Cornish Interior Architecture Students Dive Deep into Design at Friday Harbor Labs

Genevieve Tremblay (Interim Chair, Creative Corridor) and Julie Myers (Chair, Interior Architecture) led a 3-day site visit and design challenge for the junior and senior Cornish Interior Architecture students at Friday Harbor Laboratories, a marine science research and education center on San Juan Island. In Fall of 2016, Cornish announced a new Interior Architecture program, led by founding Chair, Julie Myers. It has been a course of study for many years, but this year will be the first for this degree pathway.

This past summer, Tremblay spent two weeks as a Helen R. Whiteley Center artist/scholar in residence at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories. While there, she met with marine research scientists to develop several art/science public scholarship initiatives. Among them was this Interior Architecture Design Challenge. According to Tremblay:

"Since Friday Harbor Labs was moving into a design process for their San Juan Island campus, the timing was perfect to have our students contribute to that process through their research and project based learning. The students conducted a site analysis of the campus and focused on their design solutions on campus identity, programming of space, wayfinding and environmental design.

We approached esteemed marine scientist and FHL Director, Billie Swalla with this idea and she welcomed our students to Friday Harbor Labs. Such learning partnerships provide Cornish students and faculty with opportunities to connect their creative practice to emerging scientific research and to encite engagement with our community that connects to our broader mission of the college."

The IA students will be presenting their final designs at the Cornish IA Open House on Tuesday, December 13, from 2-6 pm.

Cornish content creator and student in Interior Architecture, Carrie Gerstenberger, documented the class’s site visit to Friday Harbor:

Last week Cornish’s Interior Architecture Experience Studio student adventured to the San Juan Islands for a multiple night stay. We (seniors and juniors)  stayed in cozy log cabins on the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs campus, which is the site for this semester’s studio. During our intellectually stimulating visit we used hands-on learning to study how to assess and evaluate a site. 

“Researching a space online and actually experiencing it with all five senses is completely different. Getting to know the energy of the site and talk with the people
 is something you just can’t pick up on through the internet.”
                  – Valerie  Ross ’18.

Many school project sites are located across the country or even on other continents. The students generally can’t experience and participate with the culture of the site to understand it as a whole. Julie Myers, the chair of the department, truly believes that experience is the truest form of learning.

On October 2, our class boarded the ferry in Anacortes, WA and sailed for an 1.5 hours to Friday Harbor to University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs (FHL) where we were welcomed by Julie Myers and Genevieve Tremblay, who arrived a day early to prepare for our immersive design studio. During the day, we toured FHL campus, sketching, collecting organic matter (where permitted), and taking notes from impromptu lectures. The other student cohort from Northeastern Univeristy who were there for a semester study in marine biology invited our class to go “nightlighting”, which involvles submerging lights into the water to attract fish for collection and further study.

Our trip was integrated with the Experience Studio (Carrie...you want to explain what the Experience Studio is here). The seniors focused their attention on designing a welcome center and student hub for Friday Harbor Labs, complete with a lecture hall, lounge and café. Working together, we created a base plan in AutoCAD and Revit. We shared our collective research efforts (demographics, user research, interviews, site photos and design ideas) that we conducted during our stay. These collaborative efforts in the beginning stages of the design process help us to produce more powerful individual concepts. The Juniors are currently immersed in the Design Development (DD) stage of interior architectural planning,  where they are learning how to begin the process of ideation.

Visiting the project site and learning about this unique research community first hand, provided tangibility to many aspects of the project which would not have been possible to gather remotely. The design process of Interior Architecture can be taken in many directions, as it goes far beyond simply decorations or surface finishes. Some students are interested in textile design, finding inspiration through nature; some are interested in product design and function, others want to program and synthesize data, so we are all supported in reaching our own professional goals in the field. Students are not limited by Interior Architecture, but supported in reaching each personal goals. 

Our Friday Harbor Labs Design Challenge is the immersive learning that inspires creative thinking and links our traditional studio practice with a relevant, real-world challenge. It exemplifies the work we do in our IA Experience Studio and we are very grateful to Billie Swalli and her team at FHL as well as our Cornish faculty for this opportunity. We look forward to sharing our designs at our November 17 Open House at Cornish College of the Arts.


Carrie Gerstenberger '17 is a senior in Cornish's Interior Architecture Department.