Earlier this semester, interior architecture and design faculty members in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design hosted three workshops that focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and were funded by a grant from the Angelo Donghia Foundation.

Marjan Miri

Earlier this semester, interior architecture and design faculty members in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design hosted three workshops that focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and were funded by a grant from the Angelo Donghia Foundation.

Faculty from the Department of Interior Architecture and Design in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the U of A recently hosted artificial intelligence (AI) workshops to further the use of AI in design education and the creative process.

A $34,900 grant from the Angelo Donghia Foundation allowed the principal investigators – Torrey Tracy, Michelle Huh and Marjan Miri – to fund a series of workshops from experts in the field of AI.

Nearly 130 students from a variety of disciplines attended the workshops, held in Vol Walker Hall. More than 50 architecture and interior architecture and design students attended all three workshops.

“With every new technology in design and architecture, there are those who fear it will take over the role of the designer,” said Carl Matthews, department head and professor of interior architecture and design. “However, decade after decade, we have found new technologies generally increase the effectiveness and value of designers. Instead of approaching AI with fear and trepidation, our faculty are boldly exploring its potential. The high number of students who took part in the workshops in the evenings, in addition to their already heavy workload, shows the high interest in the topic.”

Tracy, Huh and Miri, all assistant professors of interior architecture and design, said the three workshops held in early February introduced students to new AI technology and demonstrated how it can be a tool in the development of original conceptual design and iteration.

The first workshop, led by Joshua Vermillion, associate professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, covered the workflow of platforms like Midjourney. This session started the series with overviews of the program, including the strategic use of text as a prompt, as well as generating large-scale spaces and environments. The subsequent workshops focused on various ways of utilizing the technology at different scales.

The second workshop, led by Clay Odom, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin, delved into texture and pattern. And the third workshop, led by Kory Bieg, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin, introduced working on the scale of the city. Odom and Bieg focused on more in-depth applications of Midjourney and its ability to craft smaller-scale surfaces and interior conditions.

Go to recordings of the AI workshops.

“The sequential workshops demonstrated the various ranges of applications of AI technology in architectural design, from the conceptual inspiring images to the unique patterns and materials that can be applied in interior space, and to the broader context of urban-scale imagery,” Huh said.

The workshops also emphasized the importance of embracing advancements in AI technology, rather than fearing them. Miri said AI helps enhance creativity through idea generation and inspiration; analyzing vast amounts of data for informed decision-making and enabling immersive experiences, which contributes to accessibility in design; and facilitating dynamic content creation.

“As technology rapidly evolves, it becomes essential for students to not only be exposed to these changes but also to develop the skills necessary to collaborate and work alongside them, ensuring their continued relevance and effectiveness in the dynamic landscape of design,” Miri said.

Prior to the workshops, students explored AI within their respective studio and lecture coursework; however, it was reserved primarily for advanced design work and was very loose and experimental.

The workshops provided a broader introduction for all year levels, as well as providing nuanced instruction and advanced understanding for those with more experience utilizing the technology. Tracy said the workshops also showed how AI technology needs to exist with a healthy balance between ideas, what future constituents desire and what is respectful for the field of design.

“AI technology is a lightning-fast entity that will undoubtedly assist in the development of more iterative design at earlier phases of a project,” Tracy said. “Earlier introduction allows inner thoughts and emotions to play a more pronounced role in the experiential quality of spaces and structures, while also fine-tuning more resolved design decisions for efficiency, sustainability and safety.”

By embracing AI and combining it with other technologies such as virtual reality, the team hopes to create opportunities for designers to be more creative and shape extraordinary designs.

They said they are eager to see how AI can also create a renewed appreciation and an elevated value of previously used analog technology as a tool for concept development: detailed hand sketching, watercolor and charcoal tonal drawings.

Donghia Foundation Grant

This grant for AI research is the latest in a series of awards to the Fay Jones School’s Department of Interior Architecture and Design from the Donghia Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes design education. In total, the Fay Jones School has received more than $250,000 in grants and student scholarships over the past eight years.

Between 2015 and 2019, four interior design students in the school were each recognized with a $30,000 Senior Student Scholarship Award, which is the largest, most prestigious award within interior design education. In 2022, the school received a $46,700 grant from the Donghia Foundation to transform the Materials Lab from a traditional materials library into a teaching, making and research workshop. The year before, in 2021, the foundation awarded the school a $49,000 grant to explore the potential benefits of using virtual reality technology in design education.

The Donghia Foundation Inc. was established by the late Angelo Donghia, an internationally recognized interior design icon and source of inspiration to the design world. Among the foundation’s purposes is the advancement of education in the field of interior design.

This latest grant will also allow the principal investigators to purchase a mobile AI laboratory that will include six laptops, equipped with optimal graphics cards, memory capabilities and the most utilized AI software installed. The mobile lab will help with student collaboration and alleviate costs for students.

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