Community Spaces By Design

Joan Giroux and René King collaborate to teach Interior Architecture students how to design spaces with a real-life impact.

“As designers, we have incredible power. We can listen to a client or a community and envision things that don’t currently exist,” says Design Associate Chair René King. This semester, she is co-teaching a new course with Art and Art History Associate Professor Joan Giroux called InArch: Civic Engagement Studio. This semester, the students' task is to research, conceptualize, and propose an interior design for the Broadway Armory, Chicago Park District's largest indoor recreational facility. The multi-use space, which serves the diverse populations of the Edgewater district, currently lacks one thing that the students will be designing toward: a teen hub. 

King and Giroux bring different perspectives to the students, many of whom are applying and exhibiting their design skills to real-world clients for the first time. “I see this kind of collaboration as an opportunity to bring education and raise awareness of issues that we need to address as a society,” says Giroux. “And it’s a great way of aligning the skills of the students with the needs of a community.”

On May 13, the Interior Architecture BFA students will exhibit their designs to the community of the 48th Ward for a Community Feedback Day. “This exhibition is the first time we’ll be presenting our ideas to audiences outside of academia and the design-mind,” says student Tom Monforti. “We’ll be able to address the question that the exhibition asks, which is: How do we make our designs legible to an audience?”

Interior Architecture student Tom Monforti.Student Tom Monforti looks forward to designing a space for teens, who he thinks can often be a “forgotten demographic” in the design world. Photo: Phil Dembinski '08

Most Design students work with fictional clients in mind. With this project, the students created their designs by incorporating data and feedback from various clients. The students presented their proposals to 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman and various community leaders. “You think you know what the design should be and then you talk to the clients and you have to adjust,” says Interior Architecture student Emily Skudlarek. “If we weren’t doing it with these real clients this work wouldn’t be accurate or impactful.”

This approach, known as human-centered design, is the backbone of the course. Giroux calls it a “set of messy negotiations” that keep the human—and not the designer—at the center of the design.

Madeleine Noonan created branding and designed this leaflet for the course.Giroux and King enlisted BFA student Madeleine Noonan to create branding and various assets, like this leaflet. “At school you have full control over your direction, in the real world you don't always get the final say,” says Noonan, who collaborated closely with the class.

King believes that the course teaches students to be problem solvers and to combine their design work with a social practice. “It’s more than just ending with a great rendering of an imagined space,” says King. “It’s more about having a tool kit that they can pull from for the rest of their careers to engage the community.”

Community Feedback Day: Teen Hub at the Armory
Saturday, May 13
10 a.m.—2 p.m.
Broadway Armory Park
5917 N. Broadway
2nd Floor Ballroom

In the fall, King and Giroux will co-teach a Big Chicago Class called Chicago: Access, Activism, Agency.