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Better Living by Design

Winter $year.value. | By Melissa Fraterrigo.

The amount of sunlight illuminating a building's interior is one facet interior designers consider in their work. Here, assistant professor of interior design Lisa VanZee, who specializes in digital replications of interior lighting, has modeled the sunlight entering the Pantheon at 9 a.m. in June and December.

Design is everywhere. Television shows like Design on a Dime and Design Wars offer quick fixes to transform a home. Magazine racks are filled with glossy publications to help people reimagine their interiors. These shows and magazines suggest that the field of interior design is comprised of decorating projects, while in reality, this narrow focus doesn't begin to explore the research that guides the work of interior designers. Three new faculty members in the interior design program of the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts challenge this perception as they focus on improving interior environments.

Aging in Place

Hyun Joo Kwon
Hyun Joo Kwon

Interior design isn't just about creating comfortable interior space, but also addressing human behavior in relation to functional and aesthetic elements. "Quality of life is about daily living," notes Hyun Joo Kwon, assistant professor of interior design. "I study residential satisfaction, which is based on the interrelationships between environments and individuals and is directly related to daily life."

As people age, their lifestyles change, and their housing needs vary accordingly. Children leave home. People retire and their incomes may become fixed. Kwon analyzes the housing needs of baby boomers as part of her research into older adults and how their environment can best support them. "If you have arthritis, it may be difficult for you to open a round-shaped doorknob," says Kwon. "But if a lever handle is used, you can use your elbow to open the door. You might also want all the major rooms for daily living, including your bedroom, on one floor, so that you don't have to worry about climbing steps frequently." During the design process, Kwon uses the data she gathers to determine senior residence requirements, and applies statistics to generalize her ideas and formulate an initial space plan.

Policymakers, developers, and others targeting this older population benefit from these findings, because designing a residence isn't as simple as sitting down and drafting a concept. Students and practitioners of interior design work through a systematic procedure that includes research and analysis of a client's needs, integration of best practices and prior knowledge in the design field, and formulating preliminary concepts in two- and three-dimensional designs. Students use graphic and design software such as AutoCAD to draw floor plans and sketches, but also learn hand drawing. Kwon says this helps students imagine space and develop greater insight into their designs, as well as communicate the designs to clients and coworkers.

As designers develop a broader understanding of different user needs and abilities, technology can make independent living more manageable for older people. Kwon says the first step is to understand older adults' daily activities in residential environments, and then to develop technologies that meet their needs. Improving safety and security, on-site health care, and home amenities that work with minimal human effort can support a more autonomous lifestyle for older adults. For example, designers can include in-home technology that checks the health status of a resident and relays this information to a physician. If a person falls, automated features can recognize this and alert authorities.

Despite advanced technology, most older adults need access to certain services. If these services are distant from an older person's home, her quality of life suffers. But certain adjustments make it possible to age in place, says Kwon, especially if communities offer pedestrian-friendly streets, commercial spaces, medical centers, and entertainment in close proximity to housing.

Environment affects health and satisfaction, so with every choice, a designer considers how to support human behavior through good design. "Some decorating can be combined later on," says Kwon, "but the big issue in interior design is space planning and understanding the needs of individuals."

Blueprint for Better Health

Designers must also consider building codes and regulatory requirements. A built environment and its elements must be accessible to all people, with or without disabilities—a concept broadly referred to as universal design. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was a key document ensuring that commercial spaces have different accessibility requirements than residential facilities, and that building codes in healthcare facilities make those facilities safer for everyone.

Miyoung Hong
Miyoung Hong

No matter how sophisticated the design, a hospital remains a place few people want to stay. Yet a hospital's environment can also have an impact on a patient's well being. For instance, in the ER, the location of things as benign as a sink and bed can influence the communication between a patient and physician. In a traditional room, the sink where physicians often scrub their hands before working with patients is situated in a way that makes it difficult for them to maintain eye contact with patients lying in bed. If the orientation of the sink is adjusted to allow eye contact, physicians and patients can communicate more effectively. "Everything in real life is shaped by the little details of interior design," says Miyoung Hong, assistant professor of interior design. Hong teaches how space can be used to optimize healthcare delivery while making services more affordable and accessible.

This shift toward evidence-based design is redefining the way healthcare facilities are constructed. Consider these two patients: patient one has a hospital room that looks out onto vegetation, while patient two has a room that overlooks the parking lot. Which patient will experience less stress and remain in the hospital for a shorter duration? While it may seem like common sense that a patient's surroundings impact her health outcomes, only recently has such research into healthcare environments led to the redesign of patient units.

Like any researcher, designers must determine where there are gaps in knowledge in order to offer design solutions. "We propose a hypothesis and do a simulation and then we measure it—how different solutions provide different outcomes," says Hong. Once interior design components are implemented, designers conduct a post-occupancy evaluation. These findings are later disseminated in the academic and industry literature to other academics, researchers, and builders.

Prototype design Prototype design
Hyun Joo Kwon, assistant professor of interior design, created prototype designs of multifamily housing with features that are helpful for aging baby boomers.

Both healthcare and eldercare design begin with the careful study of clients. Each client's lifestyle is examined through analysis, observation, and surveys, and these data serve as the building blocks of a design. For example, before creating a prototype of multifamily housing for older adults, Kwon conducted a focus-group interview of residents currently living in this setting. In the process, she discovered that most of the participants had moved from single-family homes, and were frustrated that they didn't have enough space for storage or hobby areas. Kwon used this information to create a prototype community that included storage space with organized shelves and drawers, as well as a small hobby space.

As hospitals renovate to integrate similar evidence-based design, students must be familiar with how to conduct research and use these findings in the design development. Miyoung Hong, assistant professor in interior design, encourages her students to begin a hospital design project by spending time observing in a waiting room. Her students note the color palette, artwork, and lighting of the waiting room. Students might also hand out a survey or interview those waiting. Research is a major facet of collecting information in the early stages of a project, and the findings can later be implemented in evidence-based design.

Let There Be Light

Lisa VanZee
Lisa VanZee

Interior designers use observation of human behavior and technology to improve the spaces they design, and in doing so, examine everything—including lighting. Daylight can be controlled through shades and blinds, and artificial lighting used to supplement natural light, but there are nuances to interior lighting design. During one of the first sessions of her interior lighting design class, assistant professor of interior design Lisa VanZee takes her students on a field trip to several campus buildings. They examine various lighting sources, such as LED lights, and sketch the floor plan and lighting plan, analyzing lighting in one layout versus another. "It's my favorite class to teach because students have been designing space, but have never considered the ceiling and lighting, and suddenly it all comes together."

VanZee, whose research focuses on interior visualization and replicating interior lighting design in digital simulations, did not set out to become an interior designer. Her parents are Otie and Rosemary Kilmer, emeriti faculty from Purdue's interior design program, and VanZee chose to earn her bachelor's and master's degrees in computer graphics. She liked working in three-dimensional rendering and animation, but eventually she realized the virtual world lacked the real-world application she desired. "I became interested in planning for daylight and the change of seasons and how to teach students to plan for this before a building is built."

Thanks to rapid changes in technology in lighting design, software makes seemingly anything possible. The software that VanZee and her colleagues use can accurately simulate daylight in a structure and how it will change over the course of a day and a year, as well as how artificial lighting will alter the overall illumination of a structure.

VanZee is also collaborating on the Living.Lab@Ross.Reserve, an interdisciplinary project with engineers, architects, and naturalists who are attempting to create a living building with net zero energy and net zero water use at Ross Biological Reserve. Interior designers are responsible for the interior core of the building, including the selection of sustainable products and conducting studies of daylight and artificial lighting to measure their impact on energy requirements and thermal design.

Lisa Van Zee, assistant professor of interior design, has modeled daylight in historic structures at different times of the day and the year using Ecotect Analysis.

As a project develops beyond a concept, designers must communicate with builders, architects, and engineers. Software such as Building Information Management (BIM) offers a common language and format to explore building design. A 3D model is created in BIM, and then professionals in different disciplines—structural engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and electrical engineering—can all access the model and enter their respective information. In AutoCAD, for example, you can draw a wall, but in BIM, the software then prompts, "What is this wall made of?" and "What side does the window face?" explains VanZee. Designers can put the building together down to the studs, and building professionals can use the model to extrapolate the information they need. This level of cohesiveness is important for VanZee, who can take a model she has designed in BIM and place it in Ecotect Analysis, sustainable design software that analyzes, among other things, how much daylight will enter a building through its windows. VanZee says she can assess the amount of light in every part of a building, calculate the total wattage per square foot, and determine thermal loads—the sum of all factors that change a structure's temperature. (All of the software products mentioned here are made by Autodesk.)

Design for Life

Each of these new faculty members tries to communicate to her students that designers work to help people enjoy better, healthier lives. Interior environments can dictate a person's activity level and mood, and can even influence health and satisfaction. "Sometimes students will say, 'I used this color palette or chose this design because I like it,'" says Hong. "But the thing is, it doesn't matter if the designer likes it—it needs to be determined by the needs of the client."

Future interior designers must be capable of addressing human needs, often before those needs have even been articulated. Whether a person is relaxing at home, dining in a restaurant, or recovering in a hospital room, interior designers are collectively trying to enhance a person's surroundings. "We're all trying to improve the quality of life," says VanZee. "That's the end goal."

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