California State University, Long Beach
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Students To Give Academic Services Corridor A Makeover

Published: January 15, 2013

Department of Design Professor Dorothy Ottolia is working with her Junior Interior Design Studio in a first-ever project to redesign the academic services corridor between the College of the Arts and the Beach Hut. It marks the first time the university has worked with its students on a project like this.

On its way to completion as early as the fall of 2013, the project employs eight teams of three students and one team of two students to create nine new uses for the spacious, low-ceilinged hallway. In December, CSULB President F. King Alexander, Vice President Mary Stephens and College of the Arts Dean Christopher Miles picked the best idea from the nine student team plans.

The junior interior design students researched, planned and designed an informal learning space created from a student’s perspective, explained Ottolia, a member of the university since 1999.

“This wide passage way is the perfect in-between space for socializing, teaching, learning and collaboration.” It serves as a major corridor from the College of the Arts Offices (to the south), to the Beach Hut (to the north) and the University Library (in the west).

“It is my challenge to make sure all the teams are different yet that they share the common goal of resolving this situation,” she said. “After teaching at CSULB for 15 years, I have never pushed students this hard. Their first project this semester was an international competition and their second was a post-production editing house in Santa Monica. These juniors are rising to the occasion. They are excited, dedicated, brilliant and here all the time. They are excited about this project because it is their environment.”

Ottolia feels real-world projects like this reflect the Design Department’s twin commitment to theory and practice.

“We are one of the few design schools who emphasize hand skills. Here, students still build models with their hands,” she explained. “We don’t want the students going to the computer until they can sketch by hand. These students are grounded. This is their budget. It is up to them to make it work.”

According to Ottolia, the students want to provide a place where they can study, talk, hang out and get to know one another.

“This place should inspire collaboration and creativity; it should be a place where faculty and students can gather before and after class,” she explained. Students visited the corridor on different days and at different times to observe how the campus community uses the space. They were encouraged to take photos, sketch ideas and interview users, taking notes on the architectural and landscaping materials.

Ottolia offered special thanks to Associate Vice President of Physical Planning and Facilities Management David Salazar. “He understands that students do not learn only in the classroom,” Ottolia said. “Learning can happen anywhere. Most of the time, it happens where we don’t expect it to happen. He saw a good chance to create a learning space in the corridor that also could handle overflow from the University Library or the nearby Beach Hut.”

Ottolia also expressed her gratitude to the project’s professional participants. “They see the benefit of working with students,” she said. “They know students are their future clients. They know it is in their interest to do outreach.”

Professionals volunteering for the project include the International Interior Design Association’s Pam Neiman, Armstrong Ceiling’s David Hovekamp, Armstrong Flooring’s Heather Vari, Philips Lighting’s Tracie Jahn, 3form’s Rebecca Koteen and Herman Miller’s Elizabeth Dea. Campus personnel include Salazar and Sam Mori, architect and director of design and construction services.

“These professionals are helping students who are as dedicated as they are innovative,” said Ottolia. “This program is very much about how we carve our own spaces. Students tried to appeal to all learning types. Some like to learn in isolation, some like to learn through collaboration and some by watching others. Our students are incorporating a variety of learning environments.”

academic services redesign plan

Technology will be a big issue. “There are three electrical outlets in the entire hall and, of those, only two are of accessible height and third is up high, Ottolia said. “Today’s students need electricity to use their new technologies. There will be surfaces students can write on with colored markers. They will be able to work in any means possible including technology.”

DeBorah Green is a design major at CSULB on her way to a Bachelor of Fine Arts in interior design.

“As students, we find that informal places outside the classroom are great places to collaborate with classmates and faculty,” she said. “The informality of certain spaces is ideal for teaching and mentoring and an alternative for students who would usually head home after class or to the library.” With seating, places to spread out their work and electrical outlets for mobile devices, individuals, pairs, small groups and teams can extend their classroom conversations. “The corridor is less than welcoming right now but one of our goals is to make this functional space user friendly.”

The project’s importance is no reason not to have a good time. “This is a very enjoyable project. We’ve been having fun,” said Green. “We’re very excited to be working with Herman Miller products as well as Armstrong ceiling and flooring. We’ve got a lot of great products to work with. We may not have as big a budget as we would like but, since architects the world over make that complaint, it becomes a good exercise for us. We’re learning to look at options. We can come up with ideas that we then pull back into user-friendly dimensions. We are learning to work together as a team.”

The student teams pinpointed user personalities such as the isolationist, the commuter and the 15-minute visitor. “I noticed the people who stayed for hours during long class breaks,” said Green. “One of my biggest surprises was the discovery that some students simply read instead of using modern technology. It was enjoyable to get in there and interview people. It was fun learning about a different environment. We also visited the campus’ newest buildings to compare them to this first building on campus. We compared the generational differences between exteriors and interiors. These gave us the impetus to make this space a cool kind of groundbreaker.”

To Green, the project pushes the edge of the design envelope. “There is a need to push yourself out of your comfort zone,” she said. “You need to inform yourself about all aspects of the design industry. We had a real budget with real parameters. We couldn’t go above a certain ceiling height even if we wanted to. What could we do for this space to make it cutting-edge and beautiful? In the real world, it always comes down to budget. That meant freshness within parameters.”

Ottolia believes the project is good for the Design Department.

“It will give some deserved attention to the level of achievement we have reached here,” she said. “It always amazes me when I discover how many special things go on at our university. Some of these achievements are happening 200 steps away but it is so easy to become involved just in our own discipline and miss what goes on in others.”

–Richard Manly