Student Design Competition

Deadline: December 1st 11:59 PM (PST)


If you have met one person with Autism, then you have only met one person with Autism...


In North America, one in 59 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and receive educational services through the IDEA laws up until the age of 21. Teaching a young adult to live independently is not easy in any instance; it comes with many challenges for a person with Autism, Downs or FAS or other like cognitive disabilities. In June 2014, only 19.3 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force – working or seeking work. 35 percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school. (Shattuck et al., 2012).

After a student ages out of the educational system, Medicaid and state agencies may provide some living or training services, but the waiting list is long. Centers for Independent living (CIL’s) exist to help provide this type of training - they note on their website

“The CIL-NET mission is to support the independent living movement and the operation, management, and evaluation of strong and effective centers for independent living, which are led and staffed by people who practice the independent living philosophy.”

Many CIL’s are in need of a specialized facility to help teach these individuals how to do basic administrative work, culinary activities or other specialty types of work in order for those individuals to secure a job in those fields. Additionally, addressing the whole life of the individual, these agencies may provide a mock independent living arrangement (apartment) in order to train the student with a real life experience, away from their familiar home.

Individuals with ASD are often more sensitive to the surrounding environment due to sensory processing issues. For many, these sensory processing issues make the built environment an uncomfortable place. ASD is known as a “spectrum disorder” because symptoms may be mild or severe. Generally, individuals with ASD are either hypo-sensitive or hyper-sensitive to certain sensory information. The goal of the designer should not be to remove all sensory stimuli from the built environment, but instead to enable individuals with ASD to build a tolerance. Architects and designers are responsible to accommodate the needs of all users, so understanding how people with ASD perceive their surroundings is crucial for designer professionals.


You have been asked to design a small vocational facility located anywhere that will serve as an educational and training space for individuals with ASD and other cognitive disabilities. The purpose of the center is to increase the quality of life for individuals on the spectrum and their families. The space must be designed with Universal Design principles and comply with all accessibility codes.

The client is a not- for- profit agency who is contracted by the state to train young adults with cognitive disabilities, whose mission is “We do everything it takes to empower people with disabilities to live active, self-determined lives” and they strive to create opportunities for individuals with ASD and other cognitive disabilities. They recently moved into a storefront space to provide easier access for their clients and are looking to design a future training center at the corner unit adjacent to this space. Your design concept will need to include a new name for this center and the branding that it may invoke on the signage above the storefront façade. 

The center will contain a reception area, flexible multipurpose classroom, crafts area, mock apartment, office spaces for the director of training and 2 trainers plus an exercise space and a separate sensory space with connection to the outdoors courtyard. Spaces should be designed to address the sensory sensitivities individuals with ASD experience and provide ease of access to those who are mobility impaired.


The location is on a busy main street, but has a parking lot in front with easy access and a code compliant ADA ramp at the end of the space for wheelchair access. The main entrance is located in the front of the building. The corner space is next door to the offices of the not- for- profit organization but should not be connected other than one door between the spaces for security purposes.

Existing walls are concrete block. The floor is smooth finish concrete. The space is sprinklered. The steel columns reach to steel roof trusses which hold the flat roof. The trusses may remain exposed and the roof may have skylights of no more than 15% of the surface. Suspended ceilings may be specified as either gypsum wallboard or acoustical tile. The facade is typical segmented storefront glass construction and there are two front doors shown, neither of which can be moved, but you may choose which entry is the main entry. There are 3 steel doors that may be relocated in the existing locations on the back wall; one must lead to an outside area and allow for wheelchair egress. The area behind the space may be used for a courtyard or other outdoor need. One or two windows can be added in the back wall, but none to the side walls.

Lighting and electrical outlets must be located in interior partitions or in furred out walls or columns.  All new interior partitions will be metal stud and gypsum wallboard construction. Three plumbing stacks that provide water and waste removal can be located as needed. Plumbing walls shall provide for a 4” pipe chase. All sinks must be located within a 16’-0” radius of a plumbing stack.  Plumbing chase walls for all toilets, and shower must start within a 12’0” radius of a plumbing stack. 


Projects shall be analyzed using and comply with IBC 2015 for:

  • Occupancy classification
  • Total occupancy load calculation
  • Minimum exit width
  • Maximum distance to exit
  • Projects with occupancies over 50 shall include a second exit.
  • Project shall comply with the following barrier free requirements:
    • Circulation shall be barrier free, with a minimum width of 3‘-8” and provide turnaround clearance for a wheelchair of 5’-6”
    • A clear space of 2’-0” shall be provided on the latch side of any door.
    • Ramps shall not exceed a rise to run ratio of more than 1/12 and shall have 5’-0” clear landings at any end.


  • All spaces must be universally designed and code compliant to current ADA/Accessibility codes. Design circulation should allow for passage of those who may be in mobility- aided devices
  • All other staff functions are in the adjacent next door offices to this training suite (including mail and copy room, auxiliary storage and conference spaces) and do not need to be accounted for in this space.
  • The new center’s name and branding for the training facility are part of your design concept and should be considered as part of the process of the competition. Consider the name to promote a positive environment for the population being served

The Training Suite shall have:

  • Front entry reception space with seating for 6 plus 2 wheelchair spaces
    • Reception station with computer and phone and files / one admin person- must be accessible for visitor and worker (approx. 250 sqft)
    • nearby convenience unisex restroom for client (75sqft)
  • Large multi-purpose training room, to seat 20 (max 800 sqft)
    • include AV and whiteboards
    • also to be used for computer training
    • must use flexible and movable furnishings
    • can open adjacent to work training room via folding walls, to provide a much larger space
  • Work training room (max size 500 sqft)
    • 4 computer desks to help with learning office skills, for employment
    • Sorting stations with some different types of organization systems that would allow the individuals to learn this skill set
  • Training /demonstration working kitchen- large enough for at least 6 adults, accessible and varied heights (max size 800 sqft)
    • commercial size refrigerator/ freezer
    • two work tables 72”x 36” - adjustable height
    • 1 large prep sink, 1 large dirty sink, one commercial dishwasher
    • 2 wall ovens
    • 2 electric multi-burner /griddle cooktops, to be minimally 6ft apart for training
    • one exhaust fan for each of the 2 cooktops
  • "Mock apartment" (max size 600 sqft) 
    • living/dining space with typical furnishing, including dining for 4
    • one bedroom with single bed, dresser, desk, chair and closet
    • one bathroom with zero threshold shower; ADA toilet, vanity with mirror and lighting
    • one 5ft closet in the living area
    • one washer and dryer with ironing board- these may be put into a closet
    • Pet care station for service animals; sleeping crate for service dogs
  • Flexible use room (max size 800 sq ft)
    • Exercise center for mat work like yoga and light equipment like hand weights
    • mirrors for exercise with barre
    • One portion should be set aside for a large craft work room with utility sink
    • shelves for supplies
    • pin- boards and shelves for art display
  •  Sensory Integration Space- space for at least 6 (approx. 300 Sq ft)
    • space for bean bag chairs
    • vestibular swing for adults
    • dimmable and mood lighting
    • may have smaller spaces within for solitary needs
  •  Access to outdoor Area for meditation and recreation –
    • should be close to sensory and exercise areas make sure it is accessible and easily found
    • may have garden or contemplation space
  • Director Office (150 sq ft)
    • desk/return/desk chair
    • 12 LF filing
    • 2 guest chairs
    • space for wheelchair for guest
  • Shared Trainer space/office (2) (total 200 sq ft)
    • desk/return/chairs
    • 18LF filing
    • Space for visitors and small conference table
  • one staff unisex restroom near the offices (60 sq ft)


See the following for more detailed information: PDF or DWGReview the FAQs.


Effective research is critical to the success of any design project. First person research will provide the student with a realistic expectation of what can be designed. Not-for-profit local or regional Vocational Rehabilitation service providers work as conduits to help assist young adults transition from the educational setting to the work setting. Finding and interviewing local providers ( see for this list) will inform the design and is an integral part of understanding the needs of a person with cognitive disabilities as well as provide information as to typical training configurations.

Internet searches and continuing on to secondary sources such as texts, case studies, investigations of the design programs, and studies of existing facilities are important. Included below are a number of books, links and pdfs which may help inform the students of the needs of the person with autism, but the student should also seek out research on their own and use this information in their citations.


Projects will be judged according to having followed the requirements of the program along with creativity and sensitivity to the population occupying the space.

  • Does the design show a depth of understanding and have a robust explanation of program including any specific religious, cultural, social, or ethnic considerations?
  • Is the Program statement written for a general audience unfamiliar with the specific context of your program?
  • Does the designer define the specific goals and objectives as attempted to achieve for occupants’ needs intellectually, spiritually, mentally and physically?
  • Does the design demonstrate an understanding of SENSORY conditions through research?
  • Does the design pay attention to ingress and egress sequence, and ease of accessibility and flow throughout the spaces?
  • Does the design illustrate universal design in planning with a full awareness of the clients who may have sensory sensitivity in finishes and lighting?
  • Does the design consider technical concerns such as material selections, FF&E and construction detailing and lighting plans?
  • Does the branding and name for the center utilize the concept and celebrate the space?


This competition is designed to be applicable at all levels of design education, and it is our hope that it will serve as a good educational tool in both beginning and advanced studios. In a change from recent IDEC student competitions, this competition has two entry categories: undergraduate and graduate (in graduate studios). It is encouraged by the committee to consider using a vertical studio approach, where one lower level student works with an upperclassman to create the design solutions. It is appropriate for an institution or instructor to set a program type based on their understanding of their student body and individual contexts.


  1. (2) 20x30 posters (in PDF format) that should include the following:
  • Evidence and analysis of primary source research
  • Process work, annotated by the student (photos of models, sketches, etc.)
  • Schematic design proposal that may include:
    • a floor plan
    • interior section(s)
    • material concepts and or selections
    • rendered perspectives and/or model photographs
    • technical information or details in support of conceptual proposal
    • Designer’s concept statement (100 words or less), describing the “sensory atmosphere” of the design proposal.
    • Text and descriptions as deemed necessary by the designer to relate programing, goals, and sensory design solutions.
  1. Letter-sized (in PDF Format) written statements (total of no more than 5 pages) should include:
    • Designer’s statement or creative writing (100 words or less), describing the “sensory atmosphere” of the design proposal (also included on the posters)
    • 500-750 word description and discussion of research
    • Program with specific goals and objectives
    • Analysis of ingress and egress (threshold) and universal access (include code analysis if appropriate).
    • Specification summaries if appropriate

TIMELINES – 2018-2019

  • June: Student completion is announced at the IDEC Annual Conference and published on the IDEC website.
  • June - December 1st: Faculty sponsors may choose any three week period during this time to facilitate the competition. Normally the first week is scheduled for research and discussion and the next two weeks are designated for designing. After the students complete the competition requirements, faculty sponsors should arrange for an unbiased, local jury to select the top three projects and 1 graduate project.
  • Faculty sponsors MUST determine the three weeks within the semester to execute the project.
  • December 1 -Deadline for each program to submit up to 3 undergraduate projects and 1 graduate projects
  • January 2019 – Projects are juried at the Regional Levels
  • February – Finalists and their respective faculty are notified. Finalists are juried at the National level. Winners and their respective faculty will be notified prior to 2019 IDEC Annual Conference and invited to attend awards ceremony.
  • March– Winners are displayed at the 2019 IDEC Annual Conference and recognized, along with the respective faculty, at the President's Dinner.


  • Undergraduate Studio:
    • First Place: $700; Second Place: $500; Third Place: $200
  • Graduate Studio:
    • First Place: $700; Second Place: $500
  • Honorable Mentions are awarded at the discretion of the jurors
  • In the case of a tie or limited entries in any categories, the final jury reserves the right to adjust awards accordingly.
  • Winning entries with more than one person will share equally in the prize money amount.
  • Winners will be displayed at the 2019 IDEC Annual Conference, in Charlotte NC and will be recognized at the 2019 President's Dinner.


  • Students may work individually or in a team of no more than three. It is encouraged that students work in a vertical studio; where one lower studio works with a more advanced studio in teams. Undergraduates should not work with graduate students on this project.
  • Students enrolled in undergraduate or graduate interior design programs that have at least one faculty that is a member of IDEC are eligible to enter. It is strongly encouraged that the supervising faculty be a member of IDEC to facilitate access to competition materials and updates via the IDEC website.
  • Projects must be supervised by a faculty member and completed in three consecutive weeks (21 days) including all changes, edits and revisions.
  • Submission of the project indicates the supervising faculty member and the IDEC member of the program comply with the competition rules.
  • Projects must be submitted with no student and/or program identification on the boards and in the required PDF file format.
  • A total up to four projects will be accepted from each program. This may include three projects from undergraduate and one project from a graduate interior design program at each college or university are eligible to be entered for regional jurying. If there is no graduate program, then there may be three undergraduate projects submitted.  The top three undergraduate projects from each region will be selected as finalists and will be juried for the final 2018-2019 Student Design Competition - Interior Design Educators Council North American awards. The top five graduate student entries (one from each region) will be juried for the final North American graduate award.
  • Project information will be available on the IDEC website through December 1, 2018 and can only be accessed by member of IDEC. A Q & A section will be available online with the competition information and will be updated through December 1, 2018. Please visit the Q & A postings frequently to stay updated on the competition project.
  • The IDEC member faculty sponsor will upload entries to the online submission portal.
  • Entries that show an identification of school or student within the design layout or entries that do not comply with all competition requirements will be disqualified.
  • Faculty should use this design challenge to aid in fulfilling their school’s learning objectives as well as those outlined in this competition.
  • Use the plan that has been provided.



Frequently Asked Questions will be regularly updated and can be viewed here – these will be published monthly on the website beginning in August until Dec 1, 2018.

Questions or inquiries should be directed to Christina Birkentall and Kristi Gaines at

image widget
Join Renew Twitter Facebook LinkedIn