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Room for Improv(ement): Play, Improv, and the Design Process

Senior Interior Design Studio I, VCU Richmond

Faculty leader

Roberto Ventura, Assistant Professor

Student participants

Alsalama, Haya A.; Benesh, Carley J.; Brock, Max; Childress, Jacqueline C.; Cho, Esther J.Hartung, Promise B.; He, Lu; Horan, Katherine A.; Internicola, Lindsey R.; Jimenez, Julia S.; Kim, Loren H.; Kurien, Alyssa A.; McKenna, Meghan M.; Pforr, Mary E.; Riley, Meaghan M.; Royster, Melanie M.; Sherrod, Melissa A.; Zemp, Caroline E.

In this senior level studio, students explored how play impacts the creative process as they developed a performance space for the Richmond-based improvisational comedy company, the Coalition Theater. Though Improv and design might appear to be quite different, improvisers, like designers, create in real-time, responding to situations and generating responses specific to that moment. Improv exercises focused on play drove the educational experience. Two Coalition Theater founders introduced the students to improvisational techniques and served as clients for the studio. After this initiation, each studio class began with additional improv exercises which segued into a series of related design charrettes. Intended to facilitate the generation of conceptual frameworks for student work, charrettes focused on generating collages, timed in order to emphasize quick, instinctual responses to conceptual prompts. Beginning with two-dimensional found material studies, students abstracted the work into drawings before using planar and linear materials (analogues to conventional building elements) to transform the initial collages from two- to three-dimensional forms and spaces.

Once students began design development, their traditional methods - bubble diagrams, sketching, modeling, and space planning - were disrupted by additional improv experiments. Improv exercises emphasizing the blending of disparate elements inspired the fusion of conceptual three-dimensional work with the pragmatics of organizing interior space. These improv charrettes served as reminders to the students to stay firmly rooted in the realm of play throughout their studies.