4th Year: Interiors Design Build Project

4th Year: Interiors Design Build Project

Advanced Digital Tools were the focus of study for a 4th year studio project in the University of Texas at San Antonio’s (UTSA) interior design program. The objective of this course was to introduce students to the emerging trends of digital design and fabrication, methods that are becoming more and more pervasive in the A & D industry. The thirteen seniors in this studio were required to utilize parametric software to design and potentially fabricate a small scale project – a ‘student retreat’ and lounge space to occupy one of the college’s many studio spaces. 

The studio, co-taught by faculty Curtis Fish and Diane Hays, was divided into two phases: an academic exercise exploring parametric design and fabrication methods (the first time for some students) followed by the full-scale construction of a selected project using the college’s CNC router. Initially, five student teams designed lounge spaces for a variety of sites within the college. Students were required to consider three major conceptual ideas in their projects: transformative processes including folding, segmentation, molding, and tessellation; structural ideas of frame and skin; and finally, a study of the relationship between architecture and furniture.

At mid-semester, a  panel of outside reviewers selected one project for its strong conceptual idea of juxtaposing a regimented paneled frame enclosing a free-form fiberglass shell, its interesting mix of materials, and its purpose to promote ‘community’ among a multitude of studio sections all housed  within the large open freshman studios space. A panicked realization quickly set in following the project selection as discussions focused on the realities of actual building. Next began the serious preparation of quantifying  materials  and costs, solicitation of expert advice from area professionals for detailing and  connections, identification of  tools and methods, understanding of the construction sequencing, preparation of construction documents required to interface with the CNC routing software, completing shop safety training, estimating time demands for the CNC router to be shared with three other classes,  identifying staging areas within the building, logistics of moving materials and components into designated work spaces, and identifying and recruiting professional partners to assist in specialty fabrication. Only seven weeks remained to complete the project before the end of semester and, more importantly, graduation in mid-May.

Students were divided between working on-site, preparing the plywood panels for assembly into the frame, and off-site at a local fiberglass manufacturer to fabricate the interior shell. As with most construction projects, keeping current with our schedule proved to be difficult — the studio met for only 15 hours a week and all students had full course loads and work schedules to accommodate. Our time frame was further complicated by delays in material deliveries, longer than anticipated fabrication time, mistakes, and a limited supply of tools, fittings, and available shop time. Our fast-tracking methods proved a challenge in regards to precision and coordination between components. With graduation looming, it became apparent that we would not be able to complete this project before the majority of participating students left to begin their professional careers. Work continued into the summer months with the students who stayed in town and others who volunteered to help out when available. The student lounge was finally completed three days before the beginning of the fall semester and wheeled into place for the entering freshman class.

Student design/build projects are inherently messy, complicated, and exhausting — not to mention a coordination nightmare for managing faculty. Though the learning curve is tremendous, watching a project develop from conception to construction brings about a sense of pride and accomplishment that is hard to measure but well worth the effort.


Michelle Anderson
Nancy Arellano
Callie Arnold
Karla Fernandez-Mata
Jair Hernandez
Kelsey Hutchins
Andrea Lang
Sal Montez
Obi Obiekwe
Lola E. Ochoa
Paulina Ramos
Jeanne Tran
Saul Vargas

Curtis Fish, R.A.
Diane Hays, FAIA

Bommarito Group – major underwriter
Dror Baldinger Photography – photographer
Dimension Millworks – millwork finishing
IMI Design – fiberglass fabrication
Finish Masters of San Antonio – automotive finishing materials