Chatham University

Innovation and Research

Interior Architecture

Chatham's innovative Interior Architecture programs get students on the fast track to their careers.

Since middle school, Molly Sumner '13 knew she wanted to work in interior design. By choosing the interior architecture program at Chatham College for Women, she is fast-tracking that dream. That's because the accelerated undergraduate degree not only allows students like Molly to graduate in three years, but also reduces their educational costs.

The three-year Bachelor of Interior Architecture program, fully accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, does not include summer study like most similar programs. Since implementing the program, Chatham has realized a more than 200 percent increase in enrollment. The program is focused on real-world design and is committed to sustainability. Students also have the opportunity to study abroad. This academic year, students can study at the Academia in Florence, Italy.

"We work with professors who teach as their second jobs while working out in the design field and giving us real-world problems and lessons they learned the hard way," says Molly. "Chatham's is a great program that puts us a step above design students from other schools."

In fact, Molly cites the work she has done on universal aging in place design as the most significant she has completed during her education.

"Designing an entire building in seven weeks was the biggest challenge, but I think it was helpful for us as students to meet deadlines and get used to that," she says.

The Bachelor of Interior Architecture is a professional interior design program that prepares students for practice in an interior design or architecture firm. Students are encouraged to consider all factors that influence the design of interior spaces, from human behavior, aesthetics, and building technology to the views from windows and doors that penetrate the surrounding architecture.

"We believe it is important to provide opportunities for our students to apply the skills and knowledge they've learned in the classroom," said Lori A. Anthony, director of interior architecture programs. "Whether it is participating in internships or community service, having projects critiqued by invited design professionals, or engaging in experiential opportunities such as our Fallingwater semester, we are active in promoting networking and real-world engagement.We believe such experiences set our program apart and put our students at an advantage upon graduation."

The Fallingwater semester provides students with opportunities to collaborate with the curators of the home Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Kaufmann family, which today is a National Historic Landmark. Private student tours culminate with the presentation of final projects that incorporate evidence of design inquiries garnered through their visits to Fallingwater.

Like with the Fallingwater semester, the interior architecture program at Chatham University integrates sustainability, best practices, and environmental consciousness throughout the design curriculum. Faculty and students approach sustainability holistically by honing their awareness of current issues and changes in traditional modalities and leading by example.

"Although we offer a course in green design that provides students with knowledge of the LEED certification system and the U.S. Green Building Council, we believe it goes beyond one or two course offerings, and all faculty, regardless of the class, integrate sustainable best practices into their courses," says Lori.

In the classroom, students learn about solar power and apply that knowledge by strategically placing windows and solar panels in studio projects to take advantage of thermal energy. Students are knowledgeable about indoor air quality and are mindful when selecting paint and other materials that might have harmful off-gassing. "Students are educated on recycled and sustainable materials in several courses and apply that knowledge by making conscious efforts to only select and specify materials that are not harmful to the environment," Lori added. "Our students are passionate about environmental issues and believe it to be a design responsibility and not simply a design choice."

Students are learning those lessons and more. Recently, a team of Chatham undergraduate interior architecture students tied with a team of Chatham graduate students at a design competition to turn the sixth-floor lobby of the Pittsburgh City-County Building into Green Central, a clearinghouse of information about the city's sustainability projects and a resource to help residents participate on their own.

 

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Rendering of the Sixth-floor lobby of the Pittsburgh City-County building

Recently, a team of Chatham undergraduate interior architecture students tied with a team of Chatham graduate students at a design competition to turn the sixth-floor lobby of the Pittsburgh City-County Building into Green Central, a clearinghouse of information about the city's sustainability projects and a resource to help residents participate on their own.