Designing inside the box for forward-looking life


Design Problem

We are on a precipice of change in the design community. Our clients are requesting ‎designs for new ways of living, working, and gathering. This project challenges students to ‎reimagine the retail experience as part of a new live/work model. Configuring three shipping ‎containers students will provide a design solution for live/ work environment dedicated to ‎creating and selling handcrafted textiles in both in the physical and online marketplaces. The ‎project will employ indigenous textile as a conduit to understand and celebrate the diversity of ‎our communities by addressing a sustainable live/work space for the artist to live, create, ‎design, and work.‎

In a current and post-pandemic society, Americans are considering their living and ‎working environments differently after working from home for all or part of a year and having ‎that home life visible to coworkers, clients, and potential business partners. The notion of large ‎retail spaces and mass gatherings seems quaint after a year of living away from them. The ‎learned luxury of delivering foods, household goods, and necessities have changed how we look ‎at shopping and living. We do not want to lose local businesses, but we might not want to be in ‎crowds to support those businesses, either. ‎

The live/work model has been popular for generations of business owners. Historically, ‎shopkeepers living above their stores. For the last ten years, micro-business owners selling ‎online and manufacturing in their homes needed a space to create, develop, produce, store, ship, ‎and showroom their items. This live/work model suits our pandemic lifestyle and allows us to ‎maintain a business and livelihood while reducing overhead and living smaller. It requires a ‎building to have dedicated space for living and working to offer the ability to leave the job and ‎not live in the job. Thus, we can live and work sustainably smaller while addressing our spaces’ ‎ecology and aesthetics to develop hybrid areas supporting our home and work life. ‎

In this project, we address the live/work model in a sustainable way that also allows for ‎migration as needed by the inhabitants. The live/work shipping container consists of 3 shipping ‎containers that serve as a dwelling and business location. The business should allow for being ‎open to the public and completely online as the marketplace and health regulations require.‎

Client Profile

Self-supporting Navajo textile artist living with life partner who works as a ‎photojournalist for the local newspaper. The pair are in their mid-30s and prefer to live a ‎sustainable lifestyle in both their dwelling and the purchases that they make. ‎

The artist honors their ancestry with the textiles they create and uses the sales of those ‎textiles to share the history of their people and to bring awareness of indigenous peoples of the ‎Americas. The creation of the work, the symbols depicted in the work, and the support of the ‎community of artists are integral to the artist’s work life. ‎
Design of the space should take these ideas of symbolism, community, and honoring the ‎traditions of the Navajo artists into consideration with an eye to cultural sensitivities.‎

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, suffering as a result of loneliness prevailed as a common condition across generations threatening the wellbeing of our communities and individuals within those communities. In 2017 the former U.S. Surgeon General cited loneliness and emotional wellbeing as major public health concerns (Washington Post, 2017). A recent Pew study found that 1 in 10 Americans feel lonely or isolated most of the time, naming a lack of connection to the community as a key challenge facing people who feel alone (Bialik, 2018).

Currently, the pandemic brings a surreal quality to our daily existence exacerbating feelings of isolation and loneliness. Imagining alternative ways to connect beyond virtual meetings, we must now plan interior environments that allow for in-person interaction without jeopardizing the health of occupants. For the purposes of this competition, students design an interior environment in order to make in-person socialization possible through “physical distancing,” a more helpful mindset than the term, “social distancing.”

Overall Considerations for the Project

In this flexible model 10% of the space will need to flex between public facing when in ‎the open to the public mode and private facing when in the completely online mode. The rest of ‎the space allows for 45% of the space to be public facing and 45% of the space to be private ‎living space.‎
This project will address small space solutions, structural stability of the containers, ‎transitions between the residential and commercial spaces, as well as antimicrobial measures, ‎social distancing, and health-focused spaces. This space should anticipate a juxtaposition with ‎something so handmade against the something so industrial with a recognition of the new age ‎of virus awareness.‎
Shipping containers are a sustainable option for dwelling and small business operations. ‎More shipping containers enter the United States than leave. Thus, we have an excess of ‎containers and an opportunity for creative use of them. Containers can be stacked, and if so, the ‎transition between the containers needs to be protected from all weather. All transitions ‎between the containers are required to be enclosed. Outdoor space on top of the containers is ‎not allowed. In this project you will employing the 9’-6” “tall cubes,” and the container lengths ‎for this project are two- 40’ long and one- 54’ long. All shipping containers are 8’ wide. ‎Additional structural elements cannot be added to the space beyond the elements needed to ‎create doorways, windows, or connections between the containers. ‎
The project assumes that all needed utilities are available onsite. Additionally, the entry ‎transition is at zero grade or equal to ground level. Steps are not required. Utility connections ‎and site grade is not in scope for this project and will be assume to be completed.‎

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Residential Spatial Needs:

Social gathers occur weekly that includes 4-10 guests and typically include dining. Plan ‎to accommodate up to 12 people eating together. The couple requires in their private part of the ‎building to have two bedrooms, one full bath and one half bath for guests, a dedicated area for a ‎kitchen, dining, and gathering. Hallways should be kept to a minimum and multifunctional ‎spaces are encouraged.

Commercial Spatial Needs:

Both versions require the following items in the business space: ‎

  1. Storage: Storage area to include yarn storage for the artist should accommodate up to 40 ‎cubic feet. Additional storage needs include storage of completed textiles (30 cubic feet), ‎inspirational items (10 cubic feet), and tools (1 cubic foot). The artist does not spin their own ‎yarn but works with other artisans (spinner and dyers) to acquire the yarns or have custom ‎yarns made.
  2. Cash/Wrap: This area can overlap with Showroom space
  3. Back office: for 1-2 people and includes one desk and at least 4-8 linear feet of file storage ‎
  4. Showroom space (80 sq.ft. to 100 sq.ft): This area can overlap with Cash/Wrap space.‎
  5. Photography area with props storage for online mode: This area can overlap with 25% of the ‎ash/Wrap and Showroom spaces when in online mode.‎
  6. Maker space: The artist works on a small loom that measures 3’-0” wide, 5’-0” tall and 2’-0” ‎deep, as well as a larger loom that measures 3’-0” wide, 6’-0” tall and 2’-0” deep. Both looms ‎have to be accessible and can be used in the Showroom space. Yarn storage for the artist should ‎accommodate up to 40 cubic feet. Additional storage needs include storage of completed ‎textiles (30 cubic feet), inspirational items (10 cubic feet), and tools (1 cubic foot). The artist ‎does not spin their own yarn but works with other artisans (spinner and dyers) to acquire the ‎yarns or have custom yarns made. ‎

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Research will be required to learn more about the indigenous textiles of Navaho weaving. This research should include at least 10 sources to discover history of the people, history and methods of creating the textile, and symbolism in and of the textiles. Graduate students are encouraged to conduct interviews with at least one textile maker or a full time artist and micro business owner as part of your research package. Research will also be needed to determine the best design for developing a shipping container into a dwelling and business space, including building codes for your local jurisdiction. Finally, research will be conducted to support the concept of sustainability in the space.

Evaluation Criteria

Please download and review the Competition Rubric and Faculty Checklist prior to submitting.

Projects will be judged according to having followed the requirements of the program, along with creativity and sensitivity to the population occupying the space.

  • Does the design reflect an understanding of, and cultural sensitivity to, indigenous people through research and application in the design solution?
  • Does the design reflect an understanding of and respond effectively to the needs of the live/work environment?
  • Is the design effective in addressing health and safety measures in response to the current pandemic, including the effectiveness of planning, including universal design, as well as the technical qualities of materials selections?
  • Does the design pay attention to ingress and egress sequence, and ease of accessibility and flow throughout the spaces?
  • Does the branding and name for the business utilize the concept and celebrate the space? Is the identity of the space evident through the interior design solution?
  • Does the project meet all the criteria and deliverables?
  • Has all research and photography credits been cited on the poster?

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Deliverables for Undergraduates and Graduates

*Only 3 Undergraduate and 2 Graduate submission from each University will be accepted

(2) 24H x 36W posters (in PDF format) that must include the following schematic design proposal:

  • Name and branding of the textile artist business, sustainable live/ work space
  • Designer’s concept statement (100 words or less), relating the textile to the sustainable space concept and rationale of site selection.
  • Evidence and analysis of research
  • Location and rationale of site selection within the local community
  • Process work, annotated by the student (photos of models, sketches, etc.)
  • Site plan (locating the project on site and surrounding area following the tenets of LEED-ND to address SLL Prerequisite 1- Smart Locations, NPD Prerequisite 3- Connected and Open Community)
  • Floor plan
  • Interior elevations and/or sections
  • Rendered perspectives and/or model photographs including articulation of the “façade design” for the business entrance and the residential entrance, if different.
  • A concept for the interior materials selections including a statement of rationale. Technical specifications are not required, however the statement should make clear that the student/team has a rationale for materials selections with respect to sustainability,  health, and safety.
  • Text and descriptions as deemed necessary by the designer(s)

For Graduate Level Entries Only

In addition to the base requirements:

  • Interview with a textile maker and/ or a full time artist and micro business owner to inform the research and design process.
  • Design should reflect this qualitive research
  • Interview should be included in the submitted package


  • June 2021: Student competition is published on the IDEC website.
  • June 1 – November 20, 2021: Faculty sponsors may choose any three-week period during this time to facilitate the competition. Normally the first week is scheduled for research and discussion and the next two weeks are designated for designing. After the students complete the competition requirements, faculty sponsors should arrange for an unbiased, local jury to select the top three projects and 1 graduate project.
  • Faculty sponsors MUST determine the three weeks within the semester to execute the project.
  • November 20, 2021: Deadline for each program to submit up to 3 undergraduate projects and 2 graduate projects
  • December 2021: Projects are juried at the Regional Level.
  • January 2022: Finalists and their respective faculty are notified. There will be 3 undergraduate awards identified in addition to 1 graduate award from each current region.
  • Finalists are juried at the North American level. Winners and their respective faculty will be notified prior to 2022 IDEC Annual Conference and invited to attend awards ceremony.
  • March 2022: Finalists are displayed at the 2022 IDEC Annual Conference and recognized, along with the respective faculty. Winners are announced at the President’s Banquet.


Undergraduate Studio:
First Place: $750; Second Place: $500; Third Place: $250

Graduate Studio:
First Place: $500

Honorable Mentions are awarded at the discretion of the jurors with no monetary award

  • In the case of a tie or limited entries in any categories, the final jury reserves the right to adjust awards accordingly.
  • Winning entries with more than one person will share equally in the prize money amount.
  • Winners will be displayed at the 2022 IDEC Annual Conference, in New York City and will be recognized at the 2022 President’s Banquet.

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Competition Rules

  • Students may work individually or in a team of no more than four. It is encouraged that students work in a vertical studio; where one lower studio works with a more advanced studio in teams. Undergraduates should not work with graduate students on this project.
  • Students enrolled in undergraduate or graduate interior design programs that have at least one faculty that is a member of IDEC are eligible to enter. It is strongly encouraged that the supervising faculty be a member of IDEC to facilitate access to competition materials and updates via the IDEC website.
  • Projects must be supervised by a faculty member and completed in three consecutive weeks (21 days) including all changes, edits and revisions.
  • Submission of the project indicates the supervising faculty member and the IDEC member of the program comply with the competition rules.
  • Projects must be submitted with no student and/or program identification on the boards and in the required PDF file format.
  • A total up to four projects will be accepted from each program. This may include three projects from undergraduate and one project from a graduate interior design program at each college or university are eligible to be entered for regional jurying. If there is no graduate program, then there may be three undergraduate projects submitted.  The top three undergraduate projects from each region will be selected as finalists and will be juried for the final 2020-2021 Student Design Competition – Interior Design Educators Council North American awards. The top five graduate student entries (one from each region) will be juried for the final North American graduate award.
  • Project information will be available on the IDEC website through November 20, 2021 and can only be accessed by a member of IDEC. A Q & A section will be available online with the competition information and will be updated through November 20, 2021. Please visit the Q & A postings frequently to stay updated on the competition project.
  • The IDEC member faculty sponsor will upload entries to the online submission portal.
  • Entries that show an identification of school or student within the design layout or entries that do not comply with all competition requirements will be disqualified.
  • Faculty should use this design challenge to aid in fulfilling their school’s learning objectives as well as those outlined in this competition.

Questions or inquiries should be directed to: studentcompetition@idec.org