Teaching, research and service are at the heart of West Virginia University’s mission as a land-grant institution. A group of interior design students spent the past few months experiencing the service aspect first-hand.
“Service through design” was the unstated theme for this semester’s Contract Interior Design I (ID 355) course.
For their first commercial design course, Ron Dulaney Jr., assistant professor of interior design in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, challenged the senior students to schematically revitalize an abandoned building in Ronceverte, W.Va., and design a library for the community.
Class members presented their ideas to three citizens active in the town’s redevelopment efforts on Monday (Nov. 28).
While there are no guarantees the student designs will be used in whole or in part for the new facility, Dulaney believes it’s a great way to help the community visualize what is possible and provide students with practical experience.
In his career as an educator, Dulaney has developed an ongoing interest in community-engaged projects.
“These types of projects provide win-win opportunities for students and communities,” he said. “The use of a community project as a vehicle for achieving course learning outcomes enhances learning by loosely simulating a professional design-practice experience.”
Given his ongoing interest in community centered projects, it’s no surprise he would want to help his students at WVU have this kind of experience.
The idea took a step closer to reality two years ago when Dulaney connected with Jenny Selin, coordinator of the WVU Community Design Team.
“I met Jenny through my participation in a Community Design Team visit to Rainelle, W.Va.,” he said. “This summer she and I discussed opportunities to further assist the community through course work. Unfortunately, the timing of opportunities in Rainelle didn’t coincide with our fall course work; however, Jenny was aware of this opportunity in Ronceverte and we decided to go for it.”
Dulaney arranged for his students to participate in three projects during the semester.
In the initial project, students prepared submissions for “AIDS in South Africa,” a national design competition that asked student teams to identify and, through design, respond to the needs of children orphaned as a result of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.
For their second project, in consultation with Holly Lentz, assistant professor of fashion design and merchandising, students provided design visualization for a potential WVU student-run consignment shop.
The Ronceverte library project is their final design project for the semester.
Divided into five teams, the students were tasked with schematically turning a four-floor building originally designed for retail use in the historic district of Ronceverte into a library for the community to enjoy.
The class traveled to the town in October to conduct field research and meet with several members of the community to assess their needs for the space.
Students were asked to incorporate traditional library spaces such as a receptionist desk, stacks and reading areas, computer stations , meeting rooms, and a children’s area on floors one through three.
When taking spatial, structural and design issues into account, the project was already going to be a challenge for the students. Community members raised the stakes by wanting to include rental units on the fourth floor.
“While the design of the individual residential units was beyond the scope of this commercial-design focused course, the students had to address code and accessibility requirements associated with mixing residential and commercial uses within a small, vertically organized building,” Dulaney said.
The students didn’t let the challenge stifle their creativity, however.
For Maribeth Allen, Brittany Fritz and Stephanie Mansberger, the design process focused on staying local and a glass spiral staircase in the center of the building.
“We really wanted to follow a theme of nature and historical aspects of Ronceverte,” explained Allen of Rochester, N.Y. “We incorporated neutral colors like browns and creams and featured paintings of different parts of the town throughout.”
At the heart of their design is an open, two-story foyer and a grand, curved staircase created from 3Form Pressed Glass and featuring natural organic materials like twigs between the layers of laminated glass.
“By doing these things we will be opening the space and allowing more sunlight to come through both floors while adding architectural features with a modern twist,” Mansberger, a Morgantown native, added.
The trio also listened to their clients and created a children’s area, computer lab, receptionist’s desk and references on the first floor. The second floor will have book stacks and reading spaces, while the third floor will incorporate multi-functional rooms.
Parkersburg, W.Va. native Sarah Rowley and her teammate Joanna “JoJo” Stipa of Oak Hill, Va., set out to create an inviting space for all members of the community.
“Our main design goal was to design a building that didn’t make the community uncomfortable,” Rowley said. “It’s a quaint little town and we really wanted our designs to reflect that.”
“This project required us to really think about the people who would be occupying this space and what they would want in the design and not only what we like personally,” she said. “It was a challenge to figure out what the clients and Sarah and I would both be happy with for the library and I think we accomplished that.”
Their designs incorporated a neutral décor throughout with the first floor housing a lobby, an open computer area, a reading area and restrooms. The second floor contains a children’s activity area and stacks, while the third floor was designed to be a community area with rooms that could be rented out for meetings or parties.
For Rowley, she’s not simply walking away with practical knowledge and understanding the necessity of designing around the needs of a community. The Ronceverte project helped narrow down what type of career she’d like to have.
“This was a lot of fun,” she said. “It was the first class where we were able to work with commercial spaces, which are a huge part of interior design. It led me to think I might possibly go into commercial design.”
Other class members include Katrina Matthews of Rockville, Md., Elizabeth Wahbe of Townson, Md., Ashley Hardt of Centerville, Va., Jennifer Propst of Clarksburg, W.Va., Molly Satterfield of Toms River, N.J., and Elizabeth “Liz” Widdis of Long Branch, N.J.
For more information on the Interior Design program and the Davis College’s Division of Design & Merchandising, visit http://www.design.wvu.edu.
CONTACT: Lindsay Willey, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
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