Not My Typology: A Thematic Approach to Interior Design Education

Presented by: Alan Antioquia, Natalie Badenduck

The teaching of Interior Design is traditionally formulated around specific building typologies generally beginning with residential and ending with complex commercial spaces. In the process of developing a more experiential teaching model, we questioned the pedagogical value of typology-based teaching and its connection to contemporary interiors. With a focus on how students experience the world as well as build awareness of and competency in interiors practices, we implemented a thematic teaching approach. We developed a curriculum based on a set of enduring understandings and essential themes ranging from simple to complex. We created course projects wherein students explore aspects of interior design without typological constraints. Our presentation focuses on the structure, implementation, and resulting benefits from Inhabitation Studio during Year 1 Semester 2 of a four-year Bachelor of Interior Design program. In Inhabitation Studio, students explore the occupation of space and the direct relationship between the human body and spatial experience. Through a series of exercises and assignments, students investigate human dimensions, proxemics, and ergonomics, expanding their awareness of embodied interior experiences. They examine the scale of interior environments, the limitations of the human form, and the impact of the human body in motion when performing a task. Inhabitation Studio consists of five projects increasing in scale and complexity: 1) Wearable Architecture, 2) Refuge, 3) Task, 4) Multi-task, and 5) Archetype. Inhabitation Studio explorations begin with the scale of the body and the most intimate space it occupies – our clothing. In the Wearable Architecture project, students create a garment that transforms from public to private mode. They investigate the constraints of clothing, its positive and negative benefits to thermal comfort, and the notions of a protective second skin as a foundational understanding of inhabitation. Our goal in Wearable Architecture is to help students understand issues relating to privacy and containment within interior spaces. In the second project Refuge, we expand the thematic scale to the design of a temporary emergency shelter that accommodates a given user in three static positions: standing, sitting, and lying down. In the third project Task, students investigate how systems and standards that define human dimensions are quantified for individual tasks, therein exploring the key notions of ergonomics in design. Students examine how simple body movements and performance tasks inform the creation of environments. The fourth project Multi-Task involves exploration of how a single space can be responsive to multiple tasks with increased complexity in a program. Students design a retail kiosk, exploring how design elements in spaces can accommodate various functions in a single area. The final Inhabitation Studio project Archetype combines a series of individual spaces. Students examine the human body in the highly programmed and functional spaces of a kitchen and bathroom. We can report that thematic teaching models successfully achieve intended outcomes related to the integration of course content and information delivery. This approach to curriculum design and delivery creates a supportive framework for students in their understanding of spatial inhabitation within individual spaces/volumes. As a result of this thematic teaching model, students experience, understand, and engage with the theme of inhabitation through progressive explorations. They bring confidence and expanded understanding of inhabitation to subsequent semesters. Having witnessed the value of a thematic teaching approach, we look forward to further development and investigation into thematic teaching, its versatility in applications from simple to complex design, and its role in educating future generations of Interior Designers.