Interior Design/ Occupational Therapy Project

While I have posting about the wildly successful real life train station redesign project, other students in my class were working with interior design students on the creation and design of a hypothetical transgenerational mentorship community center. This was another example of the benefits of two professions working together.

My students were required to come up with the programming within the center, a list of items that would be needed to run this programming, and then to consult on design and materials two times after for accessibility purposes. The interior designers took the information and designed the interior space, chose color schemes, and picked out flooring, seating options, lighting, etc. When we came together, my students were treated as both the customer and the consultant. The teams worked together to make sure the design not only suited the needs of the OT programming, but would be accessible to all people. We analyzed materials for ability to create contrast in needed areas, lighting to reduce glare on older eyes, how far people needed to walk from certain areas to reach the bathroom they needed, child behavior control through design, inclusion of people of all abilities in each section, the sensory stimulation of colors/ carpeting/ wall treatment, etc., and the flow and ability to pathfind in the entire building.

It was a fruitful partnership. I personally saw many designs change from simply beautiful to beautiful and functional over time. The OT students commented on their amazement at the creativity of the interior designers. In fact, their creativity inspired the OT students to add more to their programs, since they learned so much more is possible with the right design and materials. The final products from my students suddenly included indoor herb gardens for their kitchen groups, study nooks in the quiet spaces, and even sensory swings… all features added in due to the creativity of the interior designer who first suggested it. OT students loved realizing when I said the sky is the limit, it was really true, and someone can create it.

I was fortunate to serve as a juror for the interior design students’ final products. Every group implemented every suggestion of the OT student. They also took the initial program ideas and expanded them every further, making the space much more dynamic than initially imagined. In their creativity, they designed spaces that were visually appealing, and when incorporating the accessibility related suggestions, suddenly had an area that was more useful and functional than they had originally imagined. My favorite example of this was the group who added swings in the gym area. They made sure to add a wheelchair platform swing as well. The OT students recommended the use of platform throughout, in line with what is used in sensory integration therapy. The interior design students had originally thought these swings would just be fun for kids; they did not know that it could be used to help a child regulate themselves due to sensory processing issues. But most importantly, every group genuinely thanked OT for their contributions.

As professionals, we do not need these experiences to teach us how to consult or design. But at the educational level, the students are already learning to value each other, a sentiment I hope follows both sides into their future practices. We could learn a few things from them and their experiences!

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