CSULB Design Project Provides Students the Opportunity to Leave Their Mark on Campus

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csulb-design-project-corridorEight groups of junior interior design students at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) recently made presentations to university officials for a chance to leave their “design” mark on the campus as they presented their ideas for a renovation to the first-floor corridor of the Academic Services (AS) Building.

“This is the first time the campus has done a design project with students that has an actual budget,” noted Design Professor Dorothy Ottolia, who worked with the student teams on their respective project ideas. “In four weeks, these students have done what others have months to do, and they were so professional. It worked out really well.”

The project employed eight teams of two to four students to create new uses for the AS Building’s spacious, low-ceilinged hallway. Attending the presentations were CSULB President F. King Alexander, Vice President Mary Stephens, College of the Arts Interim Dean Christopher Miles, College of the Arts Associate Dean Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, Bob Lavey of Steinberg Architects, David Salazar, associate vice president of physical planning and facilities management, and Sam Mori, director of design and construction services who will oversee the final renovation.

After the presentations, campus officials said they hope to reveal to Ottolia and her students the design concepts chosen for the actual renovation early during the spring semester. The project could be completed as early as next fall.

The junior interior design students researched, planned and designed an informal learning space created from a student’s perspective, Ottolia explained. “This wide passage way is the perfect in-between space for socializing, teaching, learning and collaboration.

“It is my challenge to make sure all the teams are different yet that they share the common goal of resolving this situation,” she said. “After teaching at CSULB for 15 years, I have never pushed students this hard. Their first project this semester was an international competition and their second was a post-production editing house in Santa Monica. These juniors are rising to the occasion. They are enthusiastic, dedicated, brilliant and here all the time. They are particularly excited about this project because it is their environment.”

Ottolia feels real-world projects like this reflect the Design Department’s twin commitment to theory and practice. “We are one of the few design schools who emphasize hand skills. Here, students still build models with their hands,” she explained. “We don’t want the students going to the computer until they can sketch by hand. These students are grounded. This is their budget, and it is up to them to make it work.”

Students visited the AS corridor on different days and at different times to observe how the campus community uses the space. They were encouraged to take photos, sketch ideas and interview users and take notes on the architectural and landscaping materials. Their focus was to provide a place where students can study, talk, hang out and get to know one another; to create a place that inspires collaboration and creativity; a place where faculty and students can gather before and after class.

Ottolia offered special thanks AVP Salazar. “He understands that students do not learn only in the classroom. Learning can happen anywhere. Most of the time, it happens where we don’t expect it to happen,” she said. “He saw a good chance to create a learning space in the corridor that also could handle overflow from the University library or the nearby Beach Hut.”

Ottolia also expressed her gratitude to the project’s professional participants, who she said “see the benefit of working with students.”

Professionals volunteering for the project include the International Interior Design Association’s Pam Neiman, Armstrong Ceiling’s David Hovekamp, Armstrong Flooring’s Heather Vari, Philips Lighting’s Tracie Jahn, 3form’s Rebecca Koteen and Herman Miller’s Elizabeth Dea. Participating campus personnel include AVP of Physical Planning and Facilities Management Salazar, and Sam Mori, CSULB’s architect and director of design and construction services.

“These professionals are helping students who are as dedicated as they are innovative,” Ottolia pointed out. “This project is very much about how we carve our own spaces. Students tried to appeal to all learning types. Some like to learn in isolation, some like to learn through collaboration and some by watching others. Our students incorporated a variety of learning environments.”

Technology also was a big issue. “There are three electrical outlets in the entire hall and, of those, only two are at an accessible height. The third is up high,” Ottolia said. “Today’s students need electricity to use their new technologies. There will be surfaces students can write on with colored markers. They will be able to work in any means possible including technology.”

Design major DeBorah Green, who is working toward to a bachelor of fine arts in interior design, said that as students, she and others find that informal places outside the classroom are great places to collaborate with classmates and faculty.

“The informality of certain spaces is ideal for teaching and mentoring and an alternative for students who would usually head home after class or to the library,” she said. “With seating, places to spread out their work and electrical outlets for mobile devices, individuals, pairs, small groups and teams can extend their classroom conversations. “The corridor is less than welcoming right now, but one of our goals is to make this functional space user friendly.

Still, the project’s importance is no reason not to have a good time. “This is a very enjoyable project. We’ve been having fun,” Green said. “We’re very excited to be working with Herman Miller products as well as Armstrong ceiling and flooring. We’ve got a lot of great products to work with. We may not have as big a budget as we would like, but since architects the world over make that complaint, it becomes a good exercise for us. We’re learning to look at options. We can come up with ideas that we then pull back into user-friendly dimensions. We are learning to work together as a team.”

The student design teams pinpointed user personalities such as the isolationist, the commuter and the 15-minute visitor. Green said she noticed the people who stayed for hours during long class breaks, and one of her biggest surprises was the discovery that some students simply read instead of using modern technology. She enjoyed the opportunity to interview those using the space in its current form.

Additionally, the student designer visited some of the university’s newest buildings to compare them to this AS Building, one of the first built on the campus. They were able to compare the generational differences between exteriors and interiors, and that comparison gave them the impetus to make the space what she called, “a cool kind of groundbreaker.”

To Green, the project pushed the edge of the design envelope. “There is a need to push yourself out of your comfort zone,” she said. “You need to inform yourself about all aspects of the design industry. We had a real budget with real parameters. We couldn’t go above a certain ceiling height even if we wanted to. What could we do for this space to make it cutting-edge and beautiful? In the real world, it always comes down to budget. That meant freshness within parameters.”

Ottolia believes the corridor project is good for the Design Department. “It will give some deserved attention to the level of achievement we have reached here,” she said. “It always amazes me when I discover how many special things go on at our university. Some of these achievements are happening 200 steps away, but it is so easy to become involved just in our own discipline and miss what goes on in others.”

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