Sabbaticals Strengthen Interior Design Program and Enhance Learning at LSU

LSU School of Interior Design Chair Jim Sullivan plans for sabbaticals to become the norm as the program continues to evolve and expand.

Jun ZouSabbaticals provide opportunities for faculty to set aside teaching and service responsibilities and focus solely on scholarship and research. An agent of rejuvenation and renewal, sabbatical leave contributes to faculty development, satisfaction, and productivity. Faculty members return with fresh perspectives, deeper scholarly work, and new professional relationships. Of equal importance, sabbaticals also enhance teaching by providing faculty with crucial opportunities to remain current in their areas of expertise.

In the fall of 2014, Associate Professor Jun Zou took sabbatical leave to focus on her research and to continue to build collaborative research opportunities in China.

Zou has been teaching at LSU since 2004. Her research interests are in Eastern and Western architectural thinking, their aesthetics, technologies, and the inherited ecological philosophies. More specifically, she works on digital technologies in architectural/interior design and practice with an emphasis on the study of interior lighting. She has presented her research at regional, national, and international conferences and published papers in peer-reviewed academic journals in the U.S. and China.

Her current focus is how the use of daylight and artificial light in interior spaces relate to habitation. She has been interested in the daylight effects on vernacular interior spaces since she attended the undergraduate architecture program at Hunan University, where her professors frequently stressed the importance of orienting buildings to face south. She didn’t question this principle until she moved to North America to attend the Master of Architecture program at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.


“I realized that south-facing façades weren’t a priority—or even a principle—in North American design at all, and I began questioning why it was so important in Chinese architecture,” Zou explained. “Could it be connected to energy conservation, or do different cultures place more or less value on the use of daylight?”

Before her sabbatical leave, Zou drafted a research paper, “Daylight Effects on Vernacular Interior Spaces near 30 Degrees Latitude,” which compares the use of daylight and artificial light at two sites: Magnolia Mound Plantation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Meishan Ecological Park in Hunan Province, China.

During her sabbatical, she revisited both sites to further clarify her research and collect more data. She also began the framework for a teaching and research collaboration with Wuhan Institute of Technology, based on the 2013 cooperative agreement she helped establish between Hunan University and LSU. Both universities agreed to explore the creation of programs that promote teaching and research collaboration of mutual interest and benefit by undertaking and initiating joint academic activities, including research projects, academic seminars, guest lectures, and the exchange of faculty and students.

Zou’s research was partially funded by the LSU Office of Research & Economic Development, and her travel to China was sponsored by Hunan University and the Wuhan Institute of Technology (WIT), as she was invited to present her research at both universities.

At WIT, she met with art and design and university administrators, faculty, and scholars. She is currently collaborating on a research project with Bo Chen, a visiting scholar at the LSU School of Interior Design. Chen will spend the remainder of 2015 at LSU pursuing his own research interests and working with Zou on a research paper that studies the application of ecological technologies to living spaces.

While in China, Zou and Feihu Chen, a professor of environmental art and design at Hunan University, completed a research paper on “The Universal Cultural Gene in the Future Evolution of Interior Design,” which they will present at the Journal of Interior Design Symposium on March 15, following the Interior Design Educators Council 2015 Annual Conference. The symposium topic is Design + Culture: New Directions for Interior Design Scholarship and Pedagogy. Their research exemplifies the symposium’s primary goal to foster collaborations among design educators and other allied scholars who are eager to rethink interior design’s relationship to culture and its contributions to interdisciplinary discourse.

Zou’s achievements during her sabbatical are demonstrably enhancing her teaching at LSU and keeping her current in the technological changes in the discipline of interior design. For example, this spring she is co-teaching a 4,000-level course on actual and virtual lighting (ART 4020) with Derick Ostrenko, assistant professor of digital art at the LSU School of Art and member of the Cultural Computing Research Group at the LSU Center for Computation & Technology. The course is part of the new Digital Media Arts & Engineering program curriculum focused on growing and sustaining the technology sector in Louisiana.

The course introduces light as a medium for creating and changing the perception of space. Using V-Ray and Pixar’s RenderMan software and real-time game engines such as Unity, students are instructed to consider techniques in shading, global illumination, shadows, reflection, refraction, diffraction, and caustics as a means for creating virtual lighting scenarios. They are also examining the mechanics and perception of light as well as the tools and methods used for lighting real-life environments. Once the technical foundation is established, they will create a group project that combines physical objects or spaces with digitally controlled lighting and/or projection.

Zou has taught lighting courses before—she teaches the third-year interior design lighting studio each spring—but this course marks the first time that digital art and interior design faculty have collaborated to teach a course in lighting that appeals to undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of disciplines, including digital art, graphic design, architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design.

Zou’s sabbatical is significant to the LSU School of Interior Design. The department has not offered this important experience for well over 15 years because of staffing and funding constraints. Department Chair Jim Sullivan plans for sabbaticals to become the norm as the program continues to evolve and expand.

“The School of Interior Design is committed to giving its faculty the opportunity to apply for sabbatical leave. This time away from teaching and service offers uncluttered time to reflect, gain perspective, and focus on scholarly work. As such, sabbaticals are crucial to a healthy and productive long-term academic career,” explained Sullivan.

About LSU School of Interior Design The LSU School of Interior Design is a CIDA accredited program emphasizing design that brings meaning and identity, function and purpose, health and safety to interior spaces. The program teaches specialized knowledge in creative problem solving, research and analysis, and professional preparedness. Interior designers give life to interior spaces. They shape, organize, furnish, and adorn the insides of buildings to reflect our personal and cultural aspirations. For more information, visit