RISD Introduces New Sustainability Design Lab

RISD Introduces New Sustainability Design Lab

Photos courtesy of RISD

PROVIDENCE, RI – April 21, 2023 – Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is pleased to announce the launch of its Sustainability Design Lab, an interdisciplinary space intended to foster a better understanding of how low-impact design strategies can shape the future of the built environment and define a new paradigm for socially responsible practices that dismantle exclusionary narratives around material culture.

Made possible through the generous support of an anonymous donor, the lab will expand students’ view of materiality beyond the cultural tropes and aesthetics of current practice and question the impact of their design choices. The inception of the Sustainability Design Lab aligns with the strategic initiatives set forth in NEXT: RISD 2020–2027, which highlights the importance of bringing our combined creative energies to bear on today’s most critical social, political and environmental challenges.

“The Sustainability Design Lab will challenge our current relationship with land and the built environment, particularly as it relates to how climate change is intertwined with land use, material culture and the future of professional design practice,” says Landscape Architecture Department Head Johanna Barthmaier-Payne, who will co-lead the lab with Interior Architecture Department Head Wolfgang Rudorf. RISD students and faculty will work together to develop design methods that adapt to the dynamics of our constantly changing climate, as well as serving both the community and the environment.

“Interventions into the use of land and the built environment need to be guided by principles of sustainability,” says Rudorf—“principles that help to reverse the devastating effects of climate change.” Such interventions, he adds, must reduce the environmental footprint of the built environment while simultaneously promoting design justice and wellbeing for all members of the community.

The Sustainability Design Lab will offer an annual rotation of classes taught by faculty from the Interior Architecture and Landscape Architecture departments. These courses will focus on such topics as adaptive reuse, alternative energy, rights of nature, rights to commons, public health, justice for culture and the environment and land use. Through experiential learning opportunities supported by the lab, students will engage directly with people facing the sustainability and climate-crisis issues at the center of their research and work. Students will practice site observation and analysis, engage in workshops with local experts and meet with relevant scientists and community groups. Six graduating students from each department will commit to participating in the full year of studio and seminar work, culminating in a final research and design thesis.

The lab will also support public talks and workshops with visiting experts who will address sustainability design through the lenses of history, visualization, fine arts and the sciences. “Access to these experts is imperative for creating a global dialogue based on a wide range of views from outside our familiar disciplines and cultural norms,” says Barthmaier-Payne. “We’re enthusiastic about tapping their expertise to support the cultural and environmental competence of RISD students as they engage with places and communities that are not their own.”

About Rhode Island School of Design
RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) is a creative community founded in 1877 in Providence, RI. Today, we enroll 2,620 students hailing from 59 countries. Led by a committed faculty, they are engaged in 44 full- time bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and supported by a worldwide network of over 31,000 alumni who demonstrate the vital role artists and designers play in today’s society. Beyond facts and figures, what is the spirit of this community? Through a cross-disciplinary curriculum of studio-based learning and rigorous study in the liberal arts, RISD students are encouraged to develop their own personal creative processes, but they are united by one guiding principle: in order to create, one must question. In cultivating expansive and elastic thinking, RISD seeks to activate a critical exchange that empowers artists, designers and scholars to generate and challenge the ideas that shape our world. RISD’s mission, at both the college and museum, is not only to educate students and the public in the creation and appreciation of works of art and design, but to transmit that knowledge and make global contributions.