A deep-dive workshop with an industry partner has helped interior architecture students uncover insights into designing the future workplace.  

Bachelor of Interior Architecture (I-A) students Kyle Nash, Mackenzie Peachey and Kaitlin Gordon collaborated with leading Australian design practice Davenport Campbell, and graduates from consulting firm KPMG, as a part of an industry-awarded prize for their work in the INTA6000 Future of Work course.

The students explored applications of technology, ergonomics of space and flexible working conditions in the half-day workshop.

The value of Work Integrated Learning 

Interior Architecture Associate Lecturer Iva Durakovic is the course designer and Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Officer for UNSW Built Environment. She says it is her goal to ensure that every student is gaining WIL experience as part of their education. 

"The INTA6000 Future of Work course itself is unique as not many comparable degrees focus on strategic design skills or workplace design, and this is a standout skill in our graduates,” she says. 

“Embedded course opportunities such as this course, as well as the broader BE Professional Placements program, enables students to start building their professional networks and work-ready skills before they graduate."

Ms Durakovic says the value of the unique WIL opportunities at UNSW Built Environment is that it allows students to work alongside industry and apply the skills learnt in their degree to real-world challenges before they graduate. 

"The students are exposed to the realities of project teamwork which is exactly what they will face in Industry, and it prompts them to elevate their design practice," she says. 

"Being in a room with practising design professionals and graduate employees affords our I-A students the chance to experience the diversity of thinking and opinions about workplaces and design ideas that their clients will soon challenge them with."

Ms Durakovic also says that the unique industry connections are carefully integrated within the I-A degree, which creates career-ready graduates prepared for the challenges of the industry. 

"By integrating industry partners more meaningfully into [our] Studios, we're able to provide authentic applied learning opportunities for the students to validate their creative and critical approaches that the I-A degree affords them."   

Industry connection 

Kathryn Marshall is a Designer at Davenport Campbell. She says that the industry partnership with I-A is a platform for the firm to give back through mentoring the next generation of designers. 

"Through UNSW, we have an opportunity to share knowledge and skills with a new generation of designers who we hope will challenge our views on the future of design, particularly in the area of the workplace." 

"We have partnered with UNSW for many years and have seen UNSW alumni become integral members of our studio. This collaboration is incredibly valuable to us."

She says that the students can better understand the relevance of their skills to their career by contributing to several phases of a real life project. 

"The students [had] the chance to work within a team with a broad range of skills, experience and strengths. Our goal is to broaden the full range of their skills [and to have them] truly contribute to a project that will be built and enjoyed, and for them to make connections in the industry and picture their future in the workplace."   

Ms Marshall says that the firm is also buoyed by hosting I-A students as part of the BE Professional Placements program, the fresh perspectives on real world challenges, and spoke highly of the students' contributions. 

"We are so impressed by the level of thinking and the quality of work produced by UNSW students."              

The future workplace

The students say the workshop uncovered the keys to designing a resilient workplace, capable of handling the rate of change that we are experiencing in the world. They identified Increased inclusivity and flexibility in workplace design, as well as the integration of technology, as crucial for future workplaces. 

"Over the course of our career, we will need to incorporate new technologies as they emerge and improve, including Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). So it's important to be amongst the discussions when they centre around how we can use it to our advantage in the design field," Kyle says. 

Kaitlin believes the workshop was an example of workplaces that acknowledge the diversity of perspectives to enable collaboration.

"For example, we had a mix of people in the room who had quite innovative and buildable solutions, and we were all allowed to contribute to that discussion, which in itself I think emulates what future workplaces need to be successful." 

Increasing flexible working environments will also be crucial to accommodating the needs of the future workforce. 

"We've also seen changes with people working from home and in terms of collaboration. That flexibility will continue to play a role in the way we work in the future."  

The students also had the chance to present their final projects to a Davenport Campbell panel for feedback, with the workshop directly built upon the themes explored in their third-year design studio. 

"Having 10-12 weeks learning about the future of work in our class, we came into the workshop with an understanding of how we could contribute to the discussion. It was already a familiar topic, and that helped us put forward our contributions, but also to take on the different perspectives of each party," Mackenzie says. 

For Kyle, the workshop was a valuable collaboration which uncovered how different stakeholders perceived the workplace of the future. 

"Being exposed to industry workplace and seeing how design professionals collaborate on a real-world problem was extremely valuable. To also be involved in that discussion and contribute to a cohesive set of values, we agreed to be important for the future of work, is something I see as important," he says.  

He also says the opportunity to get constructive feedback and insights on his project from professionals in the industry was invaluable. 

"To know what the industry is looking for pragmatically, and also to know that they haven't lost that appreciation for creativity – it will inform my approach moving forward." 

Kaitlin says the workshop further developed her understanding of the needs of stakeholders. 

"Having the chance to present my project and get feedback from professionals was a great learning opportunity and has given me the confidence to present moving forward," Kaitlin says. "It's always helpful to engage in whatever way possible and get that real-world learning experience that's only possible from being embedded and amongst the industry." 

Mackenzie says that she is looking forward to working in the industry. 

"Just learning from the way that they work was a source of inspiration for us. It was good to get out into the real world and get a taste for it by talking to the designers and the architects we are looking up to," she says.  

"Having these discussions with Davenport Campbell and KMPG, I already feel very excited to get into that sort of a workplace, and I feel much more equipped to do so." 

The Bachelor of Interior Architecture (Honours) at UNSW Built Environment teaches students how to influence people's lives through the interior environments they inhabit. Find out more about the Bachelor of Interior Architecture (Honours).