How Academy of Art University Helps Architecture and Design Students Make the Most of Real-World Experience

Academy of Art University knows it’s crucial that students learn through practice, as well as through theory. That’s why each artistic department enriches its students’ curriculums with real-world placements. Not only do students learn from industry professionals and gain experience in their desired sectors, but they also form essential industry connections to kickstart their upcoming careers.

Here’s an example of how the Academy’s Interior Architecture and Design students have recently honed their creative practices through a collaborative project with CityBuild Academy and local, non-profit organization Five Keys.

Five Keys’ Home Free Project

Five Keys tasked the Academy students with an inspiring role for its latest initiative: Home Free. For this project, the students designed stable housing for wrongly convicted domestic abuse survivors. These survivors have spent years in prison and are now re-entering society. The students dedicated a semester to the project, putting the skills they had developed on their Interior Architecture and Design course to practical use. Together, they transformed an apartment complex on Treasure Island (San Francisco) into a peaceful retreat for 12 women to begin their new lives.

Finding Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is often a struggle, especially for those who suffered domestic abuse before they entered the prison system. And many don’t have anywhere to go when they complete their prison sentences. For these people, transitioning back into society after so many years can feel near impossible.

Rosemary Dyer is an example of one such prisoner. Not only have all her family passed away during her prison sentence, but she now has cancer. For Dyer, returning to society is daunting, to say the least. But she’s delighted that Five Keys and Academy of Art University have offered her the first place on the Treasure Island complex.

“You start from scratch when you come out,” says Roberta Goodman, Five Keys Home Free program manager. “We want to create a supportive environment to make sure that all the human factors are really addressed – housing, healthcare, applying to jobs, all of that.”

Apartment Design

The students divided into three groups to tackle one apartment each. The groups – Team Terra-Cotta, House of Hope, and House of Alchemy – injected sensitivity and creativity into their artistic efforts, creating homely sanctuaries for the women. The students enjoyed working on such an important community project and gained valuable experience from their first real-world clients.

“I was really excited when I heard that we were taking on the project,” says student Morgan Sandusky. “It’s a really important cause and these women are so inspirational – so we wanted to give them the homes they deserve.”

Team Terra-Cotta

Team Terra-Cotta recreated the colorful backdrops of Mexico and Spain by filling one of the apartments with vivid, warm-tone colors; native Bay Area greenery; and natural textures. They wanted the women to feel as though they were “retiring in a Spanish villa in the sun”. The vibrant apartment design is as far away from muted prison colors as possible, bringing a new sense of life and warmth to these women.

“We wanted the women to feel like they weren’t guilty – despite how they had been deemed guilty in court,” says Sandusky. “They weren’t guilty and shouldn’t feel guilty now. That’s what we wanted to emphasize.”

House of Hope

Meanwhile, House of Hope created a mid-century design, blending colors and materials that have been shown to reduce stress. The team’s modern furnishings offer all the home comforts the women need to live peacefully, balanced with a collection of antique treasures. These whimsical inclusions – like a record player and vintage gumball machine – represent the fact that worn things can still be beautiful, emphasizing how the survivors may feel themselves. These vintage items provide striking focal points for the women to come together in a comfortable, communal space.

“We named our team House of Hope because we think the women are the epitome of hope,” says student Bianca Melone. “We tried to prioritize what we felt the women deserved – so just thinking about the very top tier of what a woman living in San Francisco can have and using that as the goal.”

House of Alchemy

House of Alchemy took inspiration for their apartment design from “kintsukuori”, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by filling the cracks with gold. As a result, the team’s designs adopt peaceful Japanese aesthetics. They embraced natural, deep green shades with blush pink and gold accents. Aside from its aesthetic beauty, House of Alchemy also designed the apartment as an entirely ADA-accessible unit, incorporating handy amenities such as a roll-in shower and space-conservative, wall-mounted bench outside the entrance.

“Our concept dealt with the fact that these women had broken pieces – how can we bring those pieces back together and make them stronger?” says student Eryn Powers. “And those cracks are now seen as something to be marveled at.”

“Beyond Expectations”

Once the designs were ready for approval, the Academy students presented their plans over a Zoom conference with Five Keys staff and some of the previously incarcerated women. Many attendees were so overwhelmed they turned their screens off to compose themselves.

“It was so beyond my expectations. It’s one thing to just put some stuff on paper, but this was tangible,” says Sheila Von Driska, Five Keys Home Free communications consultant. “You could see [the students] put so much thought and love into this, picking out the whole theme of healing, of transformation, of living the rest of your days in the sun.”

“The thought that came to mind was, ‘What did I do to deserve such beauty?’” adds Dyer. “‘What have I done right in life that I have so many people around me who believe in me and care about me?’ [The students] were outstandingly creative – and they really made an effort to make us feel accepted, to make us feel worthy. I’m most looking forward to being able to call a place ‘home’. Not just a cell, or a room in a hotel, but a place where I can put down roots until I’m ready for the next chapter.”

Once the Academy’s students had completed their designs, CityBuild Academy arranged for its construction students to bring the designs to life. Five Keys hopes COVID-19 guidelines will allow construction to begin in July, ready for the women to move in at the start of September.

Academy of Art University encourages students to use their talents and skills to make a difference to the world. The Academy’s students give back to the community through meaningful partnerships with purpose-driven organizations.

Learn more about the Home Free Campaign.

About Academy of Art University’s School of Interior Architecture & Design

Ranked in the top 50 interior design degree programs for 2021, Academy of Art University’s School of Interior Architecture and Design offers a series of professional courses for aspiring architects and designers. Students gain a well-rounded understanding of design and architecture as they develop aesthetic, practical, and theoretical skills. This way, they can create original interiors that embrace creative approaches to materials, lighting, and special organization. In particular, students enhance their understanding of conceptual design, the design process, sustainable design, and portfolio preparation. Plus, students have access to the latest in software and equipment so they can enter workforces with a complete knowledge of state-of-the-art technologies. The Academy consistently updates its facilities so students can work with industry-standard equipment.

Academy of Art University recognizes that not all students can attend campus to complete their studies. That’s why the Academy’s revolutionary online programs offer the same high-level education that campus students receive, making a prestigious, artistic education accessible to anyone. Students can study on their own terms and even combine online and onsite classes if they prefer.

Every year, the Academy showcases the Interior Architecture and Design students’ works in its highly regarded Spring Show. Not only is this a great way for students to celebrate their work, but numerous employers also attend the show to scout new talent for upcoming employment opportunities. The School’s students go on to thrive in careers as project designers, visualization specialists, and building information management (BIM) designers.

Read more about Academy of Art University’s School of Interior Architecture and Design.

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