Advanced Specialty: Course Summary

Jessica Jae Ainsworth-Truong

| ID4440 Advanced Specialty Design | Course Summary |

This summary reflects my personal approach to the course and is based on the course description and competencies outlined by The Art Institutes International Minnesota.

This course covers hospitality design; I’ve chosen to cover restaurant design because of my particular experience.  It is the students’ final design studio before portfolio and graduation.  When I first started teaching the class, I focused on intense concept development; in particular trying to push the students to develop concept in ways they hadn’t before.  I felt it was my responsibility to encourage deep exploration before sending them off to practice.  I know that in many firms they would not get the time for deep discovery and I wanted to give them a last opportunity to learn different ways of looking at their projects.  With time, these exercises in exploration will help them get to a more fully developed concept in a shorter amount of time.

As AiMN began preparing for CIDA, these ideas were put on the back burner in order to provide the students with an opportunity to develop a full set of commercial working drawings.  I developed a more “realistic” concept development process and the course began focusing more on programming and working drawings.  I am pleased with the programming exercises, I think that they will also give the students more practical skills.  I am not as positive about the working drawings, because I don’t feel they have enough time and would be better served by a course that spends the entire quarter working on the drawings.

Two Course Foci.

Students discover new methods of concept exploration.  In the first iteration of the class, the first thing I had the students do is write down their definition of beauty.  We would go around the room and discuss the commonalities all of the definitions share and the specific image each person has to go with their definition.  They would then spend the first week discovering what they think is beautiful and trying to distill it down into its diagrammatical essence.

This was definitely a new way of thinking for the students.  I didn’t want inspiration images, I wanted an abstract thought.  Each student arrives at their definition in a different way, and I really enjoy helping them discover the best way to design with that in mind.  The best way to describe this is through personal stories.  For example, my student, Rey, was interested in circulatory systems – whether they were human, plant, or urban.  Every time she would describe the beauty she found in this, she would move her hands and fingers in a very particular way.  I encouraged her to build a model of her movements.  She sculpted clay, and one of her studies became the inspiration for her ceiling design and the feel of her restaurant (see Rey Bothun’s student work).

In the second iteration of the class, students got the opportunity to practice first person research skills.  The concept is more defined, but there are many ways to explore the programming process.  The first day starts with a site visit and experience.  I send them to a local restaurant in small groups to observe the space, the atmosphere, the food, etc. as they will be designing a hypothetical second location for this restaurant.  They also get the opportunity to interview a restaurant industry professional, usually I enlist the services of my husband, Hai Truong, who is the chef-owner of Ngon Vietnamese Bistro.  This is an interesting experience for them, because they often realize they are speaking with design terminology to someone who is not from that world and they have to modify their language.

I also have them play with space in an exercise I call “The Space Lab.”  I give them a handout from Time Saver Standards for Interior Design and Space Planning that gives standard dimensions for commercial dining rooms and bars.  We then use desks and chairs in the classroom to set up these “ideal” situations.  The students populate the situations as customers and servers to see how the dimensions really feel.  They augment the handouts based on their experiences.

The Project.

The project is for a small restaurant, about 3,000 square feet, in which they focus on the front of house design.  I have them space-plan the kitchen and prep area and we discuss special fire prevention measures and code required finishes, but they do not have to specify for these areas.  I have used two methods for the concept exercise for this project, one that is more abstract which focuses on defining beauty and one that is more concrete, focusing on a second location for an existing restaurant.

The students then prepare a comprehensive programming document based on their research.  This moves them into the schematic design portion of the course, where they develop two unique options based on their concept and research.  The design development review narrows the focus to one fully developed space and the presentation is to be geared towards a client. This is where the course would end with the more abstract/beauty concept direction.  In the second location iteration of the class, they spend the last three weeks creating a partial set of working drawings, including plans, elevations, and details of custom design features.


Even though I have taught this class with two different foci, the major goals I have for the students have remained the same.  They need to be Self motivated.  I only give points for large scale reviews, and although I expect new work at every desk crit, they do not receive points for them.  By placing the development responsibility on them, not some letter at the end of the quarter, I get a good idea of who has a future in design.  At this point in their academic career, they know the effort required to get a good product and therefore should be able to put out without external motivation.

I want to encourage the development of their own unique process.  Whether this is guiding them through concept exercises or giving them the tools to do programming research, I want the students to discover what methods work for them.


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