February 2, 2007

Design Students Chase the ‘Zeitgeist’ in MVR

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Martha Van Rennselaer’s new student center, Lounge 159, features a view of Beebe Lake and the North Campus skyline. The lounge was designed entirely by students, for students.

Lisa Staiano-Coico, human ecology, said she was enthusiastic about the prospect of employing the skills of Cornell undergraduates to create a space just for students.

“When I became dean, I was just so excited about how wonderful and creative our students are … [This project] is a great way to use the creativity and excitement of the students,” she said.

After Staiano-Coico decided to have students design the new lounge, human ecology faculty chose six students majoring in design and environmental analysis (DEA) to head up the project.

Although faculty advisor Rhonda Gilmore, DEA, assisted the students, she said the students drove the project.

“I said [to them] I really think it is important for you to be pretty autonomous,” Gilmore said.

“I would be part of their meetings, but they really took the initiative.”

The student designers began the project by coming up with a general concept on which they could base the design. They finally decided on the idea of the “zeitgeist,” a German expression that means ‘the spirit of the time.’

“‘Zeitgeist’ helped us think about who the students are, who they are now, and who they can be,” said Tiffany Peterson ’08, a member of the design team.

With that in mind, the design team created a multi-purpose lounge meant to embody the idea of sustainability.

“[Sustainability is] one of the biggest design drives that’s going on right now,” said team member Janice Yeung ’07.

Lounge 159’s designers tried to use green materials and incorporate recycling into the room with built-in bins.

Yeung said the lounge’s picture windows were meant to “bring the outside into the inside, bringing in the most nature, as much as we can.”

After the designers had created their central concept, they presented initial designs to Kristine Mahoney, director of facilities and operations in human ecology.

After refining their ideas, they presented the designs to Staiano-Coico and other administrators.

“It was as though an architectural team had come to give us a design

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,” Staiano-Coico said.

The project did not go entirely smoothly. Peterson, who had previously worked with a maximum of three students on DEA projects, was unaccustomed to working in such a large group.

“It showed us how we will be working in the future,” she said. “I don’t think I could have handled designing the lounge by myself anyways.”

Students also managed the budget, worked with contractors and “learned by watching it come together,” Gilmore said.

“They got to work with the people who brought the design into reality.”
Working with contractors also presented difficulties, Peterson said, “like when the contractors call you at 8 a.m. and say, ‘I need you in here.’”

For Yeung, staying on budget and dealing with a real-world project was hard work.

“It’s more challenging, since there are these other factors added to what we have in class,” she said.

Yeung and Peterson both said that, though demanding, the project was well worth the hard work.

“It was a long project, but I think I’d do it all over again if I could,” Peterson said.

Yeung’s sentiments were similar.

“I really like it, and it makes me realize that this is what I really want to do,” she said.