Two schools at the University of Oklahoma combine for class mixing interior design and architecture 

A group of University of Oklahoma architecture and interior design students worked together in a course that may soon have Oklahoma City politicians and city planners talking.

Associate professor of architecture David Boeck and associate professor of interior design Hepi Wachter teamed up to teach 19 interior design students and 18 architecture students how to design the senior wellness centers that were recently proposed in MAPS 3.

The course was taught in a downtown setting, using an empty space in the Plaza Court building on Walker Avenue. Architecture and interior design students learned to work together to design a building, a concept that is rare in the university setting, Boeck said.

"Collaboration is the name of the game. Interior design focuses on the inside of the space, and architecture focuses on the building form," he said. "We're trying to give them the experience of working together. This was their first experience at it."

Throughout the course, architects, interior designers, city employees and individuals from the OU Health Sciences Center visited the class. Each visitor provided suggestions and comments about each group's project.

"They came and gave some lectures on designing for the elderly from a physiological and social point of view," Boeck said.

One of the visitors, Clare Woodside, planning director for design firm The Benham Companies, said that he was most interested to see what the current thinking was on these facilities.

"(Senior centers) are not bingo anymore. They're very active. There are a lot of things going on in them," he said.

One trend among the student designs was that the building needs to be connected to the community, Wachter said. Some of the student ideas included a community garden, a farmers' market, a café that features slow-cooked or organic food, an organic grocery store, a coffee shop, an open lap pool and therapy pool areas.

"We wanted the buildings to be sustainable, with lots of natural light. People are getting older, and they may have vision problems. We wanted them to move around easier," Boeck said. "We wanted to design a space that anyone can use, whether they're small and young or older and restricted in health."

The main idea students had was that the building would allow the people to socialize and congregate in one space.

Woodside said that the students kept their ideas modern and mindful of the citizens who would be using the building.

"(There was) a lot of light, using more materials with wood. They didn't do a stuffy, retro design," he said. "Most of the facilities were very modern. I think that's totally acceptable for seniors today. Their idea is that there would be a lot of activity."

The senior wellness centers were not designed to be isolated. Each group was given a different space to work with, including spaces at Oklahoma City Community College, the Metro Tech Springlake Campus, Oklahoma City University and the Moore Norman Technology Center South Penn Campus, Boeck said.

The technical schools are all interested in having a senior center built on campus land because they see the center tying in with their students. Nursing, dental and sports medicine students may be able to utilize their skills with the senior citizens at the wellness centers. In turn, the senior citizens would be able to tutor students or perhaps take a class themselves, Boeck said.

Although they hope that the city will look at the student plans and get inspiration from them, Boeck and Wachter said that this project was ultimately an academic exercise.

"One big thing is how to work with other people, other disciplines like interior design and engineering," Wachter said.

The interior design students had to determine whether each building was safe while making sure they went along with the building's arc and design created by the architecture students, Wachter said.

While the designs are not part of the city's plans, Wachter thinks the students' designs have the quality to be considered as a starting point for the city or as an idea guide.

"This isn't like a pie-in-the-sky project. They were fairly practical about their approach," Woodside said.

The designs were made better by the fact that two different disciplines learned to create something together.

"It's a stronger design if the architects and interior designers stick together. They got the message strongly because they used that in their presentations. It made more sense. The interior fit into something real," Wachter said.

The students learned to work with members of the private sector and to create a dialogue between the city and the community.

"I think a lot of times people think these decisions are made in a corner. But we're trying to change that," Woodside said.

photo OU associate professors Hepi Wachter and David Boeck collaborated with architecture and interior design students to create the designs. photo/Maria Atkinson

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