Teaching Residential Design Based on a Multicultural Education Ideology

Article excerpt

This experiential teaching method demonstrates students' enhanced understanding of the influences that cross-cultural perspectives have on the interior design of the home and is achieved through research and application of elements of assimilation and acculturation in the United States. Knowledge of human factors, family dynamics, geographic influences, religiosity, and spirituality gave students foundational understanding that guided their comprehensive designs. The final interior residential environments reflected the traditions, rituals, and meaning, demonstrating students' deeper knowledge and interpretation of cultural context and its impact on the design of the residents' home. Students discussed their learning experiences during a juried group critique of their project work.

Higher education is experiencing a transformational process regarding the approach educators take to incorporate multicultural education in curricula (Banks, 2007; Beacham, MacDonald, Yoo, & McFaIl, 2009; Nickols et al., 2009; Schmitz, 1992; Sleeter & Grant, 1994). Issues concerned with diversity and multiculturalism are addressed in teaching methods in most college and university classrooms (Banks, 2007) in order for students to obtain currency and relevancy of course content, which will help lead to successful occupational outcomes in the 21st century. Concomitan tly, design education is focusing on multicultural education as an important curricular perspective (Asojo, 2001; Rubin, 1998). Not surprisingly, interior designers in the United States serve a clientele that represents the changing demographics of the population. Therefore, interior design educators are challenged to adapt the curriculum, which previously had focused on Western European design (Sohoni, 2009) to one that emphasizes cross-cultural perspectives in design. To enable students to be competitive design practitioners in a multicultural society, design work must demonstrate their ability to translate the cultural meanings, traditions, symbols, and rituals into a design context (Gieryn, 2000).

Interior designers who are educated from a multicultural perspective have an opportunity to provide valuable design services to clients who are assimilated and acculturated in the U. S. (Sohoni, 2009). The processes of assimilation and acculturation are challenging because the two concepts may be viewed as somewhat oppositional in meaning. The essence of assimilation means giving up unique cultural values and traditions to blend in with the larger community. Acculturation can be described as a cultural group of individuals whose values and traditions have been altered by the influence of other cultures, yet are distinctly characteristic of that cultural group. Interior design clients usually wish to reflect their personal cultural values and meaning in the design of their home environments, however, professional interior designers seldom have the education or experience to integrate cultural understanding into their design, particularly of clients with a crosscultural perspective and background.

This article describes a teaching approach that adapted an existing multicultural framework (Banks, 2002) to a design framework by integrating concepts used in residential design with four broad cultural groups: (a) African, (b) Asian, (c) Latin American, and (d) Native American. The threads that weave these broad cultures together are the significance of nature and spirituality in the daily lives of individuals from these cultures (Andersen, 1977; Bourdier & Minh-Ha, 1996; Nabokov & Easton, 1989; Waterson, 1997). Nature and spirituality are two themes that are identified and discussed throughout the literature on design inspiration.

Nature and Spirituality

Nature and spirituality are two cornerstones of Christopher Alexander's exploration of the meaning of space in The Timeless Way of Building (1979). In addition, he highlights the key roles family dynamics and human factors play in the design of the interior environment in terms of layout and material application (Alexander, 1979). …