During summer 2016, ArtCenter provided thirty scholarship opportunities to members of DIY Girls interested in attending ArtCenter for Kids workshops in disciplines providing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Art and Math) educational experiences. Course offerings included photography, comic book storytelling, self-portraiture and architecture.
In the following Q&A, Architecture from the Inside Out instructor Chiaki Kanda—an ArtCenter alum who also serves as creative director of notNeutral, an award-winning line of home décor products from Rios Clementi Hale Studios—reflects on the benefits of hands-on making and creating as well as the highlights and valuable takeaways from her experience teaching DIY Girls.
How would you describe this class to prospective students?
Using simple cardboard, glue, paints and any found materials—students design and construct a dream home that reflects not only their individual personalities, but also the world around them from three different perspectives: the near (things we touch), the middle (the spaces that hold us), and the far (the settings we live in). This class encourages kids to investigate personal and shared space, especially in relation to themselves and to their classmates.
What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
I was fortunate enough to take this class over from the original instructor, Zinayda Reyes; and have kept the overall structure of the curriculum intact.
There is a great deal of work that needs to be accomplished for this class in a matter of five days. So the class time is really about direction and production rather than lectures. My take on the class has really been to encourage the students to consider the experiences they want to have in their dream home. Is it about fun? Or privacy? Or luxury? Or fantasy? Or all of the above? We also consider the context: What type of environment is the home in? Are there neighbors? Are they in a community with their classmates? I remind them that architecture can be designed both from the inside out, as well as from the outside in. There are plenty of factors and elements to be taken into consideration.
What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the course?
My goal is to open students’ eyes to the fact that every aspect of their built environment is a product of design—from their homes to the chair they sit in to the vehicle they ride in to get to class. I hope that, at the end of the day, they have a curiosity for the world around them and a heightened awareness of how these products of design are an integral part of their habits, routines and how they identify themselves.
How do you hope the experience will inform and inspire students creatively?
I hope this experience encourages the students to be open to experimentation, exploration, and interpretation. Hopefully this class gives them the confidence and the silks to continue to turn their ideas into some tangible form.
What are some of the assignments and materials you’ve incorporated into the curriculum that you hope will encourage and provoke students to challenge themselves and break new ground creatively?
I encourage students to bring found objects and recyclable materials from home. I remind them that being resourceful is an asset. Rather than starting from scratch or re-inventing the wheel per se, there is just as much inspiration to be found in objects and in creating a new world and context for or from them.
On the last day, we dedicate the final hour of class to presentations. This is an essential part of the class. I remind students that coming up with ideas is relatively easy. The challenging part is representing and explaining them in a manner that is understandable to others.
To this end, the students work together to rearrange the classroom and display their drawings with titles and their final model. Each student is asked to do a brief presentation of their design. This includes identifying the concept and walking the audience through their home and property.
What’s the importance of leaving one’s familiar environment to an art and design education?
Gaining a new perspective is always eye opening and allows us to gain insight into the assumptions we have taken for granted. The most fundamental example of this is something I learned from my high school art teacher. When working on a drawing, pause, flip it upside down, and place it against the wall across the room. You will see your drawing in a whole new light and be able to identify issues of composition and scale, and as well as light and shadow, objectively.
What were some of the most interesting ways students responded to their assignments?
I am consistently struck by how focused these young students are on their vision, yet how adaptable they can be when something does not work out as envisioned. I also enjoy when students respond to their “neighbors.” During the course of the class, students will make new friends and respond to each other’s design ideas, and share materials. They are naturally inclined to collaborate rather than design in a self-centered vacuum.
What were some of the biggest challenges they faced creatively and culturally?
In a class like this, where each individual is tasked with designing their “dream home,” sometimes there can be pressure to come up with the coolest idea or feature for the home. The challenge is to learn how to be inspired by and share ideas, rather than borrow them directly. This is where I focus on getting to know each student individually and challenge them to identify an over arching concept that is cohesive, rather than packing in all of the coolest, popular features, just because.
What were some of the most interesting creative outcomes that emerged from the class?
It is always a pleasure to see how, with the use of the same materials and the same scope, the range of students’ dream homes can take the shape of a reality based idea (a three bedroom, three bath home with a pool and two car garage) to a fantastical robot dinosaur. The kids will also have fun loving ideas about accessibility, implementing slides, trap doors, rope ladders, poles, and trampolines in order to move around the home.
Can you describe a few students who you think benefitted most from the experience and why?
The biggest challenge in this class is to manage students’ time and expectations. Many students may already be adept at constructing objects out of paper or creating makeshift dollhouses. The students and projects that benefit are the ones where they begin to understand the notion of representation. And that all exercises carried out in the class: the study models, technical drawings, and the final model all work together to comprise an overall representation of their design.
The model alone does not need to be a miniature replica of their design. It can be liberating for students to realize that the drawings and a short written description will help support and tell the story of their home as well as communicate the experience of living in it.
What are some of your most vivid memories from this class?
I am always excited when students are able to conceive of their homes in terms of the quality of experiences rather than just by the arrangement of the objects/furnishings/possessions that inhabit them. A notable example of this was when a student grasped the idea that an experience is not just physical and visual, but also auditory. She played sounds of nature in her final presentation that transported everyone to the home of her dreams.