News and Events

Improving Air Travel

Improving Air Travel

A cross-disciplinary spring studio sponsored by Textron Aviation Inc. invites students to reimagine the experience of flying.

Students in a cross-disciplinary studio envision how their interior design elements will work in relation to the basic dimensions and curvature of a Cessna jet. | photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

In a spring studio called Between Environments, Interior Architecture and Industrial Design students are completely reimagining the future of non-commercial aviation – envisioning specific users with changing needs and proposing long-term solutions to address those needs. “More than simply designing new interior spaces, we’re using a mindful, interdisciplinary approach to redesign the air travel experience,” explains Associate Professor of Industrial Design Khipra Nichols 78 ID.

Nichols and Interior Architecture Critic Michael Beaman are co-teaching the sponsored research studio as part of RISD’s ongoing relationship with the Cessna Aircraft Company, a subsidiary of Textron Aviation Inc. The current course builds on the 2015 spring studio, The Space of Flight, and a Wintersession 2016 research seminar that included Digital+ Media grad students.

In this spring’s studio, students are working in four cross-disciplinary teams to develop design proposals for hypothetical clients representing a range of needs. For instance, one group is considering the experience of flight from the perspective of a successful DJ who travels from gig to gig in his personal jet and needs to sleep and prepare for the next show during flights. Another imagines the needs of a working mother and Silicon Valley CEO zipping back and forth across the country with her baby and a personal assistant. A third team is designing an interior space for a wealthy family with young children and high-end tastes.

"We're using a mindful, interdisciplinary approach to redesign the air travel experience."
Khipra Nichols 78 ID, associate professor of Industrial Design

“Aesthetics are important,” noted Interior Architecture grad student Madeleine Devall MA 17 during an interim crit. “We’re envisioning a client who loves high-end, exclusive handbags for example. That kind of high-quality leather and craftsmanship should be reflected in the plane’s seats.”

One of the key concepts to emerge during this spring’s investigations is the notion of private aircraft as temporary home. In the studio, this has given rise to such universal design considerations as the importance of good lighting, private space and room for exercise.

Students are also exploring common ground through the need for adaptability and flexibility. “Each group is working on interchangeable elements that allow the interior space to be transformed to serve different functions,” Beaman explains. Movable panels could divide common spaces, for example, transforming them into private cubbies where individuals could rest or work online.

As the semester comes to a close, each group is working to combine the best of their ideas into a single model they’ll share with representatives from Cessna in late May. Students have already had the opportunity to get a general sense of the space they’re working with by boarding current Cessna models at T.F. Green Airport in nearby Warwick, RI. And in the studio, a plywood and foam-core cylinder that represents a full-scale section of the fuselage, helps students see how their interior design elements will work in relation to the basic dimensions, headroom and curvature of an actual Cessna jet. Aiming for full immersion, several students even camped out in the mock fuselage to get a better sense of the space.

As students develop their propositions for the next visit from leaders at Cessna, Nichols offers plenty of encouragement. “It’s great to see the collaborative methods you’ve developed,” he tells them. “I’m very impressed with how your individual talents are merging and creating a sum that’s greater than its parts.”

Related stories

Shaping Flight

Without a hint of hesitation, Caitlyn Au 15 GL zips herself into a protective jumpsuit, takes a deep breath and enters a pressurized wind chamber at SkyVenture, an indoor skydiving facility in New Hampshire.

The Feeling of Flight

For their final project in a studio sponsored by Cessna, students created an installation that transports viewers to a place where time and space seem to disappear.

Sensible + Sensitive Solutions

All 95 undergraduate and graduate student in Interior Architecture collaborated on this year’s five-day charette, a challenge to design a better classroom for young children with autism.

Radical Innovator

Hospitality architecture designer Sophia Chan MIA focused on possibilities rather than constraints when dreaming up the futuristic Broadster Hotel.

Finding a Natural Rhythm

Providence-based designer Miles Endo 10 ID makes custom furniture and lighting fixtures that reflect his love of natural materials and traditional Japanese culture.

Designing a School for the Arts

Students in an advanced architecture studio are exploring how highly specialized programming informs a building’s form and material character.

Preparing for Mars

An independent research project headed up by RISD’s NASA Coordinator Michael Lye 96 ID puts an entirely new spin on a space suit made for simulated space exploration.

New Leadership in Architecture

Amy Kulper, newly appointed head of the Architecture department, looks forward to collaborating with colleagues and building on RISD’s strengths.

Anticipating the Age of Passion + Purpose

As the keynote speaker at DESIGN WEEK RI, Anthony Pannozzo 91 ID offers an inspiring talk about the future of design.

Mindful Making in Japan

Students in a summer bike-building class in Tokyo absorb contemporary Japanese culture and design aesthetics while honing their skills as makers.