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IU interior design students get real-world experience with Lotus Foundation project

May 4, 2016

Juniors and seniors in IU lecturer Jonathan Racek’s interior design class put their knowledge to the test when they came up with ideas on how the Lotus Education and Arts Foundation building might take shape after renovations.

Jonathan Racek | PHOTO BY INDIANA UNIVERSITY

“It was a very real-world type of project,” Racek said.

The foundation’s building is at 105 S. Rogers St., and its current look doesn’t exactly give off Lotus vibes. 

“The building's lower floor had been a storage facility for many years, so what we acquired was basically a dingy concrete garage,” said Sunni Fass, the foundation’s executive director. “We have moved into the upper floor of the building and are now working to launch our fundraising capital campaign to make the lower-floor renovation possible.” 

To get some inspiration for the building’s renovations, Lotus solicited ideas from the interior design class as part of the nonprofit organization’s desire to offer opportunities for IU students to get hands-on experience and explore careers.

“In fact, four of our five permanent Lotus staff members are IU alumni,” Fass said. “We've been on the other side of the equation and know the value, and so we are all very willing to devote the time and energy to make these projects happen.”

For Racek’s class, coming up with specific design ideas to pitch to Lotus’ architect was a chance to apply course lessons to a project outside the classroom.

To make it happen, the students broke up into groups tasked with finding a solution to Lotus’ needs: an area for performances and art exhibits along with storage and office space. At the same time, Racek’s class considered how the building’s renovations might be tied to fundraising efforts, coming up with a variety of options ranging from low-end, cost-efficient renovations to more expensive alternatives.

Although they broke up into groups, each unit had to work together because altering one part of the building would inevitably have an impact on another area.

“I was in charge of the wall-storage system, but I couldn't just design a shelving system without asking the floor planning group,” said Jason Wang, a senior majoring in interior design. “The way we collaborated in the project is very similar to actual design practice, and it has been a rewarding experience for me to work with my classmates. A lot of brilliant ideas came from group discussion.”

While each space inside the Lotus building needed to make sense as a whole, the outside had to match the interior as well.

Lotus building

An exterior design for the Lotus Education and Arts Foundation building developed by Jonathan Racek's interior design students. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JONATHAN RACEK

For Yasmina Wery, a senior majoring in interior design, bringing the colorful, artistic world of Lotus from inside the building to its exterior was a fun challenge that ultimately took the form of curvy rows of Plexiglas. 

“It was really nice working on the façade and working as a collective group with the class on how to make the façade connect with the interior,” Wery said.

There’s no fixed timeline for the Lotus building completion, as the building’s renovations are tied to the success of fundraising efforts. But Fass called the students’ designs “inspiring” and said they’ve played a role in conversations with the architect.

“Even if we don't use any of the student designs in their entirety, there were details that sparked our curiosity and the architect's that may well find their way into our future plans,” Fass said.

No matter how the final look of the Lotus building turns out, Racek and his students appreciate the value of embracing a project with real-world application.

“Working with Lotus and having a real-life client that could potentially use our ideas was definitely a cool experience,” said Amy Cunningham, a junior and interior design major.

Watch a video Racek's students created to present their design ideas to Lotus' architect. 

The Lotus interior design project aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success. 

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