Chair Design. Cecilia Vitas Volcoff & Arsenio Garcia Monsalro, Photography: Steven Heller

Editor’s Note-
In our previous “School Status” issue of the newsletter we inadvertently omitted the art center program in environmental design. Following is a report from Patricia Oliver on the school’s agenda.

The Environmental Design department at Art Center was born six years ago when the College was just beginning to recognize the need for cross-pollination of disciplines. What has evolved is a program that lives very comfortably in the gray zone: where disparate elements can exist in harmony.

Environmental design is the place where architecture and interior design overlap; where architecture and product design overlap: this is the design of furniture, lighting, and products that impact space; where architecture, interior design, product design and graphic design merge; where architecture, film theater and computer graphics merge creating environments for entertainment. We endeavor to teach habits of mind, curiosity, wonder, open-mindedness, and the capacity to think critically and creatively, which enable an understanding of process, the interconnectedness of things, and the ability to suspend judgment that become useful in designing in new situations. Ours is an educational structure that relies on interactions and interdependencies that are dynamic and consequently promote flexibility, which is essential to the process of learning. Enveloped in this endeavor is the commitment to craft and the discipline necessary to weave the critical process with the tangible qualities of the materials we work with, the tangible and often intangible imprint of technology and the unmistakable voice of the artist. Our department seeks to utilize the amazing technological resources of the College to expand the boundaries of the crafts in which we are immersed and to discover new ways to create environments and the objects in them.

To this end, Environmental Design students build a skills and knowledge base in the lower levels (acquisition), and develop those skills in the upper levels through experimenting, testing, and applying those skills in a variety of design situations (application). Midway through the program, students may select a specialization in one of these four directions:

ENVIRONMENTAL GRAPHICS combines the 2-D world of graphic design with the 3-D world of spatial design. It is the planning, design and specifying of graphic elements in the built and natural environment. Environmental graphic designers work on a great range of projects: exhibit design, museum installations, retail design, restaurant design, way finding, signage, public art, kiosks, and gateways. This term, students are exploring graphic and spatial possibilities related to the design of an immersive environment for the performance of classical music. Working with a chamber orchestra group, Stratos, students will attempt the creation of a new venue model.

The ENVIRONMENTAL PRODUCT DESIGN Track is a program that merges the disciplines of Environmental Design with Product Design to create a concentration of study that focuses on furniture design for the residential and contract furniture industry, lighting design and environments/products for domestic, commercial or institutional markets. Furniture design in this program is expected to impact the environment for which it is created or to create an environment integral to its design. The love of the craft is never abandoned in favor of style or in abeyance to technology. Students respond to context and develop an in-depth understanding of materials, always aware that their designs may determine the environmental landscape of the future.

ENTERTAINMENT DESIGN is nearly as large a discipline as environmental design itself. Consequently, environmental design majors concentrate on the areas of entertainment design that remain in the realm of the three dimensional/spatial world. Students graduating with an emphasis in entertainment design will work in production design, entertainment architecture, theme parks and location based entertainment facilities, 3-D game design and retail and restaurant design that is theme-based. There are few three-dimensional environments that are not affected by the public’s desire for visual and interactive entertainment.


With the growth of technology, the borders between the physical environment and the media have become blurred. The user of an environment can now activate the space they occupy in ways that have not been possible before. Interior spaces can be thought of as event spaces or spaces that move and/or respond to sound. The design of physical space is no longer restricted to the language of architecture but is now able to respond to the media phenomena such as morphing, sampling, scratching and zapping. With studios focusing on the interaction between virtual and physical space, we are only beginning to explore a new formal language. It is really a new frontier.

We feel that the Environmental Design department fills a niche in the Architecture and Design community. We are the field of crossover. Our curriculum is designed to reflect the actual practices of the faculty that teach it. A large percentage of our faculty are architects. Most of them have degrees in more than one discipline and many faculty have three degrees. We cannot teach a diverse curriculum without a breadth of knowledge among those teaching. The program is a kind of experimental architecture program where architecture per se is not taught, attending the gray area once so vital to the Bauhaus and long abandoned by many architecture programs in favor of explorations increasingly abstract and style-oriented. We celebrate our tradition of practicality and materiality, and we try to reinvent the ideals of the craftsman in a technologically oriented world. Our goal is to educate the artist/designer/craftsman of the next millennium.

Patricia Oliver

Airship. Eric Reiter – entertainment design 7th term, Oliver Schurleman – instructor, Photography: Steven Heller

Back to Late Spring 1998  Newsletter