The Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) Integrated Service-Learning Project (ISLP) is an expansion of the Interior Design Relief Project founded in 2013 to help the Long Beach, N.Y., community—a short drive from the school’s Manhattan campus—that was devastated by Superstorm Sandy. The program consisted of nearly 20 students and several professors who travelled to help rebuild destroyed homes. Proposals were created that included schematic designs and renderings, ideas for furnishings, and furniture palettes. From those residential projects, the team started to hear from different community groups in Manhattan that needed help as well.
FIT alumni Joanna Kraszewska, an interior designer at CallisonRTKL, and Lisbeth Jimenez, junior designer at TPG Architecture, are leading the ISLP teams for The Bowery Mission and Restore NYC design projects. The Bowery Mission provides aid and programming to New York City men, women, and children caught in the cycles of poverty and dependencies of many kinds, working to see their lives transformed. Restore NYC is a nonprofit organization that serves foreign national survivors of sex trafficking to help women gain independence and overall well-being. Its services include educating clients about their legal rights, trafficking, and community resources.
ISLP’s work at The Bowery Mission started with the renovation of the Women’s Center’s laundry room. “We surveyed the space, met with the
clients, created a proposal—this was the first kind of project where we could really implement design,” Kraszewska explained. “We changed floors, installed tiles, painted the walls; we did all of the work ourselves. We had some donations from different organizations and were able to hire a professional contractor to teach us how to do the work. Donated funds from Hope for New York allowed us to pay him.”
Restore NYC reached out to ISLP about a year ago. “They needed someone who could help them with their office space,” Kraszewska said. “There was a different approach here as a workplace project. We designed the entire space and configured the layout to fit more desks for more end users.”
Students worked on different ideas for Restore NYC with proposals that included varied renderings and layouts. Once the organization provided feedback on those designs, ISLP was able to implement what Restore wanted. “We painted the walls last weekend,” Kraszewska told i+s in mid-January. “We had some students and professors [help], and we assembled furniture that was received as donations from vendors in the field. After we connect to vendors, we link them up with the organizations we are working with. They don’t go through us, so it is more about making the connections. They figure out materials delivery, and any monetary donations go directly to the organizations. We commit our time.”
The students on the ISLP team go through the design process in the same manner they would in the professional world, so it is an ideal opportunity for career training. “We take it by phase (Programming, Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, and Construction Administration),” Jimenez explained. “Each client is different and the scope of each project varies, but more or less we stick to [the same process].”
Kraszewska noted how interior design matters in any space, even a place like a shelter or charity office. “Participating in these pro-bono projects may not be beautiful or include expensive designs, but improving the space can really change the way the people [who use it] are affected on a daily basis. Things like painting the walls are small elements of interior design, but they can improve a way of life. It is important, if you are able, to give your time.”
Jimenez added, “When you help someone through the environment they are working/living in, you are doing more than helping them. Designers have the ability to change the world—to save the world. To me, improving an environment is improving my own self. This improvement is not just physical but also emotional; there is something about knowing you made someone’s life better. The best thing about it is you get to be creative and challenged in the process.”