In the pre-dawn hours of Monday, March 19, on Florida State University’s expansive Landis Green, small groups of students will gather to complete a particularly demanding project for their studio design class. By sunrise, more than a dozen full-scale arches of every description will span the sidewalks that crisscross the busy heart of the campus. By sunset March 20, the arches will be gone.
But for 36 remarkable hours, each graceful arch—uniquely conceived and constructed to reflect a specific architectural period or noted designer—will surprise, engage and envelope the daily throngs on Landis Green who pass by or through them. It promises to be a cutting-edge display of artful design—and the public interacting with that design—in open spaces. In fact, the FSU installation may be reminiscent of the saffron-colored fabric “Gates” erected by famed artist Christo in New York City’s Central Park.
In this case, however, the intrepid artists are none other than creative teams of three to five first-year students from FSU’s “Design Fundamentals II” class in the university’s innovative interior design department. These undergraduates aren’t seeking fame and fortune—yet—but rather, an improved chance for admission as upperclassmen to FSU’s selective Interior Design Program.
“The Arches Project is playfully serious work by first-year undergraduate students intent on earning admittance to our first-rate Interior Design Program,” said Sally McRorie, dean of the FSU College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance.
“Interior design at Florida State is an exceptionally strong and highly competitive degree,” she continued. “Certainly not a program in ‘decorating,’ an FSU interior design degree entails mastery of codes, regulations and building systems as well as aesthetics.”
McRorie points to the enormous role of design of all kinds in contemporary life. “Nearly every product, environment and communication involves the work of a designer,” she said. “What more visceral way to make that work apparent to all than through this project, which serves to make one’s interaction with imaginatively designed outdoor structures so physically apparent?”
The arch is a particularly tough assignment for young designers: Each structure must encompass well-researched, accurately depicted historical styles; deep canopies tall enough to walk beneath; and materials resilient enough to withstand a spring shower. Though temporary, the arches must be sturdy—yet light enough for students to transport, assemble and dismantle by themselves, and in the wee hours, no less.
As the chair of the interior design department, co-creator of the Arches Project, and an FSU professor who has taught across the learning spectrum from first year to graduate level, Eric Wiedegreen declares his heart lies with beginning students.
“There is an excitement and energy from students learning the principles of design and the design process that is catching,” he said. “This project is ideal in that it weaves a multitude of learning experiences from basic research to real-world construction requirements.”
It also offers a rare opportunity for lower level interior design students to observe people interacting with their designs, Wiedegreen added—interactions almost forced in this case because the arches will span the bustling sidewalks across the entire Landis Green area.
“For an experience akin to Central Park’s ‘The Gates’ but right here in Tallahassee, a trip to FSU’s Landis Green on March 19 and 20 may be just the ticket,” he said.
The past year has been an especially prolific one for the renowned visual arts programs at FSU. Among numerous top national honors garnered, faculty artists Lilian Garcia-Roig and Mark Messersmith each won the prestigious Joan Mitchell Award for their lush landscapes; art education Professor Tom Anderson was named the nation’s higher education “Art Educator of the Year”; and a “green” women’s clinic design by undergraduate interior design student Bridget Dunn beat out entries from across the United States and Europe for the top prize in the 2006 Student Sustainable Design Competition.
To learn more about FSU’s College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance—home to the innovative interior design department—visit the Web site at www.fsu.edu/~cvatd/.