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Rendering the future of design education

Environmental design students unveil plans in first-ever partnership with Phoenix Art Museum

If you had the opportunity to build your ideal career path at a pace and in a space tailor-made just for you — what would it look like?

That was the question design students at Arizona State University put to the test in the spring of 2018. The result: a creative-response showcase that will be unveiled at the Phoenix Art Museum on Friday.

Dubbed “The Experimental Room,” the semester-long project tasked students in the Environmental Design program in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts to grapple with what it means to design for an increasingly uncertain future in our human-made surroundings — and then come up with solutions.

“This year we started with something full of potential,” said the program’s coordinator, Elena Rocchi. “We’re seeking to teach lifelong learners who dream intensively, who want a hand in creating their own future.”

That future could mean a significant reduction in recidivism and a more educated prison population, according to the students behind one of the design concepts featured in “The Experimental Room.” In tackling the complex issue of how to create a system that keeps people in our free society, the group entered into a multi-step process that involved some self-reflection in the form of self-portrait collages, ethnography research, community engagement and creativity.

Under Rocchi’s guidance, students and their instructors built a hybrid classroom into the galleries of the Phoenix Art Museum, which also granted them access to texts and other materials. The articulation of their efforts manifested in a multimedia exhibit of wire-frame modules, illustrations, renderings and companion booklets that will be on display in the museum’s Cummings Great Hall.

The night of the exhibition, which falls on downtown Phoenix’s culturally imbued First Fridays Art Walk, will also include diverse performances from the students from 6 to 10 p.m., as well as unique and individual chairs — a lot of them.

Student designers will bring an object of personal significance to sit on while channeling the idea of putting down roots and getting comfortable in the environmental space they have designed for themselves and the community in which they live.

“We are invited to Phoenix Art Museum during First Friday to present students' dreams of their careers as a special exhibit,” Rocchi said. “We seek to weave ourselves and ASU more deeply into the fabric of the community.”

The debut of “The Experimental Room” at the Phoenix Art Museum marks ASU Design School’s first-ever exhibition partnership with the museum. It comes in the midst of an intentional redesign of the school under the directorship of design industry leader Jason Schupbach and the restructuring of the Environmental Design program. The program seeks to create a deep awareness and knowledge of issues that influence the design of built environments and the design of artifacts with focus on sustainability, innovation and technology.

If you go: 'The Experimental Room'

Where: Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave.

When: 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 4.

Admission: Free, as part of the museum's participation in First Fridays.

Top photo: A self-portrait collage by Environmental Design student Georgiana Costinean. Photo courtesy of Vincent Malouf