Community-Based Interior Design Matters: Co-Educating the Next Generation of Designers With the Community

Presented by: Travis L. Hicks

“If the professionals of the future are learning how to manipulate people and extract short-term gain at the expense of others, are they then reinforcing the widespread perception among communities that the 'Ivory Tower' is by definition distant and irrelevant to their needs?” (Angotti et al, 2011) PEDAGOGICAL PROBLEM How can design education equip students to excel as interior design professionals while stressing deeper commitments to community and civic engagement that value communities’ expertise and equality? INTRODUCTION Boyer’s Scholarship of Engagement (1996) builds upon his earlier Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) and grounds the academy theoretically in community engagement around critical public issues, arguing that the university needs to regain its relevance to the public by renewing its commitment to service and engagement. Saltmarsh and Hartley (2011) expand on Boyer’s theories of engagement by differentiating between civic engagement and a higher level “democratic” civic engagement, concluding that democratic engagement focuses on process and purpose and is characterized by reciprocity, co-creation of knowledge, and collaboration among other characteristics. Following this approach of democratic civic engagement the author challenged upper level interior architecture students to identify community-based, social, and civic-oriented issues and then act on these issues through their studio projects. In a fourth year capstone studio, students identified issues including local food deserts, homelessness, low income housing, and preservation. Community partners included Habitat for Humanity, a local homeless shelter, and a neighborhood association, among others. Solutions included tiny houses, an interior fit-up of a church converted into a homeless shelter, an orphanage in Haiti, and a local community garden greenhouse. EXECUTION The design studio became a space for co-teaching and co-learning, where community partners were invited to share their knowledge throughout the semester. Students claimed co-ownership over the time, space, and projects, and a sense of purpose emerged from their work. While there was no promise of built solutions, the author challenged students to pursue projects with the potential of being installed or built. One student, for example, identified a site in Haiti while on a mission trip during the semester. She took everyone from her mission team with her to document and analyze the site, and she returned more informed about her work but also inspired to imagine this project’s being completed and constructed in Haiti. Another student worked with a local non-profit to redesign classrooms in a local church in which the non-profit plans to implement this student’s scheme for a family homeless shelter. Yet another small group of students worked with Habitat for Humanity on a series of house renovations in a historic neighborhood. Working with Habitat staff and builders, the students generated construction documents for two houses that have been renovated using the students’ designs. OUTCOMES The author will present student work from multiple years of this capstone studio, which filled the curricular demand for a comprehensive and independent project. The author will evaluate this work against the framework for interior design service-learning by Zollinger et al (2009), including the successes as well as challenges, which included students' time management issues, the author's managing a variety of projects and partners, and time limitations resulting from a single semester-long project. Successes ranged from strengthening connections between the university and the community to stirring students to tap into their own passions and find connections to practice, both traditional and newer models. For example, one student who collaborated with Habitat for Humanity began a paid internship with Habitat following graduation.


  • Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Lawrenceville, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Boyer, E. (1996). The Scholarship of Engagement. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 49, No. 7, pp. 18-33
  • Angotti, T., Doble, C., and Horrigan, P. (2011) Service-Learning in Design and Planning: Educating at the Boundaries. Oakland, CA: New Village Press.
  • Saltmarsh, J. & Hartley, M. (2011) Democratic Engagement. In Saltmarsh, J. & Hartley, M. (Eds.) To Serve a Larger Purpose: Engagement for Democracy and the Transformation of Higher Education (pp. 14-26). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press
  • Zollinger, S. W., Guerin, D. A., Hadjiyanni, T. and Martin, C. S. (2009), Deconstructing Service-Learning: A Framework for Interior Design. Journal of Interior Design, 34: 31–45.
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