Culture meets housing design

This year, students designed housing with Ojibwe and Hmong cultures in mind.

Allison Wickler

University third-year interior design students worked in pairs last semester to create culturally sensitive living arrangements for the Ojibwe and Hmong cultures, prevalent and growing cultural groups in the Twin Cities area.

The groups presented designs of an entire living community on display at the Hennepin History Museum through June 3.

Professor Tasoulla Hadjiyanni said this is the third year she brought her research findings about cultural needs in housing into her design classes.

The Ojibwe focus was new this year, Hadjiyanni said. Students worked with Hmong, Somali and Mexican cultures in the past.

She said the Ojibwe culture is trying to reestablish itself and redefine what it means to be Ojibwe, whereas other cultures are trying to retain their traditions within mainstream American society.

As a part of this, the students had to include room to perform crafting activities such as beadwork, blanket making and canoe making, with enough room to store materials, as well as an elder’s lodge.

Junior Tyler Stevermer said he and his partner, junior Rachael Rodeck, designed their space to accommodate Ojibwe socialization, as they sometimes host many unexpected guests at a time.

“A cousin might show up and expect to live with you for 90 days,” he said.

Rodeck said the assignment wasn’t just to create cultural housing, but spaces that someone from any walk of life could inhabit.

“No matter who you are – if you’re in a wheelchair, if you’re 90 years old, if you’re 5 years old – everyone can use this space, and it doesn’t limit anybody,” she said.

For the Hmong designs, junior Sara Kunau said space and features for religious ceremonies performed in the home were a focus.

Members of the Hmong community need the means to cook for and host 100 people at a time, she said.

Hadjiyanni said while they did not calculate exact costs of their designs, affordability and sustainability were factors.

She said there is a “genuine care” in the Twin Cities to actually implement more culturally-sensitive building options, but it will be a long-term process.

“I’m not expecting things to change overnight,” she said.

The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a non-profit organization that in part provides housing assistance to families in the Twin Cities area, maintains some housing primarily used by members of certain cultures, such as Hmong or Native American, said director for supportive housing Maureen Warren.

However, she said culturally-sensitive housing cannot be discriminatory toward any other cultures.

While the organization has an interest in creating housing that meets the needs of certain cultures, they still require housing to be open to everyone.

Kunau said culturally-sensitive housing is gaining ground in the design industry.

“There’s been the green movement and that’s really huge now,” she said, “and I think the next big thing is going to be cultural sensitivity.”