Laying a Research Foundation for Building Technologies Class

Presented by: Cathy Hillenbrand-Nowicki

Innovative approaches to traditional undergraduate research methodologies can successfully function as pedagogical vehicles for enhancing comprehension and enjoyment of lecture based building technologies and construction courses. Programming provides the evidence-based research foundation for successful studio based projects, and is readily accepted by interior design students as a required part of solving a design problem.  "Visual" students do not often feel that traditional cited research papers contribute to design learning in the same way, and often find them daunting or think them unnecessary for design practice. Marshall-Baker (2005) in her article Knowledge in Interior Design concludes that "Interior Design and social science both value research. The scientific method is used in each field to understand the human and environmental variables that affect health, development, and quality of life. This is critical to interior designers who rely on research to make informed decisions concerning the design of interior space."  Data mined from traditional research assignments can be beneficial when teaching how to select and specify building systems and materials, and contribute to student comprehension of highly technical subjects.

The pedagogical goal of exposing Interior Design students to the importance of traditionally cited research as an additional tool for successful programming, and an opportunity for departmental participation in the Big South Undergraduate Research Symposium with other university students engaged in traditional scientific research, provided a new project opportunity for the Building Technologies course. The professional practice requirement of FF&E specification was used as a premise for this exercise.

Students were asked to choose a building system topic or material that interested them from their readings, lectures, or site visits. They then completed a traditionally cited research paper on their topic, addressing historic precedent, recent innovations, application, and sustainability. Paralleling the "analysis/synthesis" metamorphosis (Karlen 2009) undertaken during planning methodology in design process, students were asked to distill down their findings and translate them into the visually communicative vehicle of a 2' x 3' plotted poster for a target audience unfamiliar with building technology or construction. This format required condensing and enlarging text, adding charts, and choosing representational photographs to best represent their subject. Posters were also judged on visual composition. The students had a very positive response to the assignment.

After poster presentation and research discussions, students related methodologies on how they condensed their information into the visual format required. After grading, 6 of 35 posters were submitted for consideration to the Big Surs Undergraduate Research Symposium, featuring students from 15 regional Colleges and Universities. Three posters were accepted for presentation. Symposium participants were excited and proud to demonstrate the important role research plays in Interior Design education and practice, and of their part in raising awareness of how demanding Interior Design education is, and what Interior Design practitioners do every day to improve business productivity, safeguard building occupant health, and enhance quality of life through the creation of interior environments.


  • Marchall-Baker, A. (2005). Knowledge in Interior Design,  31,1.
  • Karlen, M. (2009). Space Planning Basics. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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