Design students to remodel computer lab for Big Ten competition

The Big Ten Student Design Challenge will bring in students from across the conference to redesign rooms at their schools.

Lew Blank

Students at the University of Minnesota are vying for a $100,000 prize to transform a Coffman Union computer lab.

The Big Ten Student Design Challenge will bring together students from across the conference to redesign rooms at their respective schools. Students competing for the University began drafting their plans last Saturday to remodel the drop-in computer lab at Room B60 in Coffman, which is currently arranged with repetitive rows of tables and computers. Administrators hope the new design will make the computer lab more collaborative, and were already considering remodeling the room before the competition began.

“[The University is] interested in finding ways to transform the computer labs … away from the rows and rows of computers into … study areas that [are] conducive to group work,” said Jim Twetten, who works in academic technology at the Office of Information Technology.

Adding a collaborative design to the lab will help accommodate the needs of all students, whether they prefer closed-off group study or more open, collaborative settings, said Genell Ebbini, an interior design professor who is helping to organize the competition.

“The space [would] not [be] static,” she said. “It [won’t] just have a table and chairs. It should be engaging. It should be changing and adapting as the usage for the students changes and adapts.”

Students partaking in the competition began brainstorming renovation ideas last week, one month before submissions are due. The winning team will be announced in February, with the renovation set for completion next summer.

Multiple groups of students at the University are currently working on designs. The team with the best design will be nominated by the University for the competition, which spans other Big Ten schools.

The winning team of the competition will receive $20,000 from the Big Ten Academic Alliance for lighting, technology and other needs. They will also receive $80,000 in furnishings from Herman Miller, a furniture company that will use the results of the winning team’s project to influence how they design their furniture to encourage collaboration, Twetten said.

Even if Minnesota’s team doesn’t win, the University plans to use the students’ ideas to renovate the lab, albeit with a smaller budget, he said.

Although the students have not yet finalized their plans, the teams have begun brainstorming creative ways to make the room more collaborative and multi-functional.

Abigail Lundstrom, a senior studying interior design, said she was considering designs that incorporate natural light, plant life and artificial lights that display different colors at different times of day to align with circadian rhythms.

Other competitors were more focused on making the room versatile. Isabelle Snyder, a freshman studying design, said her team was looking into easily movable chairs, adjustable screens that can divide the room to facilitate private group work, tables with changeable heights and embedded TV monitors.

“I’ve been able to … really apply [what I’ve learned in class] to this project,” she said. “That’s been … super awesome to see — to be able to apply it to an actual situation, an actual project.”

For many students participating in the competition, the contest will offer them a unique opportunity to use their design skills in the real world, Ebbini said.

“They can actually see their designs come to life and come into reality, which is key because we really don’t get that experience at school,” she said.