Ten interior design projects by students at Virginia Commonwealth University

Dezeen School Shows: a housing project designed according to adaptive reuse and biophilic design approaches is included in Dezeen’s latest school show by students at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Also included is a project promoting wellbeing through interactions with nature and a museum that comments on racism in the US.

Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University
School: Department of Interior Design at VCUarts
Course: Thesis Studio
Tutors: Roberto Ventura, Kristin Carleton and Seung-Ho Lee

School statement:

“These studios are the culmination of year-long independent, issue-based design exploration.

“Students completing their final undergraduate and graduate years in the Department of Interior Design at VCUarts are challenged to explore how design can engage an issue or idea that has three tiers of relevance.

“First: the project must have relevance to the student to sustain the passion required for a year-long investigation.

“Second: the project must engage with an issue or need in the local community where the project is based – the vast majority of projects are situated in or near Richmond, Virginia, where the university is located.

“Third: the project should invite interest from the larger interior design community.

“Students develop research projects that include primary investigations of their own authorship, programming and site documentation in the fall semester.

“This backbone sets the foundation for developing a design response to the student inquiries in the spring.

“Ultimately, these projects demonstrate the values driving the pursuits of these students and the power and potential they have as emerging designers to transform not only interior spaces but our communities overall.

“We do not know how our students will engage with design after graduation, but we do know that they will all be citizens of our communities who will have the opportunity to build them for the better.

“Our hope is they put their passions and skills to use with interior space as their medium.”

A photograph of a beige wooden architectural model amongst dark green greenery.

Sacred Cultural Celebration Center by Sara Nicoletti

“In a world often marked by division and isolation, I believe in the power of community and culture to heal, inspire and unite.

“Inspired by the people of the Amazon rainforest integrating natural materials and having an intuitive approach to creation, this third place blossoms into a sacred environment where gatherings and playful exploration intertwine.

“Here, individuals discover solace, inspiration and a profound sense of belonging within a collective of fragments.

“This sanctuary stands as a symbol of inclusivity, where all are welcome to share their stories, traditions and laughter.

“Rejecting the notion of boundaries and instead embracing the fluidity of cultural exchange and coexistence, this exploration seeks to foster a sense of proximity and childlike experience.”

Student: Sara Nicoletti
Course: IDES 401: Senior Interior Design Studio II
Tutor: Seung-Ho Lee
Email: nicolettisc[at]vcu.edu

A visualisation of a building in tones of brown and white, against a grey backdrop of a sky and mountains.

Bee’ééhózinii Archaeology Lab by Isabel Dingus

“Archaeological dominance by major Western nations has often resulted in the dislocation of cultural artefacts from smaller countries under the premise of better preservation facilities.

“This project presents a solution to mitigate this issue: the design and implementation of The Bee’ééhózinii Archaeological Laboratory.

“Designed to be built with traditional practices and rapid deployment to diverse archaeological locales, it seeks to equip nations with the resources to independently study, conserve and promote their own cultural heritage.

“By doing so, this approach minimises the need for international artefact relocation, ensuring heritage remains in its Indigenous context – not only does this preserve historical value, but it promotes local educational opportunities and prevents cultural displacement.

“This design looks at the impact it may have if deployed to the southwest United States, where there is a rich cultural identity that historically has been stolen and erased by colonial practices and external interventions.”

Student: Isabel Dingus
Course: IDES 401: Senior Interior Design Studio II
Tutor: Kristin Carleton
Email: isabeldingus[at]gmail.com

A visualisation of an interior space with tones of orange, pink, brown and blue. There is a person walking through the space and behind them, on a white wall, are the words 'dedicated to getting you back on the field' in orange.

Alleviate by Mia Daniel

“Alleviate is an athletic wellness and training centre focused on improving the mental and physical performance of active and recovering collegiate athletes.

“Located at the abandoned terminal number three warehouse on the James River in Richmond, Virginia, this design caters to schools in a 20-mile radius and the voted three sports: American football, basketball and soccer.

“The design concept is based on chakras and their associated characteristics and elements – the crown, solar plexus and root chakras are the targeted energy points for resetting the optimal athletic performance and mindset.

“This design seeks to break away from the stereotype of elitist characteristics towards athletic design by putting mental health at the forefront to create a holistic design approach.

“For users, this place is intended as a journey of enlightenment and acceptance while gaining back self-esteem and confidence to help them redefine themselves as athletes.”

Student: Mia Daniel
Course: IDES 401: Senior Interior Design Studio II
Tutor: Seung-Ho Lee
Email: danielmr2[at]vcu.edu

A visualisation of an interior space with people sitting at tables and chairs in colours of blue, pink and yellow, with the same colours on the ceiling of the space.

Reflection: Cultivating Creativity and Healing Through Art Therapy by Caroline Ciccone

“This project explores the establishment and implementation of an art therapy centre designed specifically for elementary-aged children, providing them with a supportive and therapeutic environment where they can engage in creative expression as a means of addressing emotional, social and psychological needs.

“Reflection is encouraged in the space through design features that promote the overall health and wellbeing of the client.

“Within the City of Richmond public school system, 31.7 per cent of students are economically challenged and 13.1 per cent of students are disabled.

“Giving more resources in the arts and mental health support to students outside of their school environments was the goal for this project.”

Student: Caroline Ciccone
Course: IDES 699: Creative Project – Thesis
Tutor: Roberto Ventura
Email: cicconec[at]vcu.edu

Visualisation of an interior space in colours of white and pink, with people sitting at tables and chairs of the same colours. There are large lights over the centre of the space and a large glass window on the right.

The Collection by Camille Rovani

“The Collection is a third place library and cafe that aims to unify diverse people, enhance wellbeing and increase community connection in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

“Inspired by the shape of the existing building and its new program as a community library, the design explores books on a bookshelf as a conceptual interpretation for people in a building.

“Undulating and staggered volumes of space represent books while people are highlighted as the stories and substance because, just as books are nothing without the stories within them, spaces are nothing without the people who occupy them.

“The most critical component of third places is the opportunity for people to connect.

“Therefore, it was important to break the regimented levels through a three-storey atrium and a glass stair feature spanning all four levels to emphasise the unity of this diverse community bookshelf.”

Student: Camille Rovani
Course: IDES 699: Creative Project – Thesis
Tutor: Roberto Ventura
Email: rovanicc[at]vcu.edu

An image displaying nine visualisations of a building in tones of brown, blue, red and green, against a white background, each with small figures in the building.

Hands in the Clouds by Bryce Carlson

“Creativity is often misunderstood as a given talent rather than a skill.

“Creativity is developed by simply observing one’s surroundings, exercising imagination, making physical ‘things’ and engaging in conversation – it is a practice anyone and everyone can do.

“This project explores creativity by encouraging users to see the potential in the every day and look at their surroundings from a new perspective: to see both what is and what can be.

“Hands become the ultimate tools, household waste becomes raw material for making and obligations become opportunities.

“A ‘half design’ approach is utilised in order to provide users with the freedom to create and alter space as they see fit while providing a framework from which to build.”

Student: Bryce Carlson
Course: IDES 401: Senior Interior Design Studio II
Tutor: Kristin Carleton
Email: carlsonbd[at]vcu.edu

A visualisation of the interior of a space in tones of brown and orange, with a bar in the centre of it and arches and columns throughout, with people in the space.

The Mosby by Leen Sylvain

“The Mosby is a jazz club located within an existing hotel in downtown Richmond, Virginia, inspired by the city’s rich jazz history.

“Often misunderstood, jazz played a crucial role not only in African American culture and the fight for equality, but also in women’s rights and liberation, with its improvisation and unpredictability contributing to the liberation of all art genres.

“The Mosby aims to bring together musicians, students and jazz enthusiasts.

“Jazz is more than music, it’s a movement – the Mosby serves as a platform to narrate and educate people about Richmond’s jazz legacy and its historical significance.

“It provides an immersive jazz experience to the community, offering a harmonious fusion of music-inspired spaces resulting in a contemporary and sophisticated experience.”

Student: Leen Sylvain
Course: IDES 401: Senior Interior Design Studio II
Tutor: Seung-Ho Lee
Email: segolene.sylv1[at]gmail.com

A visualisation of a museum space with black bricks on its walls. There are silver statues hanging from the ceiling in red rope, and a person viewing them.

Destruction as Creation: The American Museum of Iconoclasm by Nina Gregory

“Iconoclasm, or the breaking of art, has existed as long as there has been art to break – however, the phenomenon is often associated with a barbaric ancient world far from US soil.

“Yet, Richmond, Virginia, recently served as the backdrop to one of the largest instances of iconoclasm in recent history when, in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, the city took down its public monuments depicting confederate leaders.

“This most recent occurrence brings up larger questions about the story of iconoclasm in the United States and how a museum should be designed to answer them.

“By investigating different methodologies and philosophies behind immersive museums, as well as the nature of breaking and being broken, this project creates an experience that is rewarding and impactful for visitors of all kinds while reintroducing empathy and humanity into a topic that has been wildly divisive for the nation.”

Student: Nina Gregory
Course: IDES 401: Senior Interior Design Studio II
Tutor: Kristin Carleton
Email: nina.gregory027[at]gmail.com

A visualisation of an interior space in tones of white and grey, with two large planters in its centre that have a brown wooden panelling with tall green plants in them. There are people sitting around the planter and walking in the space.

Inspiring a Ripple: Evidence-Based, Biophilic Design for Affordable Housing by Chelcey Dunham

“This adaptive reuse and affordable housing project, based in a 1930s concrete riverside warehouse, enhances community and individual wellbeing through evidence-based biophilic design.

“Research demonstrates that biophilic design characteristics enhance wellbeing in health care facilities, which suggests great potential for application in affordable housing.

“The concept of ‘ripple’ – inspired by the adjacent river and the metaphoric ripple effect of wellbeing – along with biophilic design informs all the design decisions that make up the project.

“A central courtyard is introduced to the rectangular building to satisfy the primary biophilic design goals of maximising natural light, access and views of nature – providing an outdoor community space, as well as exterior access and bilateral exposure to natural light for each unit.

“Indoor and outdoor plants, as well as recycled and sustainable materials – particularly those with a rippled form or texture – are specified for all spaces throughout the project, making this a thoroughly nature-centric design.”

Student: Chelcey Dunham
Course: IDES 699: Creative Project – Thesis
Tutor: Roberto Ventura
Email: chelcey[at]enlightenedinteriors.space

A visualisation of an interior space in tones of brown and orange, with large green trees and rocks throughout and grey pillars. People can be seen throughout the space.

A Walk in the Woods by Caitlin McLean

“Time spent in nature has been proven to have a positive effect on a human’s physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing, as well as fostering increased connectedness to the natural world.

“A Walk in the Woods explores the interaction between humans and nature.

“The path encourages visitors to interact with and experience the intersection of man-made structures with the encroachment of nature.

“A Walk in the Woods promotes the dissolution of boundaries between the interior and exterior, inspiring heightened environmental awareness and responsibility.”

Student: Caitlin McLean
Course: IDES 699: Creative Project – Thesis
Tutor: Roberto Ventura
Email: caitlinfmclean[at]gmail.com

Partnership content

This school show is a partnership between Dezeen and Virginia Commonwealth University. Find out more about Dezeen partnership content here.

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