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Home » News » Designing a Better Future: IA&D Design Challenges Students with Social Engagement

Designing a Better Future: IA&D Design Challenges Students with Social Engagement

Published November 17, 2020

In the Fall 2020 semester, Studio 4 students in the Interior Art and Design program have been assigned the Big Box design challenge to harness their design skills and tackle social issues by envisioning vacant spaces to better support local residents’ physical and mental well-being.  In three short weeks, students collected information and insights to identify a need in the community, developed a schematic business plan and program of spaces, considered the code implications of the building’s conversion, and then offered a schematic design package based on their ideas. This year the students either tackled a 46,000-sf vacant big-box store or converted a former warehouse into a small-scale veteran’s home. Those opting for the big box store transformed it into a range of spaces including shelters for homeless and at-risk residents, community centers, after school and youth development program facilities, and food halls for local startups.

“The goal of the Big Box design challenge project is to show students how their design skills can serve as a force of good in their communities,” explained Professor Amy Huber. “The project asks students to think on their feet, while generating their own goals and list of deliverables. While the solutions are hypothetical, the questions they raise, and the assumptions they challenge, help to develop critical thinkers and future design leaders.”

“The 850: A Social Susainable, Foodcourt, Bar, and Lounge” by Savannah Sutter, Anna Nizzardini, and Molly Pearce.

Current student Aki Jones completed the Beyond the Box project, designing a 42,000-sf community center. Jones described the challenges stating that he underestimated the component of research required for a large-scale community installation. “I found it enjoyable to learn about this community and research and design non-hostile solutions for the community,” said Jones. “Research has shown time and time again that engagement in the communities, mutual aid, and providing the basic needs in terms of resources can reduce poverty and violence in communities. I greatly enjoyed creating a versatile space in the skeleton of this big box store. A massive gathering space, childcare facility, classroom spaces, offices, and open kitchen can provide kids, teens, and adults with many opportunities for community engagement, education, and entertainment.”

Jones designed the Smokey Hollow Community Center, a space that honors the historic community and serves the people, while addressing gentrification and the displacement of minority communities in Tallahassee.

“Designing one community center is not the ultimate solution to issues of systemic racism that have hurt minority communities for generations, but it was immensely satisfying to gather research and designing with an empathy-based approach to helping communities,” he explained.

“Smoky Hollow Community Center” by Aki Jones

If you’re interested in collaborating with our Studio 4 students in future years please contact Amy Huber at