Gibbs Spotlight: Suchi Bhattacharjee, Interior Design

GCA assistant to the directors Camille Germany (C), sat down with Suchi Bhattacharjee (S), Interior Design professor at OU! Suchi shared her educational journey and the current projects she is working on! Read on for highlights, or click the link below to access the full podcast. 

C: Can you tell me a little bit about your educational background and the driving forces that led you to your career in academia? 

S: Since childhood, I have had a creative bent of mind. In general, design and construction always fascinated me. After completing my undergraduate degree in Architecture from India, I moved to the US for my graduate education. During my graduate education, my area of focus was sustainability. Learning and researching sustainability, I realized that buildings and built facilities can have a strong impact on the environment.

C: When you started working at the Gibbs College of Architecture, what interested you the most about OU and the college? 

S: During my visit to OU, I met with the Interior Design division director at that time, Professor Mia Kile, and Dean Butzer, who was the director of the Division of Architecture at that time. I was fascinated by the platform GCA provides to foster interdisciplinary collaboration. There are few architectural colleges in the US where built environment-related disciplines are housed under the same roof. Having the allied disciplines within one college provides the opportunity to interact with faculty and students across several disciplines.

C: Those are such unique aspects of the college. That’s a neat opportunity for both researchers, students, and teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting right next to you in the office. I could always see and hear your passion for teaching and the care you have for your students. Can you talk a little bit about your teaching philosophy and how you help students meet their full potential? 

S: My teaching philosophy is very deeply rooted in my own experience as a student and is influenced by the basic principles that students should be fully engaged in the instructional process. I strongly believe that learning is an ever-evolving process. I clearly communicate my expectations to the students and play an integral part in giving everyone a fair chance to achieve the course objectives and succeed. Before introducing any new information to the students, it is essential to teach them about the application of that knowledge in the profession. I need to bridge the connection between theoretical knowledge and practical application. I believe in positive energy in the classroom and studio and always trying to set an environment that would prepare them for the future.

C: It’s great to hear how you interact with students and how you engage with them with different projects and everything. I’d love to hear about a completed project that you’re most proud of. 

S: I will mention the project we worked on last year. It was the redesign of the first Christian Science church in Norman. The students’ responsibility was to supply design ideas for the renovation of the First Church of Christ Scientist in Norman. This church is dedicated to the teaching of Christian Science to the residences of Norman. It was built after the Mother Church that’s in Boston, Massachusetts. The students were challenged with certain parameters that they had to address in their new design. Our students got the opportunity to present their design solutions to few members of the Church Board. They were very excited about the different design ideas and are currently evaluating them. This project and similar others did not only provide firsthand exposure to my students; I feel like we gave back to the community.   

C: I’m also really fascinated by the study you’re conducting in the Vickery Meadow community of Dallas, Texas.

S: Immigrants face various challenges settling into a new community. On top of the challenges faced by regular immigrants, the refugees in the United States often experience more obstacles. Their living conditions are not as good as people would expect, which can be related to their lack of stable income when they first come in. Their housing conditions are degraded and are lacking from the acceptable norms of health as we would expect. I had the opportunity to work with the social work department here at OU closely. I saw how they were working with the community in Vickery Meadow. We received a grant to work with the refugees in the Dallas metropolitan area to develop a healthy, low-cost living situation for these refugees. To do that, we started by conducting several focus-group interviews, and we visited their current homes to understand their living conditions better. The focus for the specific study that I’m working on right now is to find these refugees’ expectations. What is the expectation when they come to this country? Are they getting what they expected? Are their physical living conditions comparable to what they are looking for? I am collaborating with my colleagues from social work for this project. We chose Dallas County and then Vickery Meadow Communities because it is one of the largest refugee communities in the Dallas metropolitan area. We felt they appreciated their living condition during the focus group about their expectations because of what they had been through. This is much better than what they have seen in the past. An observation while interviewing the refugees focuses on building their children’s future by providing them a better education.

C: Yeah. So, what would you want alumni and future interior designers to take away from your work here to you? 

 S: I think it is essential for our students to understand that the primary goal of our profession should be the health, safety, and welfare of not just the people and users of our buildings that we design but also the environment and community at large. Along with designing aesthetically pleasing and functional spaces, we should also evaluate our work’s effect on the environment. Design is not just about aesthetically and functional components of space and structure but also about how that space or structure performs for people and the environment. We need to consider the community’s wellness and how our designs can promote social equity at a local, regional, and global scale. 

C: Sure, yeah. What do you see yourself doing in the next five or 10 years to aid in the development of future to interior designers? 

S: If the last 10 years are of any sign, I expect the interior design industry to be remarkably evolving and different in the coming 10 years. Once reserved largely for selective projects, interior design will become an integral part of almost every project. This will require future interior designers to be involved in a wide variety of projects. When identifying student projects for my students, I try to expose them to projects varying in type, scope, and complexity. Secondly, the projects’ level of complexity will be increasing, as are the clients’ expectations. Future designers will need to master digital tools for completing these complex projects. The industry will get increasingly sophisticated using design software and visualization tools in the decade ahead. We have been educating our students with state-of-the-art digital tools, including virtual reality. With the increased use of visualization tools and continued use of visual communications, future interior designers will distinguish between physical and digital worlds. We are preparing our students to be adept in visualization and communication tools as many future projects might be in the virtual realm. With all this technological improvement in the coming years, originality will become all the more important. To be successful, future interior designers will still need to have a strong base in design principles and understand and deliver according to the needs of the clients. I emphasize nurturing the originality of design thoughts among my students and let technology help them in showcasing their design intents.

C: Suchi, thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for everything you do to encourage and inspire students and build healthier and safer communities. It was so good to talk to you today.

S: Thank you for having me.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.