FIT Sustainable Interior Environments graduate students (counter-clockwise from left) Stefanie Krzyzamiak, Olesya Lyusaya, Christine Kwon, and Alina Coca with Andres, a Cooper Union graduate student and tour guide, at 41 Cooper Square in New York City.
Last summer, a small group of 10 design professionals enrolled in FIT’s MA program in Sustainable Interior Environments. But our journey began months before, as each of us was contemplating the idea of starting graduate work in sustainability, asking ourselves: Why do we care? And what can we do about it? For most of us this was to be a career move, driven by our strong conviction that there must be a more responsible way to design and build. The urge to find answers we could believe in and practice these every day is what brought us together.
The program began with some healthy debates over the societal impact of design. These discussions exposed both our commonly held and conflicting ideals of sustainable design. During the first semester, our assumptions about sustainable design were challenged and we understood that simply taking a stand for the environment and the people who live on the planet is not enough. Design lives within a context that includes more than just materials and aesthetics. We learned how to push past the limits of conventional design practices by exploring literature in such areas of study as behavioral sciences and policy studies; these readings revealed to us the incredible connectedness that takes place between design, people, and the natural environment.
While our classes give us the big picture strategies about how we can make a difference, it is the back and forth between our personal research and our collaborative approach that encourage discussions and fast-forward thinking. Collectively, we constantly ask ourselves: What resonates with us? What information do we select? What do we report on?
As working professionals that dedicate time outside of our workweek toward our studies, we are constantly navigating the inevitable hurdles of time-consuming research. This same struggle is reflected in the real world. Behavioral research and policy analysis are often lacking in the business of interior design because… well, it’s too time-consuming. Interior design is a service-based industry that depends as much on market economics as any other service. But so far the profession has failed to recognize the value of and necessity for research initiatives.
The business of interior design centers primarily on aesthetics. While it may be difficult to find conversations about behavioral research within most interior design firms, we must take into account that these tools exist in other industries solely to increase profits. Knowledge gained through research works! So if multi-national corporations’ successes can be attributed to extensive social research, then we can take this same model to impact the growth of sustainability and build healthier environments.
While we are in grad school to explore what “endures,” we know that we have to break the current modus operandi in order to illuminate both the themes and pillars of sustainable design – Environment, Economy, Equity – and expose how these three E’s are not nearly enough. Research is what sheds light on how we have to look at the pillars of cultures, what Jane Jacobs identifies as education, community, sciences, family, and government.
The Sustainable Interior Environments MA program at FIT gives us the tools and resources to bring behavioral research and policy analysis to design. As a result, sustainable design no longer feels like a Sisyphean mission to us. And while we can’t predict the future, we hope we can set the pace for research to take place in the interior design field.
Stefanie Krzyzamiak is an interior and home textile designer. You may contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.