ASU students travel to Australia, learn skills for design of new organization facility

(Danika Worthington/DD)
The new Native American Connections building (design featured above) will combine the functions of two outdated facilities that offered affordable housing and a wellness and behavior health center.
(Courtesy of Native American Connections)

Students of an ASU class traveled to Australia to learn skills that would help them design a new facility for a local charitable organization.

The class had 17 students from the five disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, design research, exercise and wellness and biomedical informatics, said ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts design professor James Shraiky, who co-led the class with Jack DeBartolo III and Gerri Lamb.

In a four-month period, students created a design for a new facility for Native American Connections that would combine the services of affordable housing and a wellness and behavior health center that are now in two separate, outdated facilities, said Joe Keeper, Director of Real Estate Development for Native American Connections.

“We basically took four months out of our [development] schedule and hit the pause button and worked with the students and faculty in that manner,” Keeper said.

Native American Connections is a local charitable organization that focuses on behavioral health, affordable housing and community development for Native American people.

Although Keeper could not say the exact location of the new facility because the organization is still in the midst of financial processes for the land, he did say it will be in midtown Phoenix. The previous facilities were in downtown and central east Phoenix.

Shraiky said the students have finished the design and construction should be completed in the middle of 2015.

But before the students started their design, they partnered with the University of Newcastle in Australia to learn from experts in design and health, Shraiky said.

“The goal is to understand the health and wellness needs of Native Americans, so we looked at different countries that can help us look at the same problem from a different perspective,” Shraiky said.

Biomedical informatics graduate student Stephanie Furniss took the class and said students learned about design, the Aborigine culture and behavioral health.

Furniss said she and her fellow students learned about a group of people who were similar to Native Americans in several ways. This also taught them how to ask the right questions and approach the Native American Connections project without preconceived assumptions.

When students came back, they did research and spoke with Native American Connections and their clients to create designs that would fit their needs.

For example, students who focused on research discovered that the older facilities had rectangular rooms with windows, she said. People in talking circles would become distracted by the outside or find it difficult to share when people outside could see them. Additionally, the room’s width caused an oval shape for talking circles instead of a circle.

So, design students created a room that was wide and had high windows.

Both Shraiky and Furniss said the real world experience allowed students to grow.

“If we expect students to be ready to work, I think this kind of experience improves the quality of education,” Furniss said.

This was the class’ fifth year and the first year where the charity being assisted was local, Shraiky said. Previously students traveled to places such as Rwanda and Dubai and helped international charity organizations.

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