Shelter: The Interior as Site for Disaster Relief

Presented by: Deborah Schneiderman

Problem From the devastation caused by radically shifting weather patterns students have learned that the interiors of urban mega structures are often utilized as shelter sites, making disaster relief a critical interior issue. To address this issue, senior Interior Design students were assigned the design of interior disaster relief shelters. Supporting and sustaining human well-being is critical to survival and is an ethos central to the discipline of interior design, extreme or otherwise (Davies 2016). Additionally, according to CIDA criteria, exposure to contemporary issues affecting interior design and to a variety organizational structures is essential (CIDA, 2014). Teaching Methodology The brief for this senior interior design studio was written with a binary intention. Firstly, to broaden program typologies available to Interior Designers and secondly, to integrate critical theoretical readings into the design studio in direct alignment with the design and making of projects of increasing scale. The coursework was specifically developed to introduce the relevant program typology of interior disaster relief shelter. Methodologically the studio embraced the pedagogical stance that critical interior design theory and the act of making and testing design solutions simultaneously is an essential interior design practice. The coursework was developed as a series of three primary design investigations that increased in scale, starting from the body, each investigation focused around the close reading of a series of critical essays from Lois Weinthal’s theory anthology Toward a New Interior (2011). The project was assigned in three major parts, A, B and C, each with their own set of aligned readings. Students were to build and test their designs for parts A and B at full scale. For project part A students were to design a wearable element that satisfies a basic need in a disaster relief shelter. They were asked to consider how Interior Design is largely about creating and modifying enclosure for the body and how they think about enclosure at an intimate scale (Readings: Evans “No Man’s Land”; Lupton, “Skin: New Design Organics”; Kraft, “Cutting Patterns”). For part B students were assigned to design a place to sit. They were asked to consider how a seat can become place-making, how people sit, and can a seat contribute to survival? They were asked to consider transportability and materiality (readings: Blauvelt, “Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life”; Smith, “The Rules of Her Game: A-Z at Work and Play”). For part C students were to design an Interior Shelter and Site Plan. Drawing upon their previous designs for a wearable and a place to sit, students were asked to consider. How can you accommodate individuals and families? What are the shelter’s "green" features? Are there security and/or maintenance issues? In space planning the shelter how will you consider human behavior? What is necessary, and what might enhance life at the shelter? (Readings: Colomina, “Interior”; Betsky “Furnishing the Primitive Hut”). Outcomes Students produced a series of full scale testable prototypes in addition to designs at scale that were critically interconnected to a series of theoretical readings while investigating a necessary and extreme program typology. Student work evidenced the material learned from assigned readings, which offered insight into the understanding of related disciplines (particularly fashion), broadening the students understanding of potential overlaps within the design disciplines. In addition, students were introduced to theoretical thinking about place-making that furthered their design investigations. Most notable in their course evaluations were the recurring comments that the course had broadened their appreciation for possible programs and practices relevant to interior design.


  • Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). (2014). Professional Standards 2011. Retrieved September 20, 2015 from Council for Interior Design Accreditation website:
  • Davies, B. F. (2016). Design for Extreme Environments Project [DEEP]: A Case Study of Innovations in Mediating Adverse Conditions on the Human Body. In D. Schneiderman and A. G. Winton (Eds.), Textile Technology and Design: From Interior Space to Outer Space (145-156). London: Bloomsbury.
  • Weinthal, L. (2011). Toward a New Interior: An Anthology of Interior Design Theory. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.
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