RISD is answering the tough questions about design education and the facilities that support it

RISD is answering the tough questions about design education and the facilities that support it

Inside RISD's new Co-Works Studio (RISD)
Inside RISD’s new Co-Works Studio (RISD)

This summer, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) launched a new master plan, whose concepts build on a strategic plan begun in 2012 to anticipate future changes and transform the way students interact and learn through the campus’s built form. Questions raised included: “How will art and design pedagogy change and how will this impact space needs?” and “How do we build new models of sharing and collaboration?”

A studio inside the revamped Illustration Studies Building (RISD).

To carry this out the school is exploring renovations, new buildings, and other physical changes at close to a dozen sites around campus over the next twenty years. It’s also reinforcing its commitment to studio-based learning, and strengthening its connection to Downtown Providence and the Providence River.

The first facilities to open (this fall) under the new plan are the school’s Illustration Studies Building (ISB), a combination of new and renovated spaces, Co-Works, a collaborative digital maker lab in Downtown Providence, and 189 Canal, a renovated building for RISD Apparel, the school’s fashion design program.

Students work at RISD’s new Co-Works space (RISD)

Co-Works, a 3,000 square foot storefront space in Downtown Providence (169 Weybosset Street) encourages interactive fabrication by students in most of the school’s departments. The space, formerly a bar in the RISD-owned Fletcher Building, was stripped to its core and re-imagined by Providence-based Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels. It contains, among other things, equipment for 3d printing, 3d scanning, CNC cutters, vacuum forming machines, foam cutters, industrial sewing machines. Often usual processes get “hacked” into something completely new, as students rethink how to use software and hardware.

From the campus master plan: new buildings in red, renovated buildings in orange. (RISD)

“The idea of having a glass artists seeing something a furniture designer or architect is doing is exciting around the circle. It’s become a wonderful lab for innovation,” said new RISD President Rosanne Somerson. “To create a space that encourages more crossover was more important than locating these machines in individual departments.”

Inside 189 Canal Street (RISD)

ISB, designed by RISD alum Ed Wojcik, updates and reconfigures one of the oldest (and outdated) buildings on campus into 43,500 square feet of advanced studio, classroom, gallery and home space. This includes a five-story, 5,600 square foot addition that opens up each floor and allows for several new facilities. Enlarged and revamped studios are flexible not just physically but digitally, as light colors, for instance, can be set for different types of classes.

Office dA’s Fleet Library is an example of a past wave of RISD building improvements.  (RISD)

The renovation of 189 Canal includes new studio, teaching, and classroom space for RISD Apparel students. The formerly-vacant 20,000 square foot building provides much-needed teaching and studio space for an apartment that was formerly housed in the school’s Auditorium Building. Responding directly to the master plan’s requests, the clearing of that space provided more room for Foundation Studies studios, a computer lab, a general use seminar room, and studios and offices for Film/Animation/Video.

“Rather than approaching this from the perspective of a building brief, we’re look at what can happen here, and what adjacencies can encourage collaboration,” said new RISD President Rosanne Somerson of the master plan. “How can the physical space also activate the curricular space?”

Raphael Moneo’s Chace Center at the RISD Museum. (RISD Museum)