Spatial Experience Design and issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Spatial design considers itself a global platform for design. We create for people of the world and look at our process as holistic. For us to do that, we must understand the value that each and every person brings to the table. That starts in the classroom with our broad origin of students, a diverse faculty and a focus of taking on projects of social significance. We are always looking to better understand how the creative process can make positive change in the world. As a Department, we believe everyone should feel safe, every single moment, of every single day. No one should live in fear.

What our journey as a department has been so far

Involvement: We are continuing our long-term involvement with Designmatters. We have been a major supporter of Designmatters from the very beginning in 2001. This relationship has allowed our students and faculty the opportunity to be engaged in humanitarian and social challenges of our time with empathy, discipline, and unwavering optimism to effect change. We have explored award-winning projects in Africa, Peru, Columbia, Chile, India, Thailand, Japan, China, and Costa Rica, as well as domestic projects in Los Angeles and Pasadena. These projects have allowed our diverse foreign and domestic students the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects from safe water, earthquake relief, low-cost housing furniture, Teens at Risk, Homeless Housing with the Mayor of Los Angeles, Homeboy Industry, Armenian Genocide Memorial, to working with COANIQUEM in Chile with young burn victims from all over Latin America working directly with families, doctors, and caregivers. These projects have allowed our students the opportunity to immerse themselves into other cultures to better understand issues and opportunities, but most importantly to build respect for other individuals, no matter color, situation, or need. Working hand and hand with key organizations on the ground, we have been able to gain insight, connection, interaction, and an understanding of the types of contributions we can make to a wide range of cultures around the world. Our students have continually expressed that these projects have taught them how to listen and understand the diverse needs of the individuals that we are working with and how to affect change in difficult situations. Most of these projects have been documented in either book or film form.

In Summer 2020, during the Pandemic our Department hosted “Strong Apart: Resilient + Connected” with Designmatters and Topic Studios: “Empathic Senses” and “Re-Wild: re-thinking nature in the age of social distancing”. For Fall 2020, we will be hosting: “Strong Apart: Humane + Connected Aging” which will focus on how we can co-create an approach to design spatial experiences that offer emotional, mental and physical support and care for older adults who are facing isolation due to the current global crisis? No one should die alone.

Involvement with TAMA Art University Tokyo, Japan: We have been involved in 14 cross-cultural projects over the past sixteen years with TAMA ranging from Earthquake preparedness, Disaster Relief, Aging Desires as well as looking at Japanese cross-cultural traditions around food, crafts, lighting, city infrastructure & wayfinding to questioning; what is Sanctuary?. These have been team projects pairing TAMA and ArtCenter students to share their backgrounds, cultures, and traditions, to interconnect and explore a wide range of topics. Our three “Future Craft” projects grew out of this relationship. These projects in addition to working in Japan allowed our students the opportunity to explore full-term projects in Thailand working with Northern Thai “Lanna” crafts traditions, in Shanghai with Tongji University, School of Innovation, as well as a full-term project in Shanghai with Neuni Materials Lab. In all these projects, our students engaged in extensive on-the-ground research trips immersed themselves into local customs and traditions, and worked directly with local craftsmen, major stakeholders and partner school students to co-create new opportunities for classic crafts. All of these projects are documented in either book and/or film form.

Involvement with Berlin TestLab Studio Abroad: Environmental Design co-created the Berlin studio with Nik Hafermaas, former Department Chairman of Graphics. This studio allows our students the opportunity to be involved with projects in a city with a highly diverse population and a wide range of cultural and social issues. It provides our students the opportunity to do on the ground research, identify opportunities and work directly on projects as diverse as social issues concerning Turkish immigrants internalizing into the German culture and educational equity or working with local artisans and brands to reposition themselves with a global perspective or being exposed to the newest trends in hospitality, retail and dining design with a world view. Sending time in Berlin has also provided Internship opportunities for several of our students over the years. Allowing a deep European experience for our international students.

Eco-Lab Sustainability Studios: Costa Rica & Joshua Tree: These projects have allowed our students the opportunity to better understand and design for a broad range of cultures. Looking into the influences of biomimicry and biodiversity to solve human design problems.

Celebrated Alumni: Fall 2019 We nominated Ini Archibong for the Young Innovator Alumni Award. He was an excellent example of creative diversity in our department. This award is for Alumni doing substantial work within ten years of Graduating. Ini graduated in 2011. He also received the Student Designer of the Year in 2010 from Stylus + Bernhardt Design American Design Honors.

Classroom projects: Giving students flexibility Since our students come to us from around the world and they we be designing for a wide range of places in the world, we will have and will continue to offer a broad spectrum, of the type of projects we explore. No matter what the nature of projects we are developing spatially, we must always be sensitive to the sociological impact of where we build, what we build, how we build and why we build. Whether it's housing for the Homeless, looking at new areas of social development around the world or working hand and hand with developing countries, we need to understand the social mores, traditions and cultural context of what we are looking to design and develop. It’s this understanding and sensitivity to people, culture and context which makes a project successful. In our upper-division Undergraduate classes, as well as our Graduate thesis, projects are ones chosen by our students based on their personal voice and career path direction. Since we have a strong amount of Designmatters minors in our department our students continually confront troubling issues in the world which range from mental health issues, discrimination, hunger, sexual abuse, educational equity, politics and propaganda. We must always be whiling to ask hard questions. Other students chose more commercial topics. Students are encouraged and supported to explore who they are as designers and which career paths might be their strongest next steps after graduation.

We are committed to building a “diverse faculty” not only racially, but also with regard to gender, ethnicity, nationality, and age. We will continue searching out a wide range of diverse faculty, who can inspire our students to create change in our industry. We believe it’s important for our students to experience a broad range of voices to enable them to define their own personal voices and role in the world. For our students to become change-makers, who are resilient, inspire new ideas and push the boundaries of innovation, our faculty needs to represent a full spectrum of individuals from around the world. We are dedicated to making change. While we are a diverse faculty in some respects, we currently have no Black representation. We hope to provide opportunities to transform the demographics of the faculty to better reflect the communities we serve and build an environment that will draw a more diverse student body.

rendering of a restaurant dining room

Take the next step toward a career in spatial experience design.