contributed by Michelle Rees, IIDA [UTSA Professor / Past President of IIDA Texas/Oklahoma Chapter]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Get ready for a pop quiz (don’t worry — it’s not hard): “If you’ve never been to Texas and have time to visit only one city, which one should it be”” San Antonio, hands down. From its pivotal history to its amazing food and wine, from nationally famous festivals to the number one basketball team in the nation, San Antonio is a melting pot of old and new, traditional and experimental. A perfect reflection of its dynamic home, The University of Texas at San Antonio certainly contributes to the overall metropolitan image of the eighth largest city in the United States. The fast-growing university currently enrolls a diverse student body of 26,000+, and its Interior Design program, which resides in the School of Architecture, is very well respected. It is for that reason we had one of the faculty share with you what makes them so good. And they are good.
I am honored to be a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) because our program is distinct in so many ways. Let me tell you how…
First, we are located on the downtown campus of the university, just minutes from the San Antonio River and amidst architecture spanning many time periods and influenced by numerous cultures. Students simply need to explore the city to supplement their design education and historical perspective. Director of Interiors, Susan Lanford, explains: “UTSA’s interior design program is fortunate to be in a unique spot at the downtown campus. San Antonio has been a crossroads of history and a meeting place for different cultures for centuries. Our program is deeply rooted within the fastest growing School of Architecture in Texas, and it is very exciting to see our students getting national recognition for their hard work.”
Second, an exceptionally multicultural student body makes for a vibrant environment and extraordinary design discussions. My students are constantly teaching me about the individual cultures and ancestry that influence their design solutions.
Third, it’s a benefit to have such a dominant design program in a major city. Most students live near the primary campus on the north side of town, and the urban setting allows for freedoms that many university environments do not have.
Last, but most important, the program is unique in the structure of the courses and curriculum. All students in the School of Architecture — interiors, architecture, and construction administration — attend the same studios, as well as many of the same lectures, for the first two years of study. Furthermore, the School of Architecture has recently consolidated nearly all of its courses and studios into one building, encouraging more long-term working relationships. As the dean of the School of Architecture, Julius Gribou, stated so well: “The link of all [of the] degrees encourages a collaborative environment that strengthens all three programs. This collaboration is beneficial, not only while attending UTSA, but in the future as well.”
After the first two years of shared studies, students are then accepted into the major of their choice. It is during this crossroads when they begin specialized studios to hone their basic design skills.
The interiors students begin their third year fall semester with small-scale residential and commercial projects, all of which focus on how building systems must be considered in the project solution. During their spring semester, we increase the scale of the projects, specializing in retail and hospitality design. The goal for this term is to have an understanding of assemblies and confidence in detailing customized designs.
The fourth year fall semester continues to build in project scale and detail. Assignments include a healthcare and high-end commercial focus. While completing the fall semester studio, the interiors students also attend a construction documentation course, allowing them to complete a full set of construction documents. We believe it is important that the student understands all the elements that must be considered to communicate and construct their designs. The final studio is left open to explore current issues and emerging design trends.
As you can see, the interiors studios focus on different aspects of the built environment and different project types each semester. This diversity of focus provides each student with a glimpse of the many opportunities available in the design community. While completing the studios, the students also have courses in interior materials, systems, technical drawings, computer graphics, histories of design and furniture, and many other lecture courses that provide them with the necessary knowledge to flourish in the studios and, ultimately, as a professional designer.
The Interior Design program at UTSA has achieved its six-year FIDER (Foundation for Interior Design Education Research) accreditation and consists of faculty with many specialized strengths to support each of the students aspirations. My background is predominantly as a professional, so I bring my real world experience to the classroom. I have enjoyed sharing stories of projects, clients, and project teams with my students.
We take care to emphasize both design and problem solving skills, as well as skills in time management, presentation, and life in general, all of which assure that a student will grow not only as a professional designer but also as a person. Without recognizing the importance of and then learning how to implement these fundamentals, it is very difficult to be successful at school or post-graduation. I want to know that when they leave my classroom, I have shared everything I can to help them achieve their true potential.
The best way to determine the value of the program is through our students. We have won many national competitions and enjoy continuing relationships with students following graduation. Karina Garza, one of my students who graduated in 2004, shares the following:
While a student at UTSA, sometimes I didn’t realize how my school experience would in any way relate to the working world, but now that I have been working in the design field after graduating, I realize that every aspect of my education is found in the work environment and the education I obtained is now invaluable to me. The curriculum that UTSA has put together is one that helps students achieve a well-rounded education that not only allows students to obtain a FIDER-accredited degree in Interior Design, but also prepares you for the working environment. If I would have to sum up my educational experience at UTSA in one word, it would have to be “extraordinary.”
I have had the luxury of forging friendships with many of my students and have watched as they thrive and grow in the design community following graduation. As a teacher, I enjoy supporting them in the classroom and in the real world. In this profession, you are always a student and always a mentor; there is always learning to be done.