A call for collective effervescence | RISD INTAR Department of Interior Architecture


Second-year interior design students are working with community developer I. Lanre Ajakaiye on plans to transform a dilapidated building in Providence into a multicultural gathering place.

How do successful designers work within their communities to effect positive and meaningful change? Why is it important to create physical spaces for public gatherings in the digital age? These are two of the questions considered last spring by sophomore students in the Community Gathering Space interior design class.

Led by faculty members Mary-Ann Agresti and Elizabeth Debs, the studio focused on transforming a vacant Providence manufacturing facility into a multicultural gathering place at 25 Bough Street. The students were invited to consider the historical aspects of the site, the demographic diversity of the neighborhood and the plans for the redevelopment of the city. They were also introduced to the term collective effervescence, which social scientists use to describe the heightened sense of belonging and well-being that accompanies the shared ritual.

Eason Bai 23 IA added contemporary elements and natural light to reinvent the interior of the building.

“The project was fantastic,” Debs says, “and so relevant to what we’re all thinking about now as we prepare to return to campus for a fall semester in person. We worked with a client / partner, the exuberant entrepreneur I. Lanre Ajakaiye, who gave each student thoughtful and real feedback on their proposal.

Originally from Providence, Ajakaiye plans to redevelop the old auto factory in the economically underfunded Olneyville neighborhood into a mixed-use building open to the community. It will house a collaborative creation space called “Futures Hub” for young people from the region; a space for community events; and local nonprofits such as The Financial Literacy Youth Initiative, Winners Circle XR (which teaches AR / VR) and the RISE Women’s Leadership Conference.

Exposed brickwork and other original features preserve the historic character of the building in this interior rendering of Bansal.

“The project will meet the needs of our youth, Rhode Island citizens and future workers, by presenting them with skills in high demand that will help them be successful in the future,” Ajakaiye said. “It will also empower women of all ages and provide a public space for the community to celebrate life’s events. “

“The pandemic has caused us to re-examine how we value and define community,” adds Debs. “The recent protests sparked by racial discrimination and inequality have also brought to the fore the question of what it means to be a community. “

Elly Li 23 IA proposed a rooftop garden where community members could grow vegetables or just relax.

Each student created a design solution in response to their understanding of the value and meaning of community. They started by visiting the site and documenting the existing structure before developing their own concept maps that worked in the space.

Ayusha Maharjan 23 IA proposed to add a third floor to the existing structure, creating a warm ambiance by using wood and adding a cafe to attract people. Eason Bai 23 IA has reinvented the interior space while preserving the original edifice of the building. Elly Li 23 IA produced a complex design that clearly met the customer’s needs for business functionality. And Ellie Waugh 23 AI has prioritized transparency in her shots, using materials and layouts that promote visibility.

Ellie Waugh 23 RN has created a shared space as well as private offices to work.

“The studio’s approach to design and research at all scales, from city to neighborhood to the individual, was reflected in the range of solutions and detailed resolutions,” says Agresti. “The students’ work reflected the wonderful complexity of the site and the program.

—Simone Solondz


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