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K-State Today

December 8, 2014



Interior architecture & product design: Bringing the digital to life

By Mary Cosimano

A goal of the interior architecture & product design program is to give students an opportunity to not just design on paper, but use their skills to create something tangible. This ongoing partnership between designing and making, or design make, has forged a partnership with companies which began in spring 2014 and will be continuing into the future.

Starting in spring this year and completing in late October, students were able to design and build furniture that is now being used in an everyday outdoor location. The furniture enhances the sense of place in a new development called Midtown in downtown Denver, Colorado. In conjunction with Norris Design and Brookfield Residential, the Digital Fabrication class led by Dustin Headley, assistant professor, embraced the interior architecture & product design program's design make concept. This partnership and the experiences from spring 2014 have paved the way for upcoming projects.

"I wasn't exactly sure what to expect," said Katherine Moeder, a May 2014 Master of Interior Architecture & Product Design graduate and Digital Fabrication class member. "I thought we would learn the basics of Grasshopper and design some outdoor furniture."

Moeder wasn't far off, but what she did not know was that the designs would enthrall the clients and turn into tangible items to be used in the new building development and that the class would help set the partnership up for future endeavors.

John Norris, president of Norris Design, a planning and landscape architecture firm headquartered in Denver, approached Katherine Ankerson, head of the interior architecture & product design department, about working with the students on an outdoor furniture design project. His firm's collaboration with Brookfield Residential Designs in the design and implementation of Midtown seemed to be the perfect opportunity.

During the initial course, students were tasked with designing outdoor furniture which would be built, fabricated and moved to the new development in Colorado. This hands-on project proved to be beneficial for both the students and their clients.

"The students took to the experience quite rigorously," Headley said. "The added dimension of having a real client with needs and also have to resolve functional details not only increased activity and quality, but enabled students to see how industry design process operates."

The class did not merely encompass interior architecture & product design students, but included all disciplines within the college of Architecture, Planning & Design, or APDesign, which helps the college's efforts to work on designs through an interdisciplinary lens. Through class enrollment and design charrettes, students from all disciplines within the college were involved in one way or another.

Headley thinks being able to include students from the other programs embodies what the department and college strive to achieve in their educational models — that as collaborators they can enhance the quality of any designed experience.

Norris began working with David Richter-O'Connell, assistant professor of interior architecture & product design, on a new product design project in fall 2014 that integrates the design of a children's playscape to a site on the Denver development. While the students' playscapes were designed as an exercise to examine the array of requirements and opportunities rather than as an actual project to be built, they have furthered the relationship between Norris Design and interior architecture & product design. Both will continue to work together in the future.

A new digital fabrication course will be offered in conjunction with Norris Design and Brookfield Residential during the university's winter intersession and in the early 2015 spring semester. Building upon the established process, the class intends to work hand-in-hand with the engineers at the university's Advance Manufacturing Institute, as has been done in the past year, to develop the design drawings needed to ensure fabrication results by early summer 2015.

Working with other companies and firms outside of the college is a goal for Headley in the future. He hopes that being able to develop relationships and collaborations with those who share the attitude of APDesign, students will be able to bridge the gap between practice and pedagogy.