“I’ve always been interested in the interior and what it says about how we live,” says design historian Alexa Winton, a faculty member of the MFA Lighting and AAS Interior Design programs. Her courses teach students to write theoretical theses and view design from historical and conceptual perspectives, something they are not necessarily accustomed to doing. “A lot of these students haven’t done much research,” she points out. “I try to help them develop a framework for thinking of design in connection to larger issues.”
So how will theory help students in their future practice?
“It encourages them to be smarter designers,” she explains. “When you flesh out your thinking about design and get a rich, three-dimensional understanding of what you’re doing, your work will be better informed.” One of her favorite examples of this comes from her lighting course. A Lebanese student recalled a traditional Middle Eastern shade that protects buildings from the harsh sunlight and also offers women privacy in the home. “She really understood the cultural and historical context of this shade,” says Winton. “But then she took it further. She said this doesn’t have to stay within the realm of vernacular architectural traditions in the Middle East. It can be an energy-efficient system for buildings all over the world. She connected the past and the future in a really interesting way.”