposals reflect their intensive research of both cultures, cities and sites. “Based on extensive research about Chicago, we are currently focusing on mitigating greenhouse emission gases produced by buildings and transportation, as well as improving connectivity issues around Ogilvie Transportation Center (the selected site in Chicago),” Antonelli said. “Exploration led us to propose a piece of elevated infrastructure over the Station, adding new vertical levels which incorporate green public spaces; at the same time it articulates potential surrounding areas through friendly pedestrian links, promoting diversity and inclusivity as well as new ways of walking the city.”

students working with laptops

Poff’s team’s project focuses on equity, accessibility and affordability in the Fulton Market District in Chicago. “Our research revolved heavily around these topics, which made us question ‘What does living in equity look like?’ and has been the constant theme for our work all semester.”

Key to success of this unique studio is collaboration and teamwork. “Collaboration at this time is fundamental,” said Fernandez. “I think it is not possible to conceive future disciplinary work without working with people from other countries, from different origins, and the academy must be involved in this process. [Another benefit] is the cultural exchange. Students are thinking about their cultures with the help of another culture, as they learn to think globally and act locally.”

Both schools are piloting this unique dual-hemisphere collaboration to determine if a longer-term, student-exchange partnership would benefit the institutions in the future.

“Having lived in two countries, I have the opportunity to experience first-hand the value of diverse groups and cultures and the opportunity to embrace learning from those different from me,” said Milagros Zingoni Phielipp, director of the School of Interior Architecture. “My hope is that these global experiences expose our students to similar discoveries, which become their transformational paths of learning from different perspectives. This is about enabling our students to develop empathy, so they can design for others with different realities than their own.”

The director of the UNS School of Architecture, Jose Maria Zingoni, added, “The building of the city is always a collaborative process. The idea of the individual architect-artist pushes away from a sustainable environment and cultural identity. The academic experience of this global collaboration [allowed students to interact] among the team while enriching their knowledge. The experience is the first one of its kind for us, and both the planning and development of the course have been exciting.”

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