Designing From the Inside Out: Museum Interpretation, Spatial Manipulation

Presented by: Elizabeth Pober

Volumetric design is a significant component of interior design and spatial thinking is a very important pedagogical focus in interior design curriculums.  The majority of interior design projects within these curriculums tend to be located within the confines of existing buildings that are either fictional or real. The given constraints of the building architecture often lend no significant opportunity for students to truly shape their own volumetric designs without restrictions.  Since architecture responds to human activity and the needs of those activities that happen within enclosed interior environments, priority must be given to those interior environments with the exterior architecture responding to the interior needs.  This is not a typical practice.  The purpose of this project was to provide the students with an opportunity to analyze and shape the interior spaces within a museum project and allow the exterior architecture to develop from the interior volumetric design.  The exterior of the building was not an important consideration at the beginning, but rather the size, shape and volume of the interior spaces themselves and how the volumetric design could affect the occupant’s spatial perception and the activities taking place therein.  Utilizing shape grammar to create the composition of these interior volumes of space and further define their relationship to one another and connection to the world outside, the poetry of the overall architecture was determined.    

According to Violet-le-Duc, effective design develops from the skills of reading and writing architecture, where reading involves the process of determining what the elements and parts of a building are and then describing them grammatically.  Writing architecture follows thereafter with constructing or composing the overall design (Viollet-le-Duc, 1990).  

Stiny’s studio method involves developing and providing a five stage programme for creating the new design languages that includes a vocabulary of shapes, spatial relationships, shape rules, initial shapes and shape grammars (Stiny, 1980).  The shape grammars are initially defined in three-dimensional spaces that metamorphosis through rules and connections to create three-dimensional architectural grammars.  Fawcett and Wojtowicz define shape grammar as “the principle by which vocabulary elements can be put together, and inherent in a grammar is the set of mappings between vocabulary elements such that certain groupings of elements can be transformed into another group” (Fawcett & Wojtowicz, 46-67).  

The museum design project required the interior design students to utilize shape grammar early in the design process to analyze their program and develop a design as a system of parts or components. Volumetric shapes for each of the programmed activity areas and spaces for the project were then created based on an in-depth analysis of each space during the programming phase.  Typically the students would develop two-dimensional prototypical drawings that would then be combined into block diagrams to help develop space plans.  With the shape grammar process, they developed prototypical three-dimensional prototypical volumes of space and created rules to combining and connecting them through volumetric model combinations and transformations to create not only preliminary block and space plans but also overall volumetric compositions that created the overall architecture.  

By removing the boundaries of the given architecture that interior designers are normally given, and working only with overall outcome size constraints and some provided rules to apply to the exterior design that developed, the students were able to create interior designs that were not only functional but more volumetrically dynamic and creative then they had created in previous design projects.


  • Stiny, George. "Kindergarten grammars: designing with Froebel's building gifts." Environment and planning B 7.4 (1980): 409-462.
  • Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène-Emmanuel, and Millard Fillmore Hearn, eds. The architectural theory of Viollet-le-Duc: readings and commentary. MIT Press, 1990.
  • Wojtowicz, Jerzy, and William Fawcett. Architecture: formal approach. St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1990.
  • Wright, Frank Lloyd. The natural house. New American Library, 1970.


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