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A First Look at the NYSID Graduate School

After Dr. Christopher Cyphers became president of the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID), he set out to improve the institution’s programs and physical space, including a new Gensler-designed graduate school building that will house several new program offerings. The building is also meant to foster interactions between students and faculty and create a collaborative learning environment. Robin Klehr Avia, Vice Chairperson of Gensler and Managing Principal of the Northeast Region, talked with Dr. Cyphers about NYSID’s expectations for the project and how the Gensler design team met them.  

RKA: How does the new graduate school project fulfill NYSID’s mission and your vision for the school as the new President?

CC: When I was appointed president in 2008, the NYSID’s Board of Trustees, asked me to grow the institution through the addition of new programs, particularly at the graduate level. The board also asked me to find additional space to house these new programs, and to elevate the reputation and standing of the college. Our new graduate center is the embodiment of those mandates. It gives us the opportunity to expand our program offerings in new and exciting areas that also expand the scope of a design education. Our new offerings include sustainable design, lighting design, historic preservation, building management, and furniture design. My vision as president is to make NYSID an internationally recognized institution whose focus is on all aspects of the built environment.

RKA: What were some of the challenges you faced during the project process and how did Gensler assist you in overcoming them?

CC: The main challenge for us was time, or the lack of it. Once my board committed to this project, we had to move with incredible speed to select an appropriate site, identify an architect, and get to work straight away on the design of the graduate center. At the time, we were in desperate need for space to accommodate our existing programs and had a large cohort of new graduate students set to arrive in less than a year. We selected Gensler from a field of prominent New York firms not only for your outstanding work, but because we had confidence in the firm’s ability to deliver a superior and unique design under remarkable time constraints and with a relatively small budget. I was impressed by the thoroughness of the design process, which involved selling the design to the board of a design school, and with the accessibility and collegiality of the design team.

RKA: Is there a defining feature that speaks to the students?

CC: My favorite aspect of the design is its openness and the way one space flows into the next. That’s how our students move through and experience the graduate center. Each design studio is spacious and light-filled. There are no doors to the studios, just large, open portals. The corridors are wide and bright, with nearly every wall surface suitable for tacking up student work. The ceiling is at once exposed to reveal the facility’s infrastructure and defined by a steel grid work. This openness encourages collaboration of all sorts among students, and that is the essence of design as an academic discipline and professional practice. At NYSID we try to create an environment that removes barriers to creativity, allows teachable moments in the design itself, and encourages a level of interaction between students and faculty that is difficult to achieve in more traditional teaching environments.

RKA: What aspects of the new space best express NYSID’s brand?

CC: We are a design school, so it is important that every aspect of the space underscores our mission and reflects our aspirations to be a national leader in design education. This includes everything from the configuration of the studios to the use of technology to make the center as energy efficient as possible. We put great care into the design of the graduate center and the selection of materials and finishes, in particular, as well as the furniture and fixtures. The goal was to create “teachable moments” throughout the facility. We are a forward-looking institution, and that is reflected in our curricula. It was important that a space where we are educating tomorrow’s leaders in the design profession similarly reflects, if not helps define, the future of design education and professional design practice.

RKA: Why was sustainability important in the design of the new school?

CC: As an institution we not only espouse, but attempt to practice fully, the basic tenets of sustainability. This involves mitigating the effect that the built environment has on the natural environment. Our graduate center houses a program in sustainable design, and is itself an object lesson in designing and building an educational space that can be comfortable, effective, and completely “green.” This includes using materials and finishes made from recycled materials, using low flow plumbing fixtures, LED lighting, daylight harvesting technology, low VOC paints, an energy efficient water-cooled HVAC system, sub-metering of electrical usage to help monitor and modulate energy consumption, and the use of environmentally-friendly cleaning products. The building is registered as a LEED Platinum “Commercial Interior” building.

Learn more about how school design impacts student behavior by reading Philip Gillard’s post on the subject.

Robin Klehr Avia’s 34 years of design experience, 30 with Gensler, have set the foundation for her role as Vice Chairperson of Gensler and Managing Principal of the Northeast Region. She oversees operations, policies, for the New York office, as well as offices in Boston and Morristown, New Jersey. Ms. Klehr’s projects have been published in Interiors, Interior Design, Contract Design, Architectural Record, World Architecture, and Southeast Asia Building. Many received design awards, including Swiss Re, which won the IIDA Decade of Design award. Contact her at robin_klehr_avia@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (1)

It is particulary interesting to read about the description about the openess and encouragment of collaboration within the educational environment, issues that have been actively proposed and integrated within the workplace for years. "... create an environment that removes barriers to creativity, allows teachable moments in the design itself, and encourages a level of interaction between students and faculty that is difficult to achieve in more traditional teaching environments."

I think we can all learn from this project and use it as an example with our clients to show how that can successfully be applied in other practice areas. Well done.
05.20.2011 | Unregistered Commenterdoug wittnebel

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