In Situ

Presented by: Deborah Schneiderman

“Using small-scale models to explore ideas becomes confused in full-scale constructions, while drawings have trouble making the transition from two dimensions to three dimensions” (Weinthal, 2011, p. 24).

The opportunity to test design at full scale and in situ provides unparalleled opportunity for design students to appreciate the impact and functionality of their work.  While it is critical that students design with a strong conceptual base, it is simultaneously crucial to create a rounded investigation in the process of making that shifts between scales and processes including testing design at full scale (Dowling, 2012). This case study presents an in situ project designed and installed by Interior Design students, as part of an invited juried competition, at the SOFA 2013 art fair in Chicago. 

Teaching Methodology
This senior Interior Design studio coursework was specifically developed to introduce concepts of sustainability and interior prefabrication, and also to include testing at full scale. For the design, 144 initial seating and canopy studies were produced within a studio of 12 students. These proposals were narrowed down, modified, and hybridized until the final design was reached. The resulting design and pattern was inspired by studies of Chicago’s iconic art and architecture. The final proposal consisted of two major elements, a seating-scape and a canopy, that create a connection between the SOFA visitors and the students. 

The intent of the lounge was to create a space where 20,000+ art fair visitors could find a place of repose within the fair. The conceptual design investigation was generated by site: Chicago’s skyline is a constant in the reflection of the Cloud Gate sculpture, yet it is sandwiched by the ever changing skies above and the movement of people below. This translated into the relative permanence of the different types of seating within the lounge. The criticality of sustainability, making and fabrication were in balance with concept in the design process. Seating arrangements were fabricated from discarded cardboard plotter tubes that amass in the school’s print labs. The primary joinery method of hand-stitched twine references the tradition of furniture upholstery. While the method of pattern making by laser etching utilizes contemporary technology to produce a pattern inspired by traditional upholstery fabric. The lounge seating is sheltered by white plastic trash bags; hung and massed to create a dome-like form. The trash bags reference the massive waste created by our society and the alternative possibility to utilize that ‘waste’ to create something positive (as with the fabrication of the seating).

Herzog and DeMuron build full-scale mock-ups “as part of a process driven by thinking, discussing and trying” (Herzog, 2008, p. 222). In this studio, students were challenged to develop a strong conceptual base and to design, build at full scale, test, and rebuild. Through the full-scale prototypes, students confronted the limitations of designing at small-scale and often discovered that their initial design investigations did not perform conceptually or physically as they had anticipated. Building and testing in the design studio before installing the final design in situ heightened students’ learning and was a critical step in the design process. The reaction to the lounge by professionals and fairgoers was overwhelmingly positive. Our lounge was unanimously voted first place in the juried competition, which we attribute to the multiple full-scale iterations that were built and tested in studio.


  • Dowling, C. (2012). Design Thinking is in the (full scale) Details . Paper presented at the Interior Design Educators Council conference March 19-22. Baltimore.
  • Herzog, J. (2008). Thinking of Gadamer's Floor. In G. Mack, Herzog & de Meuron 1997-2001. The Complete Works. Volume 4 (pp. 221-225). Basel : Academy Press.
  • Weinthal, L. (2011). Toward a New Interior: An Anthology of Interior Design Theory. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.


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