Views of sustainable design leaders: are entry-level interior designers prepared for sustainable practice?

Presented by: Jill DeMarotta, Candy Carmel-Gilfilen, Nam-Kyu Park

Purpose Whether it is the need to protect our planet’s resources, the increasing market for sustainable design, or abiding by interior design professional standards, interior designers are increasingly expected to design with consideration to sustainability. Little to no empirical research has been conducted that focuses on the knowledge areas that should be emphasized, much less prioritized, within sustainable interior design education. This study aimed to bridge the knowledge gap between interior design education and practice by examining practitioners’ perceptions of entry-level interior designers’ knowledge in regard to sustainability. Method The study utilized a 15 question online survey with 47 practitioners at large interior design firms specializing in sustainable design (each firm defined by over 100 million dollars in design fees and recognized as leaders in practice in regard to sustainability as ranked by Interior Design magazine’s lists ‘Top 100 Giants with at least 50% of Projects Following LEED Guidelines’ and ‘Top 100 Giants with at least 50% of Space Designed sustainably’ (Leung, 2013)). The survey takers’ years of professional experience ranged from eight months to 37 years. The number of sustainable third-party certified projects each respondent had worked on ranged up to 100+. Survey respondents were located in offices in: Atlanta, Chicago, Coral Gables, Durham, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington DC. Further, five in-depth private interviews were conducted with selected practitioners from the aforementioned firms to gain additional insight into the survey results. Findings and Conclusions Four research questions were posed: (1) Do practitioners feel that entry-level interior designers are prepared to work on sustainably focused projects? (2) What sustainable interior design knowledge do practitioners deem to be the most important for entry-level designers? (3) What sustainable interior design knowledge do practitioners deem most important within design education? (4) Do practitioners feel that entry-level interior designers are prepared to work collaboratively with other allied profession team members to get their sustainable interior design ideas implemented? Findings indicated that less than half of the practitioners surveyed thought that entry-level interior designers were prepared for sustainable practice. One practitioner stated “…most of the people I see coming in at the entry-level don’t necessarily know enough to ask the right questions.” Having the knowledge to evaluate items such as: life-cycle analysis, chemical ingredients within materials, material impacts on human-health, carbon footprints, and health product declarations were examples cited as important knowledge for an entry-level interior designer. Practitioners indicated that material and resource selection knowledge was the most important sustainable interior design knowledge for entry-level interior designers to know, and likewise the most important sustainable interior design knowledge to teach within sustainable interior design education. Half of the practitioners surveyed felt that entry-level interior designers were not prepared to address the inter-disciplinary effort of teams working on sustainably focused buildings. At the presentation, specific learning outcomes will be described, and resources listed to aid educators in the instruction and curriculum of sustainable interior design. This may provide direction and aid interior design educators who, as research by Crane and Waxman (2011) supports, are often uncertain of what, when, and how to teach sustainability.

References:

  • Leung, W. (2013). 2013 Green Giants. Interior Design. Retrieved from http://www.interiordesign.net/articles/detail/35550-2013-green-giants/
  • Crane, T., & Waxman, L. (Eds.). (2011). Interior Design Goes Green: A Model for a Sustainability Curriculum. Proceedings from Journal of Interior Design Small Planet Symposium. Denver, CO
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