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UW Student Earns Design Honor for Veterans’ Facility Plans

February 25, 2021
rendering of indoor living space
This rendering of a multispace area is part of UW student Claire Larson’s award-winning design for a veterans’ facility. (Image courtesy of Claire Larson)

A veterans’ living facility that addresses the tenets of social sustainability and equity earned a University of Wyoming student third place in the Pacific West region in the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) competition.

Claire Larson, a senior in UW’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences from Columbus, Ohio, was given the IDEC competition prompt as part of her contract design class during the fall semester.

Larson did background research on physical disabilities and mental and psychological impairments veterans might have, and how they would affect the design of the space.

“I made sure to include ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance throughout the building,” Larson says. “That could be anything from how wide your corridors are to what the doorknobs and levers look like.”

Larson also ensured her design met the basic tenets of social sustainability by referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which describes five levels of human needs.

“I made sure to point out my multifunction spaces, or even small features like the sinks I chose in my bathrooms, and how all of those contributed to people’s sense of self and belonging,” Larson says.

Each year, the IDEC creates a design competition to showcase what designers can offer society with spaces that have the capacity to heal, inspire and compassionately serve those on the margins of society, says Treva Sprout Ahrenholtz, a senior lecturer in the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“They (IDEC) provide the prompt and all the programming requirements they want you to have in the space,” Larson says. “They give you a couple of resources to begin doing background research on the project and an open floor plan. You only get three weeks to complete the project.”

There were 81 submissions from 29 different programs nationally.

Sprout Ahrenholtz was not surprised to see Larson’s design rise to the top in the region.

head photo of a woman
Claire Larson

“Claire is a very talented and diligent student who shows great empathy and consideration in designs,” Sprout Ahrenholtz says. “She solves problems from the users’ perspective and makes sure the design solution would function well and be culturally appropriate for diverse groups.”

When designing spaces like this, Larson likes to look on the internet, Pinterest, office spaces and libraries for inspiration.

“I think libraries represent really equitable public spaces, in general,” Larson says.

Larson originally didn’t plan to be on the path of interior design. She graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles in 2012 with her first bachelor’s degree in art history and visual art, and came out of the program unsure of where to go next.

She decided to return to school at UW and was headed in the direction of sports nutrition and exercise science, but she soon realized she didn’t want to spend her life doing research.

She decided she wanted to work with people.

“I reached back and dug into my art history background and stumbled on interior design,” Larson says. “It sort of matched my interests of science and art together, and it presented an opportunity for me to work more hands-on with people and address problems in people’s lives and come up with solutions that work.”

Now that Larson has found her passion in interior design, she is looking for jobs in either commercial or residential interior design but is leaning toward residential.

“The pandemic has really shown how important our living spaces and our home environments are,” Larson says. “I would like to make interior design a space that is more economically accessible and equitable just because the pandemic has really shown huge disparities in what people’s home lives are like.”

She says the IDEC competition was really eye-opening for her and makes her take notice of public buildings not serving everyone to the best of their ability, whether a temporary or permanent disability.

“My goal is to make it easier for everybody to function at home at a basic level of human happiness and health standards,” Larson says.

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