Interior Design News

This week I am eager to share work from Kendra Ordia’s third-year studio, IDES 311-Interior Design Studio III. Ordia is in her second year as an assistant professor in the Interior Design Program and her third-year studio is a great example of faculty integrating and aligning their creative activity and research agendas in the classroom.

Our third-year interior design students begin to shift from the fundamental strategies of space and place-making to more inquiry based methodologies of positioning interior built environments to have positive impacts on and connect with external influences in social, cultural, societal, environmental and political systems. The unique third-year studio framework has received national recognition as a program of excellence. For example, I earned the CIDA Award for Excellence in 2018 and student outcomes from these studios have resulted in the following honors: Alex Regier – 2020 IIDA Great Plains Student Design Award; Tessa Fay – 2018 IIDA Great Plains Student Design Award; Maggie McCoy – 2018 Donghia Student Scholarship; Chloe Neuvirth – 2018 IIDA Great Plains Student Design Award; Amanda Van Buren – 2018 National Conference of Undergraduate Research Poster Presentation; Rachel Richter – 2018 National Conference of Undergraduate Research Poster Presentation; Chloe Neuvirth – 2016 Gensler Brinkmann Scholarship.

Below is the brief for Ordia’s IDES 311 Studio. I hope you enjoy reading the prompt, and look for student outcomes from the studio being shared on the college’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

“Nature” holds many valid definitions from remote, wild landscapes to a single urban street tree. Interactions with nature are as diverse as those experiencing them. However, even when greenspace amenities exist in close proximity, they are less likely to be used by people of color.1 Resulting from systemic racism and complex social and economic factors, the lack of access to benefits of nearby nature for people of color is far from equitable. Equity is defined as being fair such that peoples’ needs guide the distribution of opportunities for well-being.2 This presentation will discuss two related projects with scaffolded approaches to integrate concepts of design ethics for diverse opportunities for nature-connection at the interior scale in urban environments. This junior-level studio was framed around a primary question: How do you inclusively design interior nature-influenced, spatial experiences considering diversity, culture and identity while promoting play, delight and beauty?

The context for both education-typology projects is complex, layered and defined by a variety of scales: from environmental and social justice movements to early childhood education and development. Students began with a self-reflective process then analyzed sources on nature-deficit disorder, urban nature and children/youth and issues of equity related to social determinants of health and racial inequalities. Design ethics were introduced as a toolkit to establish a baseline for framing and terminology.3 Students were assigned peer groups for discussions and encouraged to listen and build empathy as others’ stories may differ from their own.

Project one built on these pedagogical approaches requiring the students to further research what it means to design a schoolyard for mental health, understand types of play and evaluate several pre-designed nature-play programs for integration into a modular, hands-on classroom for an urban elementary schoolyard. This project utilized a standard 24’ x 40’ portable classroom and an adjacent site-built exterior deck. This four-week exercise sought to provide low-tech/high impact, innovative interior design approaches for safe, inclusive access to nature for children in urban areas. Project two required students to scale up in square footage and age of primary users: youth in 8th -12th grade. The project concept built on understanding the metal and physical benefits of spending time outdoors, showing time in nature during childhood and observing role models who care for nature, are some of the biggest factors contributing to environmental stewardship in adulthood.4 This non-profit educational facility focused on science and environmental sustainability education, research, public awareness and workforce development for youth from under-served or low-income communities where access to these programs have historically been met by systemic barriers. Serving as a prototype, it utilized an existing structural framework of an urban parking garage with ground-level infill program and integration of the project one portable classrooms on the upper level. This nine-week project aimed to create experiences in the urban interior to enhance awareness, knowledge and opportunities for meaningful connection to nature for under-represented youth.

The studio topic intended to engage students in systemic inequality issues brought to national attention through the current pandemic and to investigate what biophilia means for the nature deprived. In terms of academic benefits, the projects provided opportunity to simultaneously utilize analytical and creative thinking in evidence-based design. Students developed and referenced their design intention to propose innovative spatial solutions elevating the experience of the interior built environment while addressing identified ethical values. Both projects allowed for creative methods of defining spatial conditions simultaneously considering the health, safety, welfare and delight of the users.

1. Brentin Mock, “For African Americans, Park Access is About More than Just Proximity: A New Study Shows That The Legacy of Racial Discrimination Still Looms Heavily” Bloomberg CityLab, June 2, 2016
2. Jet Gispen, “Moral Agent,” Ethics for Designers, accessed August 17, 2020
3. Jet Gispen, “Skills,” Ethics for Designers, accessed July 13, 2020,
4. Louise Chawla, “Childhood Experiences Associated with Care for the Natural World: A Theoretical Framework for Empirical Results,” Children, Youth and Environments, Vol. 17, No. 4, Children and the Natural Environment, and Other Papers (2007): 144-170

-Lindsey Bahe and Kendra Ordia