November 18, 2004

Preparing the next design pioneers

  • WSU's new Doctor of Design program lets architects interact outside the design field.
    Interdisciplinary Design Institute


    Twentieth-century pioneers in the fields of architecture or interior design were talented individuals who combined intuition with flair to create interesting and exciting designs, often for a single client in a residential setting.

    The early American architect is often remembered for his ego as well as for his genius; and the early interior designer for her social standing as well as for her creativity.

    All design professions have undergone great transitions since those early years. In the 21st century, professionals in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, construction management and interior design are highly educated and experienced individuals who deal with complex challenges and responsibilities.

    These professionals impact all phases of human life. The decisions they make and the environments they create have great potential to affect the safety, health and well-being of large and diverse groups of people. And this impact is increasingly recognized as people become invested in their environments.

    Some of the challenges faced by today's design and construction professionals include:

    • Northwest development trends of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly places.

    • Designs that foster physical activity.

    • Innovative and acclaimed design solutions of the 1970s and 1980s have suddenly become hazardous to our health.

    • The designer is often placed between the owner and the contractor.

    • Design-build decisions often have significant impact on the end user, but the end user is seldom part of the decision-making process.

    The design of health-care facilities is one example. Preservation of patients' dignity amid the sterile environment requires a humanizing approach to the design. The level of expertise required to manage such a complex problem is considerable.

    While many contemporary firms are tackling the challenges admirably, most design professionals recognize the growing challenge they face with the highly specialized design professions of the 21st century.

    Responding to these challenges requires individuals who can conduct specialized design work, who possess advanced skills in critical synthesis, and who can manage information as members of interdisciplinary design and planning teams.

    The Doctor of Design degree at Washington State University is tailored to educate members of the design community who are well-versed and professionally advanced, but seek to make collaborative, original contributions to their fields as well as to the ecological, cultural and physical contexts in which they work.

    This recently approved degree is unique in that the emphasis is in translating knowledge into action through design.

    The degree is earned at the Interdisciplinary Design Institute at WSU Spokane. "Interdisciplinarity" is not just limited to inter-professional collaborations such as planning, landscape architecture, architecture and interior design — it includes interactions with fields such as health sciences, social science, philosophy and engineering.

    What kind of learning environment can a design professional expect in the doctoral program? In a recent gathering of academic and design professionals at the Design Institute, discussions focused on the relationship between the built environment and health. Colloquiums brought together experts in topics such as social capital, public health, regional planning, architecture, landscape architecture and interior design to explore possible models for dealing with the challenges facing Northwest communities.

    Graduates of the Doctor of Design program at WSU will be the next generation of leaders who shape these debates and contribute to the vision of design in the 21st century … the next pioneers.

    Nancy Blossom, MA, NCIDQ, FIDEC, is chair of the Department of Interior Design at Washington State University and director of the Interdisciplinary Design Institute. Blossom's research and published works have focused on design of children's health care facilities, design education and other subjects.

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