Interior Design Students Gain Universal Design Experience

If there was a theme for the School of Interior Design’s 2016–17 academic year, it would be Universal Design—an inclusive design practice that considers the access, understanding, and use of an environment by all people, regardless of ability or disability, age or size.

universal design film seriesThe fall 2016 semester began with a Universal Design Film Series, organized by Associate Professor Marsha Cuddeback. Students throughout the school were encouraged to attend. The series began with a collection of five short films from the 7th International Film Festival: Breaking Down Barriers: Macropolis, directed by Joel Simon; Lefty and Loosey, directed by Zico Abrar; Minority Effect, a 48-hour disability challenge; The Interviewer, directed by Genevieve Clay-Smith; and Among the Giants, directed by Cory Tomascoff. The next installments featured Lives Worth Living, directed by Eric Nedel, and Passion Fish, directed by John Sayles.

The theme will continue throughout the fall semester with a visit from Judith Heerwagen, an environmental psychologist whose work focuses on the behavioral, psychosocial, and health impacts of buildings and on translating research into design guidance. Heerwagen is a research psychologist with the U.S. General Services Administration Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings. She will present a Paula G. Manship Endowed Lecture, “The Social Value of Design,” at the LSU College of Art & Design at 5 p.m. on November 2, 2016, in the Design Building Auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public.

The universal design theme really revs up moving into the spring 2017 semester. The Interior Design Student Organization will facilitate an empathy workshop—or universal design experience—open to second-, third-, and fourth-year interior design students. They are working with Cuddeback on a toolkit to help instruct students about aging in place by simulating the decline in abilities and senses over time. All fourth-year interior design students working on their capstone projects are required to adopt universal design principles in their specialized areas of focus.

Cynthia Leibrock, principle and founder of Easy Access to Health, will visit LSU January 24–27. Leibrock is an award-winning author, an international lecturer, and a designer with more than 30 years of experience. Her mission is to improve the lives of older and disabled people through design.

Easy Access to Health, located in Livermore, Colorado, offers consulting services in patient-centered design, planning for independent living, product analysis, and judiciary witness services. Prominent projects include the Betty Ford Center, the UCLA Medical Center, automotive interior design for Toyota, and a universal design exhibit—with Julia Child—in the Smithsonian. Leibrock has also completed a showroom for the Kohler Company in which over a million consumers have learned about universal design, and a “living laboratory” in Fort Collins, researching the environmental needs of older people.

Leibrock will deliver three lectures, including a Paula G. Manship Endowed Lecture on residential design for health and longevity that is open to the public on January 25, 2017. Her other two lectures will be open to students in the College of Art & Design and will focus on commercial universal design and healthcare interior design.

green mountain ranch

Associate Professor Marsha Cuddeback received a universal design fellowship at Green Mountain Ranch.

Leibrock also offers universal design fellowships for selected design professionals at her ranch—the “living laboratory” in Colorado. Cuddeback was one of the summer 2016 recipients of the fellowship, chosen for her research exploring commonalities of universal design and the sustainable built environment. Cuddeback spent four days in Leibrock’s home at Green Mountain Ranch, which features more than 200 ideas installed to demonstrate the complementary aspects of green and universal design. As Leibrock’s website,, states, “The house is visitable by wheelchair users and adaptable to tall and short users, to people with low vision and low hearing, to those who want to do rehab at home, and to those requiring a caregiver. All features are visually integrated, not advertising age or disability. More than half of these ideas cost less than $50 in remodeling or new construction.”

green mountain ranch

Green Mountain Ranch features more than 200 installations to demonstrate the complementary aspects of green and universal design. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Leibrock)

Also in spring 2017, the College of Art & Design will welcome the 2016–17 Nadine Carter Russell Chair—a rotating residency that alternates among the four schools within the college. The college has named architect Edward Steinfeld as the 2016–17 Nadine Carter Russell Chair in Interior Design.

Steinfeld is a registered architect and gerontologist with special interests in universal design, accessibility, and design for the lifespan. He is a professor of architecture and director of the IDEA Center at The State University of New York at Buffalo. He has directed more than 30 sponsored research projects, including two centers of excellence grants from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, one on universal design and the built environment and the other on accessible public transportation. Steinfeld serves on the Board of Directors of the Global Universal Design Commission. He has over 100 publications and three patents—many of his publications are considered key references in the fields of accessible and universal design. His current work includes projects on anthropometry of disability, development of universal design standards, design of a new demonstration bus, and development of new wayfinding systems for buildings. Steinfeld holds a doctorate degree in architecture from the University of Michigan and a professional degree in architecture from Carnegie Mellon University.

Steinfeld will visit throughout the spring semester and will present the Nadine Carter Russell Endowed Chair Lecture at the college on February 8, 2017. This lecture is also free and open to the public.

Stay tuned throughout the 2016–17 academic year for ongoing news about visiting professionals and lecturers, the Nadine Carter Russell Chair, and the School of Interior Design’s Universal Design Experience.