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Intro to Empathic Design

Intro to Empathic Design

In an introductory Interior Architecture class offered during Wintersession, students considered turning parking huts into temporary comfort stations for refugees.

“Imagination is… the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared,” says bestselling author JK Rowling. Interior Architecture Critic Patti Roka drew on Rowling’s words to inspire students in From This to That, a Wintersession intro to adaptive reuse for students unfamiliar with the Interior Architecture program.

Roka asked students to imagine how the city of Providence could respond to an influx of refugees by transforming the tiny huts dotting its downtown parking lots into temporary sanctuaries where people could bathe – to provide “a few moments of dignity” in the midst of difficult circumstances. She encouraged students to “wrestle with [each] building and learn what it has to offer.”

“The synergy among the students was wonderful,” says Roka, “and the depth of discussion and poignancy of the experience was palpable.” First-year students Enrico Giori 20 EFS and Sofie Kusaba 20 EFS responded to the assignment with work Interior Architecture Department Head Liliane Wong describes as “moving.”

Before coming to RISD, Giori used to volunteer at the Eritrean Center near his home in Milan, Italy, so he designed a space specifically for refugees from Eritrea. He extended the roofline of the building he selected to create a gathering space that would serve the community-oriented Eritrean population.

Kusaba focused on the Karen people of Myanmar, designing a plan that would remind them of home by incorporating a local water source ­– the Providence River – for washing. “The first door is automatic since the users may be carrying a lot of luggage,” she explains in her design brief.

Impressed by the thought that went into each design, Roka says that students showed the research skills necessary to provide “insights to help them make the appropriate adaptations to these tiny spaces, which is the essence of what we do in Interior Architecture.”

Sofie Kusaba 20 EFS.

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