Reimagining RISD

Reimagining RISD

Zitong Zhou MDes 17 imagined a more efficient and cross-disciplinary campus layout in which every academic department would be housed in RISD’s high-rise at 15 West.

Every year graduate students earning Master of Design degrees in Interior Architecture harness their design expertise and knowledge of adaptive reuse to transform an existing structure of their choice. This year, however, Department Head Liliane Wong opted to put a new spin on the assignment, asking each graduating designer to reimagine a RISD building for their final project.

Annie Newman, RISD’s director of Planning, Design and Construction, introduced students to the project by sharing the Campus Master Plan and encouraging them to use it as a point of departure for considering specific interventions. She also served as a guest critic at the final critique in May, when students presented renderings and meticulously constructed models in Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery.

“The proposals test a wide range of design hypotheses,” says Assistant Professor Wolfgang Rudorf, “from creating an environment that supports urban wildlife to conserving energy to responding to the expected rise of sea level on campus. Each student challenged the status quo in his or her own way and posed thought-provoking ideas.”

Zitong Zhou MDes 17 imagined a more efficient and cross-disciplinary campus layout in which every academic department would be housed at 15 West, a 13-story high-rise on the Providence River that now houses the library on the first two floors, with residences for more than 500 students above. If two stories were added to the structure, it would be large enough to accommodate all 23 departments, with flexible spaces that could shift with enrollment changes from year to year.

“The proposals test a wide range of design hypotheses, from creating an environment that supports urban wildlife to conserving energy to responding to the expected rise of sea level on campus.”assistant professor wolfgang rudorf

Hobin Song MDes 17 focused on the Metcalf Building—a large, four-story former factory that offers studio spaces for several 3D fine arts programs, including Ceramics, Glass, Jewelry + Metalsmithing and Sculpture, along with a Furniture Design wood shop and the Textiles department’s Jacquard loom. Focusing on mechanical systems, he proposed a solar chimney that would draw air through the center of the building and provide natural heating in winter and cooling (with the help of “chilling panels” on the ceiling) in summer. The idea, he explains – inspired by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Building in Garston, England – also makes use of the heat produced by the hot shop in Glass and the kilns in Ceramics.

After studying the Campus Master Plan and considering the piecemeal way RISD has acquired disparate buildings and lots over the years, Simin Zhu MDes 17 opted to design a sense of campus unity rather than focus on a single building. She envisions a series of rectangular glass additions that would complement and visually connect approximately two dozen RISD buildings that were designed and built in different eras and are aesthetically unrelated.

“The walls would be transparent and made of two layers of glass,” Zhu explains, “and the inside panel could function as a touch screen and be used for conducting research or exhibiting work.”

Proclaiming the idea as “brilliant,” Rudorf points out the synergy that developed naturally as all 31 MDes students conducted research collaboratively. “We had them build their models to the same scale,” he adds, “with the intention of displaying them together at some point to create an overarching campus design.”

Simone Solondz

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