rochester institute of technology school of design henrietta, new york, USA

on the rochester institute of technology campus in henrietta, new york – ‘the sentinel’ by rochester-based artist albert paley image © designboom

located in upstate new york (USA), the rochester institute of technology (RIT) is a private university whose eight internal colleges offer a range of degrees across arts, design, business, and engineering. designboom had the opportunity to visit the RIT school of design, part of the university’s college of imaging arts and sciences (known as CIAS, which also encompasses programs in art, american crafts, photographic arts and sciences, film and animation, and print media) to offer our readers a firsthand look at the school’s industrial design program and a range of campus design initiatives.

rochester institute of technology: school of design walkway through the campus center, between the design buildings and the innovation center; the RIT campus is nicknamed ‘brick city’ for its extensive use of the material image © designboom

characteristic of the culture at CIAS is an innovative, self-motivated spirit, highly encouraging of interdisciplinary collaborations and independent pursuits in coursework, on campus, and in the community at large. structured into both the curriculum design and the physical structures of the campus, the culture of the RIT industrial design program encourages independent exploration and cross-disciplinary collaboration. students are frequently approached for opinions and suggestions in the development of new programs and spaces, and are encouraged to pursue their own initiatives, whether it involves an independent design project or the reorganization of shared studio and seminar spaces to better facilitate course needs.

RIT’s 19,000-square-foot vignelli center for design studies, developed with massimo and lella vignelli as a living archive of their work, serves as a physical embodiment of this creative environment: a multiuse hub for design education, scholarship, and research. in addition to extensive archives of the vignellis’ work, the building features an administrative gallery, two floors of exhibition space devoted to the vignelli’s graphic and furniture pieces respectively, as well as open seminar space, creating an environment that is as easily accessible to students as it is encouraging of research and collaboration. even the halls and stairwells of the building are filled with remnants from previous exhibitions of designers’ and student works.

rochester institute of technology: school of design the vignelli center for design studies image © designboom

rochester institute of technology: school of design the center was designed as not solely archives and museum and gallery space, but also to facilitate design programming, discussions, seminars, and collaboration

rochester institute of technology: school of design interior gallery space at the vignelli center for design studies image © designboom

rochester institute of technology: school of design the center features permanent exhibits of the vignellis’ graphic design and furniture work, as handselected from the archives by massimo vignelli and his assistant beatrice image © designboom

rochester institute of technology: school of design the building houses a permanent exhibition as well as extensive archives of the work of massmio and lella vignelli image © designboom

rochester institute of technology: school of design the vignelli center was designed to house the near-complete archives of the designers’ forty years’ of graphic, furniture, and industrial work; here, storage of their print archives image © designboom

rochester institute of technology: school of design roger remington, distinguished professor of design at RIT, who worked closely both with the vignellis and the administration and fundraisers to realize the vignelli center portrait © designboom

as part of the same project that brought the vignelli center to fruition, renovations to the james e. booth building have brought a new administrative gallery and new crafts facilities to the schools of design and crafts. with studios as diverse as glassblowing, woodworking, and metalsmithing, the building facilitates cross-communication across artistic disciplines; in their production practice, industrial design students frequently collaborate with artists and craftsmen to produce one-off pieces. the building also boasts one of over ten industrial-level printing centers on campus, capable of printing on canvas and other materials and on extremely large scale. students in the engineering departments have hand-built a number of 3D printers that design students may also use for project development.

rochester institute of technology: school of design the RIT innovation center image © designboom

the open, creative culture is brought from within the design department out to the greater student body and public through initiatives like the RIT innovation center, located next to the campus’s ‘global village’ center just a short walk away from the design buildings. opened in 2009, the RIT innovation center is designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, providing project space, mentorship, and support to students, who can receive workspace and funding from the program by proposing their project idea and budget.

the interior of the platinum LEED-certified building is reconfigurable, utilizing movable walls and modular furniture to adapt the space to a range of presentation and project development needs. small workspace and exhibition areas frame a central auditorium space used for presentations by guest speakers and students and faculty from across RIT’s eight schools. previous projects developed or produced in the space range from the ‘strong arm lifting system’, a garment designed by undergraduate students sean petterson and justin hillery to assist workers in the raising of heavy objects, to a playful installation by visiting balloon artist larry moss.

rochester institute of technology: school of design during the design process for the innovation lab, RIT graduate design students developed models for the interdisciplinary space, several ideas from which were included in the final construction plans image © designboom

rochester institute of technology: school of design the interior space is designed modularly to accommodate a range of project and presentation needs: for instance, the walled structure to the back right of the auditorium is a temporary exhibition space composed of movable walls image © designboom

design innovation is not limited to the campus itself, as the school of design studies immerses students in public exhibitions and professional collaborations as an integral part of their studies. the vignelli center’s ‘dialogues in design‘ program offers intensive summer workshops in provence, france, taught by designers like massimo vignelli, armando milani, and george lois; and over the course of the coming year, the vignelli center will acquire lois’s archives, the 37th addition to the school’s collection of iconic modernist graphic design materials.

closely associated with the italian research center fabrica, RIT sends students to visit the organization’s italy-based labs, participating with them in interdisciplinary projects through vignelli center initiatives. other previous projects across the RIT design coursework have included as collaborators the royal college of art in london and the rochester general hospital system, with the school looking to firms like braun and the george eastman house for future collaborations. last spring, industrial designer josh owen brought six RIT undergraduate students to showcase their work during new york design week at ‘metaproject 01‘, a highly regarded exhibition that grew from a course owen taught in conjunction with wilsonart surfacing manufacturers. originally titled ‘surprise’, the 20-week course was only described to students after enrollment, and the 20 seniors used wilsonart laminate materials to design and fabricate prototype seating.

rochester institute of technology: school of design students exhibit their work at ‘metaproject 01’, held at the international contemporary furniture fair during new york design week 2011 image © jae ho seo

the annual spring festival ‘imagine RIT’ invites students to simply ‘showcase what you do’, in a campus-wide exhibition that drew 33,000 attendees this year. the extensive campus libraries occasionally purchase and exhibit student work, maintaining digital archives of its production and keeping the pieces in their permanent records.

rochester institute of technology: school of design an exhibition of comic books at one of the campus libraries image © designboom

constantly growing, the RIT school of design plans to offer in 2013 a new master of science degree program in design studies, focusing on the history, theory, and critical analysis of design.  designer and RIT professor josh owen notes that the new initiatives in industrial design of the coming years  ‘won’t be about reinventing existing pedagogy, but building upon the powerful design culture that’s already here.‘

rochester institute of technology: school of design the industrial design school’s woodshop image © designboom

rochester institute of technology: school of design over ten on-campus printing centers, like this one housed in the same building as the design and crafts departments, offer large-format and unconventional-substrate printing image © designboom

rochester institute of technology: school of design a poster series by the vignelli center, designed by bruce ian meader and roger remington, highlights the six-point mission of the building and its initiatives

rochester institute of technology

undergraduate: 14,000 students graduate: 3,000 students

college of imaging arts and sciences

undergraduate: 2,000 students graduate: 325 students

school of design master’s programsindustrial design (MFA) graphic design (MFA) computer graphics design (MFA) design studies (MS, anticipated 2013)

bachelor’s programsindustrial design (BFA) graphic design (BFA) interior design (BFA) 3D digital graphics (BFA) new media design and imaging (BFA) media arts and technology (BS)