Nov. 30, 2007

Students design and build full-scale models for local retirement community

Cornell interior design students worked this semester to make life a little more comfortable and less institutional for residents of Kendal at Ithaca, a local continuing care retirement community. They conducted research and interviews, designed spaces and wrote up papers about their projects. But that's not all. They collaborated with the residents who had identified design issues, and then they actually sawed, drilled, sanded, constructed and painted four full-scale models as part of their proposed solutions.

The models, which were presented Nov. 29 to the residents of Kendal at Ithaca, included:

The projects were based on collaborations between two classes in design and environmental analysis: Professor Paul Eshelman's Intermediate Interior Design and Professor Gary Evans' Environmental and Social Behavior, both in Cornell's College of Human Ecology. The students in Evans' class served as behavioral science consultants, researching the needs of senior housing facility residents and developing design guidelines. Eshelman's class created the designs.

The project also involved learning about building materials, hardware, tool use, structural integrity and model construction, which included ordering materials, planning tasks that involved students from both classes and building in the workshop, and planning for their presentations.

"Many of us learn best when we have a problem that needs to be solved, [a] principle that underlies this teaching collaboration," said Evans. "People in a real environment share limitations and drawbacks of a setting they live or work in and ask our help to fix it."

Students teamed up from the beginning with Kendal residents. "The students actually set up dinner dates with them to learn more about the spaces and see firsthand what the issues were for the residents," said Esther Greenhouse, an environmental gerontologist who co-taught Eshelman's course.

"Before, the residents couldn't think of ways to solve logistical problems," said Cindy Noble, one of the Kendal residents who consulted with the students. "The students heard what we had to say and came up with very creative solutions. It was a win-win for everybody involved."

"The partitions we designed are intended to be arranged throughout the dining space to create differentiated dining enclaves, allowing for universal accessibility while providing visual and acoustical privacy [in Kendal's formal dining room]," said Melanie Gowen '09. This project afforded us the opportunity to create an entirely new brand identity and dining room scheme, complete with furniture and lighting recommendations and specifications.

"Design and Environmental Analysis teaches us to serve the greater community through design," she added. "We must remember that design is a tool for advocacy. Design is purposeful. Design is both a product and a process. Design can make a difference."

The project was supported by Kendal at Ithaca, Susan Milmoe '71, Living Environments Aging Partnership and Cornell's College of Human Ecology.