Staying Connected

April 1, 2003
Lisa Whited, IIDA, ASID, IDEC

Staying Connected

Do academicians lose sight of practice? Do practitioners have unrealistic expectations of what constitutes an interior design education? New to design education, I have been an interior design practitioner for 20 years. My introduction to academia is in an unusual educational institution: The Boston Architectural Center (BAC).

The BAC is unique because it was founded in 1889 as a club for architects to educate their apprentices. The architects practiced during the day, in their offices, with apprentices at their side. In the evening those same architects volunteered their time to teach architectural courses and studios at the school. The 114-year tradition of volunteer faculty, as well as students working full-time in design offices—for credit—continues to this day. The BAC has moved from a tradition of apprenticeship to a knowledge-based internship powered by mentorship. The school has NAAB (National Architectural Accrediting Board)-accredited Master and Bachelor of Architecture degrees, as well as FIDER (Foundation for Interior Design Education Research)-accredited Master and Bachelor of Interior Design degrees.

In 1996, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching published Building Community: A New Future for Architecture Education and Practice. The authors, Ernest L. Boyer and Lee D. Mitgang, commenting on the "architecture community's long history of failure to connect itself firmly to the larger concerns confronting families, businesses, schools, communities, and society," stated:

"We discovered that architecture students and faculty are too often disconnected from other disciplines, and distant from the social and cultural mainstream of campus life. At some schools, the curriculum seems remote from the concerns of clients, communities, or the larger challenges of the human condition. At the same time, we also found a sense of disconnection—between architects and other disciplines on campus, and between the two separate worlds of architecture education and practice."

The BAC ensures the practice-academic connection in at least three ways:
* the volunteer faculty consists primarily of interior design practitioners;
* students are encouraged to maintain a minimum of 35 hours/week under the supervision of a qualified design professional to gain credit for graduation (a total of 5,400 hours must be accumulated to be eligible for graduation), and
* thesis committees and education committees are populated with

The BAC has successfully established a model—which has been referred to as
"A National Model"—for practice and academic connection. How can other schools, especially more traditional day-learning institutions, not only foster a stronger
connection between education and practice, but also find opportunities to connect with the community at large? Many interior design schools may already employ some of these suggestions, but perhaps a new idea or two may emerge from this list:

* Hire adjunct faculty that are NCIDQ-certified practitioners. Practitioners bring "real world" experience to the classroom that students often crave.

* Establish an advisory board that consists of interior design practitioners, alumni/ae and
community leaders. The purpose of the advisory board is to provide guidance to program development and foster stronger ties to the interior design community.

* Invite professional interior designers as guest critics to studio and thesis reviews. In addition, invite landscape architects, engineers, real estate professionals, environmentalists, building contractors, architects and others to participate on thesis panels or final project reviews. The benefit of allied professionals' participation goes two ways: they can lend their expertise and they also learn first- hand about the rigorous education of interior design students.

*Establish a lecture series or panel discussions that include interior designers, architects, landscape architects, engineers and other allied professionals. Make sure the public is invited as well. This can become a wonderful opportunity to educate the public about design and its impact on the public's health, safety and welfare.

* Pursue non-profit community projects that can become studios for students. This allows students to participate in an actual project, gives the community another chance to learn about the work interior designers do and, most importantly, helps students understand their responsibil- ities and role within the community.

If your interior design program is located within a school that also has an architectural program, look for ways to collaborate. We encourage collaboration between architects and interior designers in practice—how can that collaboration be fostered within the classroom? A few ideas are listed here.

* In our "Professional Practice" class, I am investigating ways to have interior design students and architecture students work together on a "case study" project. Both professionals have similar issues to deal with in business: ethics, liability insurance, business formation, professional contracts, client relationship, contract documents and leadership. A case study will give them an opportunity to learn of problems that professionals face, as well as ideas on how to resolve those issues.

* In advanced studios and thesis projects, provide the chance for an architecture student and interior design student to collaborate on a project—from the beginning of the project! Coach them about group dynamics and the collaborative process.

* Offer a scholarship or award that recognizes successful collaboration between an architecture student and interior design student.

* Hold a Sketch Day, a 12-hour charrette that requires collaboration between architecture students and interior design students. Provide academic credit, as well as prizes, for participation.

* Hire a certified interior designer and registered architect to co-teach a studio to a class of architecture students and interior design students. In addition to learning about design, encourage open discussion about how the two professions work together in practice.
* On thesis panels, encourage registered architects to sit on interior design students' reviews, and encourage certified interior designers to sit on architecture students' reviews.

These ideas are just beginning thoughts to enhance interior design education, strengthen the connection to community and practice, and foster collaboration between architects and interior designers. Academicians must stay connected to practice to make sure that graduates are ready to contribute to the rapidly growing profession of interior design. Practitioners must stay connected to education to make sure that students understand their professional role in society. The result will be more connected, better educated professional interior designers who contribute to the health, safety and welfare of the public, while enhancing the well-being of citizens in their communities.

Lisa Whited is an NCIDQ-certified and Maine-certified interior designer. She is the program director for the Interior Design College at the Boston Architectural Center. Whited served as president of the NCIDQ in 2000; has been involved with national legislative activities for interior designers; owned a commercial design firm in Portland, ME for 15 years; and served on the Maine State Regulatory Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers for seven years. She may be reached at [email protected]. Whited is a member of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), which can be contacted at (317) 816-6261 or

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