In an era of soul-searching in UP in the early 1990s, the Interior Design (ID) program saw an opportunity to turn ID’s elitist image around.
It started with an insight. To Interior Design Professor Adelaida Mayo, ID should be seen in the context of basic needs. “There’s food, clothing, and shelter. Architecture deals with shelter, but where is its soul? It’s in the space people use. It’s inside. The shelter will just be the shell of it,” Mayo concluded.
Without proper interior design, that space is bound to get unwieldy. Worse, it could lead to health problems and accidents. That living space may not be livable.
Sadly, interior designers are left out in planning most low-cost and mass housing projects. Financially strapped institutions understandably omit interior designers from their roster of contractors, given their limited budgets.
Together with another professor, Raquel Florendo, Mayo ushered the new millennium in the ID program with a concept to address this gap. How about their Special Projects classes doing it?
It would be a more difficult task, a radical change from mounting exhibits of the students’ designs. But UP gladly prepared the students for such a challenge.
The move to democratize Interior Design started with student volunteers. ID 179 or the Interior Design Special Projects Class called on students to apply “the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired and developed during the first three years of extensive training in interior design (to) a special project of their choice.”
For a long time, ID students worked only in the studio. This was understandable as designing actual interiors and implementing them required a license, which students could not possibly have before graduation. They were compelled to simulate interior space, staging mock-ups of walls and ceilings and floors, furnishing, decorating and then exhibiting them inside halls, all of which was expensive. But all that went to waste once their works were dismantled. The students had no idea how their designs would have held up in actual use.
In their new special project, the students would be under the close supervision of the professors, whose licenses would take care of the legal requirements for the projects.
Grouped into teams, they helped look for project sites. They consulted with and proposed designs for screening by their professors. They coordinated among themselves to unify their concepts. Making cost estimates, they then set out to raise funds and get sponsorships.
In academic year 2001-2002, ID 179 Special Projects rolled out in eight cottages of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Reception and Study Center for Children; the clinic and therapy rooms of the Golden Acres Home for the Aged; and a model unit for Gawad Kalinga. At the end of the first semester, what had been dark, dreary, and beat-up spaces were turned into bright and proper spaces to welcome back children recovering from trauma, the aged regaining strength and positive outlooks, and the poorest of the poor reclaiming their dignity.
The bar was set for future batches. Since then, students have worked on sections of public hospitals and clinics; schools and dormitories; halfway houses and shelters for women, children, the recovering sick and the disabled; dance studios for the talented poor; libraries; and Gawad Kalinga housing.
“Caring for the sick child not only requires competent healthcare professionals,” says Dr. Julius Lecciones, director of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, “but also an appropriate healing environment in the hospital. With the use of smart colors, lighting, and design, the students were able to transform clinically drab and impersonal outpatient consultation rooms into a welcoming haven that exudes warmth, brilliance and comfort.”
“I can’t thank the students and the teachers enough for their sacrifices, work, physical struggles, and good heart,” says Donald Geocaniga, a Gawad Kalinga director. “They brought joy to seven families whose houses they fixed. They raised the level of their living. They showed the way in caring for the poor, as they volunteered their services to us.”
Beyond the gratitude of partner institutions, the students reaped other benefits. As expected, the students got to learn the practical side of their discipline and expanded their competencies into community work. Limited resources stretched their creativity. Also, they got the rare portfolio edge of having implemented designs on special sites, and getting critiques from the end-users.
“What they did gave us a place that is very comfortable for the body and beautiful for the eyes. Before, cleaning seemed to make little difference in our unit. It’s much better now,” says one Gawad Kalinga beneficiary.
“At night, we finally have the sleep we could only crave in the past. And when we wake up, wow! Our home now energizes us. I am now more active in serving the Lord, bonding with neighbors and other people,” says another.
By working on actual spaces with their beneficiaries, all the more do the students realize the importance of consultations, understanding the idiosyncrasies and needs of different people, temperance, and balancing aesthetics, function, and safety.
Students also get to feel they are very much needed in the world. By making a difference in people’s lives, they contribute to an awareness of Interior Design as public service, essential to the quality of life.