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The Studio Is in Session

Gensler creates a stunning new graduate facility for the New York School of Interior Design that fosters community and collaboration, and embodies the essence of the “studio” atmosphere.

06/01/2012 By Robert Nieminen



With the age-old paradigms of learning being challenged by new schools of thought that place the emphasis on a variety of learning styles and new technologies in dynamic, rather than static, classroom environments, the design of educational facilities is becoming increasingly complex.

Everything from budgets to codes, curriculums to campus cultures, and the need for both private and public spaces play a role in the programming process and inform the design of educational environments.

Now add sustainable design parameters to the mix, and keep in mind that the end-users of the project not only will be design students but also working professionals, and you’ll gain a new appreciation for the challenge the team at Gensler faced creating a new home for the New York School of Interior Design’s (NYSID) Graduate Center.

The nearly century-old school sought to create a new facility that fosters community and collaboration, and embodies the essence of the “studio” atmosphere. Sharing with NYSID a common passion for the promotion of interior design education, the New York offices of Gensler had a unique understanding of the client’s goals and focused on elevating them throughout the design process.

“As a design school, the fact that the space can be used as a teaching tool is fantastic,” says David Sprouls, executive vice president and acting president at NYSID. “Students are not only learning how to design cutting edge interiors—they are in one. The studio spaces were purposefully designed to encourage collaboration, and they do.”

Sprouls says the college envisioned the graduate programs as generators of the next generation of design leaders, who will in turn create and maintain a global network of highly educated and accomplished professionals; the design of the studios was fundamental to creating this network.

Although the chosen site was 40 blocks south of the current school, the design team integrated and articulated NYSID’s brand in a sophisticated downtown expression with references to its Upper East Side roots. The open, loft-like quality of the space lent itself to a flexible layout with expanded circulation and gathering areas for critiques and public forums, and allowed for the maximization of natural light in the studios.

Enhancing the expressive and inspirational atmosphere, the new facility promotes collaboration among students. Amenities and support areas include a lecture hall, exhibit space, student lounge, resource library and lighting lab.

“The idea was really about creating a mini-campus within this existing building as much as possible, and there was also a very strong emphasis on the project design as a learning lab, particularly in regards to sustainability,” says Maddy Burke-Vigeland, principal and studio director at Gensler. The 32,000-square-foot project recently was awarded LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and has become a hands-on teaching tool for students.

“The Graduate Center has also served as an exemplary case study for sustainable design in its specification of low-VOC materials, low-flow water fixtures and energy efficient lighting,” explains Sprouls. “We use it as a teaching resource in our sustainability courses to show the integration of interior designers with our allied design professionals (engineers, lighting designers, sustainability consultants, etc.).”

In fact, the amount and quality of natural daylight within the existing space was among the deciding factors in the site selection of the new graduate program. According to Burke-Vigeland, a collection of professors, administrators and board members, along with the design team, visited various sites throughout the city, and were struck by the quality of light they saw as they stepped off the elevators. “We had been to a number of places and this one really stood out. It really helped with the decision-making because of the importance of [the light], and the feeling that it would have a really positive impact on the learning experience,” she says.

Noting the well-documented, positive effects of daylighting on occupants—as well as the fact that the space benefitted from a number of north-facing windows—Burke-Vigeland also points to the need for quality artificial lighting to meet the needs of students who attend evening classes. “The other thing that we needed to think about was the fact that a lot of the classes are in the evening time, too, so good, quality lighting within the space itself to simulate daylight was equally important.”

The attention to lighting details has not been lost on the students either, many of whom are professionals working in the field. Sprouls says that they appreciate the amount of natural daylight in their studios, as well as the substantial pin-up space provided throughout the studio on tackable panels wrapped in Carnegie Xorel fabric. A white, gridded bookcase that separates the elevator lobby from the gallery space is used to display student models as well, serving as a kind of evolving display element for visitors to the space.

“Student work is always on display,” Sprouls says. “They have told us how proud they are to be working and going to school in such an aesthetically pleasing and visually rich space.”

The facility’s environmental graphics and signage program reflects not only the NYSID brand through the strong use of red, but also reinforces the school’s commitment to design education by incorporating images, furniture and graphic motifs commonly known in interior design.

“In the studio area and the gallery areas, it was a conscious choice not to use any color, because the color is the work,” explains Mark Morton, principal and design director. “It’s about the work that the students do and not about the interior design so much. We did use their brand color, which is red, but we used it at the entry.”

According to Burke-Vigeland, the new Graduate Center hosts a number of visitors, and has resulted in unique and ongoing learning experiences for everyone involved. “In this case, we’ve had the opportunity to be part of lectures at NYSID, to do presentations, and do ongoing tours of the space,” she says. ”So the exchange and partnering with an institution like NYSID helps us grow our practice, and was a really great opportunity for us.”

At the core of this project is NYSID’s goal of raising the level of its impact as a design institution through state-of-the-art teaching facilities and the reinforcement of its mission; that includes elevating NYSID’s national and international reputation as a prominent leader in design education by developing a project that supports its identity and brand. The new Graduate Center earns high marks for helping NYSID achieve its mission by providing a dynamic studio space in which the next generation of designers are free to explore new design concepts and showcase their creative abilities.



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New York School of Interior Design
170 East 70th Street  
New York, NY 10021
(212) 472-1500




project team
1230 Sixth Avenue, Suite 1500
New York, NY 10020
(212) 245-2762

Robin Klehr Avia, FIIDA,
regional managing principal

Maddy Burke-Vigeland,
AIA, LEED AP, project principal

Mark Morton, IIDA, design principal

John Bricker, creative director

Mark Thaler, AIA, project manager

Kate Sherwood,
AIA, LEED AP, project architect

Saemi Lee, LEED AP, designer

Korapin Thupvong, graphic designer


structural engineer
Robert Silman Associates, P.C.  

project management consultant
Jonathan Rose Companies

lighting consultant
HDLC Architectural Lighting Design 

sustainability consultant
Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

acoustics, av, it & security
Shen Milsom Wilke

code consultant/expediting
Milrose Consultants, Inc. 

The Alpha Workshops, Inc.

Mark La Rosa
Chris Leonard