A Pedagogical Approach: Guiding the Student Design of a Low Security Prison

Presented by: Connie Dyar, Taneshia West Albert

This study explores the outcome of design pedagogy in a senior level, commercial interior design studio. The challenge was to have the student create a design for a low security prison in Wyoming, a client population completely unknown to the student designer. Here, the authors discuss the four main strategies in developing the student’s research ability to enhance the programming experience. The instructional strategies were; encouraging the student to choose a client unfamiliar to them; developing the importance of research to enhance the student’s design knowledge; reinforcing the importance of evidence based design (EBD) upon the student in making their design choices; and rooting the tools and techniques used by the professor in established interior design pedagogy. Individuals in design careers are assumed to have strong cultural consciousness, and it is essential for students to acquire such knowledge so that they may truly be a contributor in their chosen field (Usal & Evcil, 2011). The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) places importance on students understanding the role that interior environments play in shaping culture (CIDA Professional Standards 2017) and so instructors must consider how and when culture can be taught in studio classes (Hadjiyanni, 2013) with the goal of moving the student beyond their customs (Kim, Ju, & Lee, 2015). Using the definition of the word “foreign” as, “belonging to… some place other than the one under consideration” (Merriam-Webster), the prison population is foreign to most interior design students and in particular, the student undertaking this studio project. Thus, the requirement of using EBD to address the student’s lack of knowledge for this client population allowed the instructor to more fully engage the student in the project. If so many undergraduate students have little interest in taking a research courses (Dickinson, 2009) and a significant number of practitioners seeing the importance of undergraduate students conducting research (Dickinson, Anthony, & Marsden, 2012), it is essential that research is a goal to the student, not just the instructor (Dickinson, Anthony, & Marsden, 2009) in achieving a well-founded design solution. Choosing a client population the student was unfamiliar with allowed the instructor to stress the importance using research to understand the dynamics of human activity (Poldma, 2008) in the prison, from the prisoner’s perspective, and from the warden’s perspective. These shared experiences were analyzed and used to later guide design decisions the student made. Research was also used to understand the general populations’ perspective of prisons and prisoners with regards to what should be designed or allowed. The student was then guided through a qualitative data analysis to better understand and prepare for the cultural complexities this project and many similarly built in this century (Hadjiyanni, 2013). The steps of using research and experiences to inform design decisions also allowed the instructor to stress the importance of EBD as the basis for design choices and as an activity the student will continuously conduct throughout their professional career (Dickinson, et al. 2012). Following the design pedagogy of design education as experimental learning (Konkel, 2014), the instructor guided the student to a design solution rooted in acknowledging the user activity and experience (Resend and Vasconcelos, 2012) as central to design solution. Essentially, the instructor developed tools for critical thinking development (Carmel-Gufilem and Portillo, 2012) and increased design proficiency through and increasingly difficult, complex, and detailed project (Osmond & Tovey, 2015). To this end, the authors will display the student’s work, highlighting the research, analytical tools, and design solutions developed. The authors will also share insight to lessons learned through the project and key steps for further student instruction.


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  • Hadjiyanni, T. (2013). Rethinking culture in interior design pedaogy: the potential beyond CIDA standard 2g. In Journal of Interior Design, 38(3), pp. v-xii
  • Kim, M. J., Ju, S. R., Lee, L.. (2015). A cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collaboration in a joint design studio. In International Journal of Art & Design Education, 34(1), pp. 102-120
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