Barbara Lowenthal, R.A., is the associate dean at NYSID and oversees the College's graduate programs. She teaches classes such as Contract Design I & II, BFA Thesis Preparation and BFA Thesis Studio in the BFA program; Interior Design Studios III, IV, V, and Thesis Preparation in the MFA-1 program; and Thesis Research and Thesis Studio in the MFA-2 program. An expert in interior design education, she serves as chair of the graduate programs network of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC).
NYSID’s post-professional MFA-2 and MPS programs are tailored to meet the needs of designers with bachelor’s degrees in interior design or architecture. What advice would you give a potential student choosing between the MFA-2 & an MPS program?
It’s really the difference between being a generalist or a specialist. The MFA-2 program is a two-year, full-time program and it is the most conceptual program at NYSID. Students already have strong technical skills. They come to the MFA-2 program to explore interior design on a deeper level, to take design risks, to push the boundaries of how we understand interior design, and to explore how interior design interfaces with other disciplines.
The MPS programs are quite different. They are also for students who already have an undergraduate degree in a spatial field. But the MPS programs focus on one aspect of design in much greater depth. Students explore this specialty in all sorts of ways – lectures, seminars, and studios. When they graduate, they are prepared to be leaders in their area of expertise.
Can you tell me a bit about the work of your MFA-2 students?
I had one student who did a thesis on the re-use of closed United States post offices; it’s a project that incorporated branding, retail design, and urban planning. I had another student design a “Visions of War” museum. Another student designed a medical center for the elderly in Puerto Rico. The concept is one-stop-shopping, almost a department store for health, and one of the goals is to propose a business model that would help to retain talented doctors in Puerto Rico. Another project was a ski lodge designed for a younger demographic — 18-30 years old. One of the ski runs went right through the center of the building. So, in some cases, students are exploring solutions to real-life problems and in others they are exploring concepts or experimenting with form.
Another truly distinctive thing about the MFA-2 program is how it brings students together from all over the world. Last year, in addition to students from the U.S., we had students from Brazil, Thailand, China, Kuwait, Columbia, and South Korea. Students in the program truly gain a global perspective on design.
NYSID is known for its small class sizes. How does this affect the culture of the program?
Our typical graduate class size is 12, so our students have a great deal of contact with their instructors inside and outside the classroom. Instructors get to know each student individually and try very hard to ensure that each student succeeds. Some schools just throw students ‘into the deep end.’ That’s not NYSID. We support students in all sorts of ways – from special tutorials to extra class time to academic advising. I have office hours, but nobody really pays attention to them - students are always welcome to drop by.
Our faculty’s interest in our students doesn’t end in the classroom. Most of our instructors are professional, well-networked designers, and the relationships they develop with students often create internship or other professional opportunities.