Students’ housing designs made with cultures in mind

Kevin McCahill

Creating a culturally comfortable environment for the Hmong and Somali communities has been the focus of a class of University interior design students, and Saturday they presented their projects at the Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis.

The show is titled “Building Ties: Culturally Sensitive Housing Designs for Hmong and Somali Refugees,” and it culminates last fall’s design studio for the students. Their designs will be shown through May 2.

Professor Tasoulla Hadjiyanni taught the studio and has spent time researching the topic of cultural awareness. From the information Hadjiyanni collected during interviews and research, students were able to create their designs.

Designs were specific to the Somali or Hmong communities and presented ideas on how housing designs could work with cultural, family and religious issues.

Hadjiyanni said the research has been an aid in looking at cultural practices in the United States.

“It’s helpful to look at people who find themselves living in a building of another culture,” she said. “We are looking at how living in a typically American building affects cultural practices.”

Hadjiyanni cited the example of Hmong families, which typically cook with a lot of spices. Because of the open layout of American-style houses, the smells permeate the entire home.

Because of this, some Hmong families cook outside or in their basement, which can be dangerous, Hadjiyanni said.

Interior design junior Sarah Josephson said religion played a major role in designing the spaces, especially for the Somali culture. Because of Muslim faith, genders often are kept separate, which had to be considered.

Director and curator Jack Kabrud said the museum has worked with the University on projects before, especially those involving cultural and ethnic topics. He said the show fit in well with the museum’s goals.

The studio is important in getting students to think globally, Hadjiyanni said.

Hadjiyanni would have liked the students to see if the materials used were really cost-effective, she said, but there wasn’t enough time.

Interior design junior Laura Clark worked on creating the exhibit, which is part of one of the eight studios design students must complete before graduating.

Hmong and Somali communities are the focus of the exhibit because they are the largest immigrant populations in Minnesota, Clark said.

Many of the designs seen at the exhibit are meant to be possible ideas for low-income or Habitat for Humanity housing, Clark said.

Clark pointed out that in the Hmong community, families typically are large and often eat meals together in large groups and would need a larger dining area.

Interior design junior Brittany Heinz said the designs and layouts had to work for a Western family as well as for the Hmong or Somali culture.

“You had to look through two sets of eyes to see what works,” she said.

State senators and representatives were invited to the opening Saturday because of another issue involving interior design students.

Currently, there isn’t an acceptable licensure procedure for interior designers, and many want a certification process to create a higher standard for interior designers.

“Your neighbor next door, your little brother, they can call themselves interior designers,” Clark said.

Many architects said they don’t like the license procedure, but they already do much of the same work and don’t think it needs to be certified.

There is legislation being discussed at the Capitol regarding a licensing process, Clark said.

She said she also hopes the show will let people see there is more to interior designing than what is on TV.

“We’re trying to bring out what interior designs students do,” Clark said. “It’s always obscured with HGTV and shows like ‘Trading Spaces.’ They portray interior design in an unrealistic way.”