A design student looks through materials samples available in the Materials Lab, on the lower level of Vol Walker Hall.

Interior Architecture and Design Department Receives Donghia Grant to Transform Materials Lab

A design student looks through samples of materials available in the Materials Lab on the lower level of Vol Walker Hall.

Tara Ferkel

A design student looks through samples of materials available in the Materials Lab on the lower level of Vol Walker Hall.

A grant from the Angelo Donghia Foundation will transform the Materials Lab at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design from a library of traditional materials into a workshop for teaching, fabrication and research.

The $46,700 grant is the latest in a series of awards to the Department of Interior Architecture and Design at the Donghia Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes design education. In total, the school has received over $215,000 in grants and scholarships over the past seven years.

“The continued support our students and faculty have received from the Donghia Foundation is remarkable,” said Carl Matthews, Professor and Head of the Department of Architecture and Interior Design. “It’s a testament to the high quality and nationally competitive nature of the work we do in the department.”

Between 2015 and 2019, four interior design students at the school were each awarded a $30,000 senior student scholarship, which is the largest and most prestigious award in education. interior design. In 2021, the foundation awarded the school a $49,000 grant to explore the potential benefits of using virtual reality technology in design education.

The Donghia Inc. Foundation was established by the late Angelo Donghia, an internationally renowned interior design icon and inspiration to the design world. Among the foundation’s goals is the advancement of education in the field of interior design.

This latest grant will allow principal investigators Jennifer Webb, Kim Furlong and Lynn Fitzpatrick to purchase looms, a printing press, a color test booth and artificial lighting stations, as well as expand access to digital materials databases for all interior architecture and design workshops.

The program will also incorporate virtual reality (VR) technology purchased through the Donghia Foundation’s previous grant. Materials will be uploaded to the VR program, allowing students to experience their designs. This fusion of the traditional method of creating materials with virtual reality is an exciting opportunity for teachers.

Fitzpatrick, assistant professor for teaching, said this method will help overcome the disjunction between physical materials and how they are represented digitally.

“We hope to get students more interested in making materials,” she said. “Getting them to think more about specifying their own materials rather than fetching everything off the shelf.”

As students gain confidence with materials, they will be more involved in the process and less involved in simply choosing materials. While interior designers typically select materials from what’s available, associate professor Furlong said this process will help students better understand what’s possible. The hands-on approach will also increase customization and encourage the choice of sustainable and regenerative materials.

Professors said they have already seen the impact of a hands-on approach on student projects. Fitzpatrick said sophomore studio students will specify what material they want and make it themselves when it’s not available. This creative ability will set students’ work apart from others and allow them to bring something different to the professional world.

Students who develop this foundation of knowledge and skills early in their studies adapt more organically to this method of learning in their advanced-level courses, said Webb, associate dean of graduate studies and associate professor. She said these practices can begin to not only inform the design process within studios, but can influence the entire program as well.

“Where you really create from inspiration, from concept, then your work will be different from everyone else’s work,” Webb said. “It’s good for your wallet and in your practice a way to realize their individual design intentions.”

“Mastering materials really empowers students to be independent designers,” Furlong added.

One issue faculty have noticed with students coming out of the pandemic is a struggle with some of the creative elements required in the interior design field. Fitzpatrick said the students lacked experience, which led to a lack of confidence. As educators, she said, they bring specific creative methods to the studios, helping students realize their abilities.

“If you limit the number of variables, whether you’re working with color and pattern, or working with the weave of a fabric, you don’t have to do much and you can still do beautiful things. It’s gives them that confidence boost,” Fitzpatrick said.

During the pandemic, students were absent from the classroom and failed to practice the hands-on learning approach. The new Materials Lab will bridge that two-year gap, bringing students back into the process and re-energizing their creative process, they said. While VR technology was beneficial in this process, Furlong said it also helped students see the importance of old-fashioned hands-on methods.

“Just to have a tool or device that can go as fast as your mind can go, and drawing is usually everything. Students are familiar with that,” Furlong said. “The hope is that it will empower them. It will provide more opportunities for students to learn specifically about materials.”

But rather than shifting students completely to traditional manufacturing methods, this grant allows the program to unite those methods with modern VR technology. Fitzpatrick said it provided students with a unique experience.

“One of the most exciting things about this grant opportunity is that we’re working on both sides, from the very practical to the newer high-tech type,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think customers as well as businesses appreciate both.”

Initially, the grant will be used for the weaving portion of the materials lab, which recently moved to a larger space at Vol Walker Hall. A loom has already been purchased and there are plans to acquire 14 more. The new looms will have a permanent home in the materials lab, where students can use them as needed.

The program will also focus more on lighting and its effects on materials. Students are already taking a lighting design course, but this new focus will help them bridge the gap between it and their materials course. Furlong said examining different types of lighting and fixtures will give students a better understanding of materials.

“They not only look at the effects of daylight on materials, but also the actual effects of artificial light on materials, which is often the domain of the interior designer,” Furlong said.

Within the design community, materials are sometimes considered aesthetically, as part of the decor. Webb said students have lost the role that materials play in architecture and design – as design elements with properties of mass and shape.

“Students felt like materials were decorating, and they didn’t feel like decor was respected at school. But now I think we have an opportunity to really talk about materials as integral to creating space,” Webb said.

By elevating what interior architects and interior designers do, students of all disciplines will begin to appreciate materials and the role they play in the overall design process. Additionally, the increased hands-on approach of the Materials Lab will help students develop a more comprehensive skill set to do what other designers cannot or hesitate to do. Although the program primarily focuses on smaller-scale materials, Fitzpatrick said she believes the skills learned will set interior architecture and design students apart.

“Everything has material, everything has color, everything has scale. What they learn may be on a smaller scale, but things can be scaled because we are surrounded by material. something that we all share between our three disciplines,” said Fitzpatrick. “It elevates the materials lab and transforms it into something less passive and more active.”

Improvements to the materials lab will elevate it to the ranks of the school’s other labs and workshops. Professors say they are excited to see the old Materials Library transformed from a “materials closet” into a veritable learning laboratory where students can explore materials.

Webb, Furlong, and Fitzpatrick plan to integrate the equipment into studios in the spring of 2023 and hold an exhibition featuring work done by students in the fall semester of 2023.

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