Building Buda: Interior Design Students Work with the City
In fall 2017, the City of Buda contacted Texas State University with a request: help the city repurpose two municipal buildings that would soon be empty, ready for a new future. Texas State’s Interior Design program rose to the challenge. Over the course of the spring 2018 semester, senior-year students worked on individual design proposals for the city.
The Project Takes Shape
One upper-level interior design course often focuses on adaptive reuse: the practice of adapting an existing building for new purposes. That design problem was exactly what the City of Buda faced. Construction of a new municipal complex to house the city hall and public library meant that the old buildings would lose their occupants. The city was committed to keeping these community structures intact rather than tearing them down.
When Dr. Asha Hegde, associate professor of interior design, got a message from the City of Buda telling her about this project, she immediately thought of her upcoming course. She met with city representatives and made a plan for the next semester.
Understanding the Problem
By their senior year, interior design students have worked on a variety of projects and have a solid knowledge base. Hegde says that she was not teaching them so much as helping them work through processes that they’d already learned how to do: “I gave them a problem and they solved it.”
Hegde and lecturer Michel Hurst introduced the problem with blueprints and a site visit. The class toured the old city hall and library together, familiarizing themselves not only with the buildings but also with the neighboring structures and natural areas.
“You have to experience it,” says Whitney Hall, a student who is originally from Leander. Parts of the buildings had been updated since the blueprints were hand-drawn more than twenty years ago; surrounding features, such as a gazebo, constrained the possibility of extending the footprint. And the location — next to train tracks — brought its own impact: 34 trains passing the buildings each day.
“What we’re really looking at is, how successful is this building?” says Hall. “Is it safe for the occupants?” Answering those questions requires a deep understanding of virtually every aspect of the building and its use.
Those passing trains illustrate the depths of design-thinking that the students dove into. “People think interior design is aesthetics — it’s way more than that,” asserts Hegde. Interior designers do pay attention to how things look, and they also take into account acoustics, fire codes, accessibility regulations, lighting outputs, surface glare, the friction of the flooring, the angle of the sun at different times of day in relation to the building, and much more. “What we’re really looking at is, how successful is this building?” says Hall. “Is it safe for the occupants?” Answering those questions requires a deep understanding of virtually every aspect of the building and its use.
Understanding the Community
A vital part of interior design is recognizing the client’s goals and understanding how people will actually use the space. In this project, users included City of Buda employees and the community at large.
The city had high-level goals for the old library building; students needed to plan for the facility to house the Main Street Program, the tourism office and a space for community groups to meet. Meanwhile, the second building — the old city hall — was more open to interpretation. Buda officials hoped that this building could have leasable spaces to serve the community and generate revenue for the city — for example, a reception hall.
The design students spoke with the buildings’ current occupants to learn what it was like to work in the structures. Then they asked future users what they would need to be successful in the buildings. “We had learned a lot about how employees collaborate — when is it library ‘quiet time,’ when is it group work,” says Hall. “We were able to ask informed questions.”
Besides these direct conversations, the students did extensive research on their own. They studied Buda’s demographics — population trends, commuting patterns, education levels — and local building codes. Every step of the project was grounded in the specifics of Buda.
Putting It All Together
Once their research was complete, the students poured it into the building shells, plotting out different areas with interior walls. Each created or adapted space was based on the purpose, who would be using it and how the workplace traffic would flow. Finally, the designers put together material samples and sketches to demonstrate the look and feel of the proposed building plans.
Next, it was time for client review. “This is where you find out if you’re on the right track or going completely in the wrong direction, and there’s still time to adapt,” explains Jessie Bartek, originally from Dallas and now a Buda resident herself.
The reviewers were Micah Grau and Chance Sparks, assistant city managers; Ray Creswell, city project manager and architect; Melinda Hodges, library director; Maggie Gillespie, Main Street Program manager; and Lysa Gonzalez, director of tourism. These stakeholders looked at every student’s schematics and gave feedback.
It’s a big undertaking, one that is largely invisible, but crucial. Bartek notes, “Not everyone sees the grunt-work that it takes to get to the pretty picture.”
After this client meeting, the student designers incorporated the feedback and refined their designs even further. One of the major tasks at this stage is creating construction documents: references and specifications for building materials, dimensions and all the other logistical info behind the design. It’s a big undertaking, one that is largely invisible, but crucial. Bartek notes, “Not everyone sees the grunt-work that it takes to get to the pretty picture.”
After more than four months of work, the class took their final concepts back to the client, this time at a public forum held the week before their graduation. Buda city manager Kenneth Williams joined the other reviewers as each student explained their proposal. In the coming months, the city will likely combine key elements of the student proposals into one plan, then move forward with the actual renovation.
Reflecting on the Experience
Both Bartek and Hall are appreciative of how the interior design faculty have supported them over the course of their education at Texas State. Bartek explains that her professors have helped her set realistic expectations: “They bring you back down when you’re up in the clouds —”
“— and they’ll push you the other way, too,” finishes Hall. “I’m confident with my education, my portfolio, that I’m going to get the kind of job I want.”
Hegde is proud of their work, too. “I believe both the students and the city benefited from this experience,” she says. “The students benefited from working with the needs of a real client, and also gained a great deal from the service-learning perspective. The city of Buda, on the other hand, received wonderful conceptual designs from the lens of young design eyes.”
Hall points out that working on a project for Buda, so close to the university, made it especially meaningful: “On top of this being our project, it’s also a community of Texas State grads, and high school kids fixing to go to Texas State after graduation … This hit home for us.” ⭑
Key Program Info
- The Interior Design program at Texas State is accredited by CIDA, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. The program’s strong reputation means that “practitioners seek out our students,” reports Dr. Asha Hegde, associate professor.
- Graduates receive a bachelor of science in family and consumer sciences degree (B.S.F.C.S.) with a major in interior design.
- Alumni of the program have gone on to careers in interior design, architecture, construction technology, sustainability and historic preservation.