Mental health is defined as “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, to realize their abilities, to learn well and work well, and to contribute to their communities. Mental health is an integral component of health and well-being and is more than the absence of a mental disorder.”

World Health Organization; 2022.

Mental health issues are increasingly becoming a significant problem in colleges, causing student retention and enrollment declines. Resources, particularly counseling centers, are often strained, indicating a need for increased funding. Colleges have taken positive steps, such as introducing telehealth and peer counseling, with some offering courses on emotional regulation. With such strategies being implemented, there remains a pressing concern as students grapple with mental health challenges, and the need for further assistance is paramount. As interior designers, we understand physical space has a role in assisting people to feel safe and well.

Design Scenario

Prompt: A Place of Restoration and Respite for college students
Location: A place on an existing campus (your own or elsewhere)
Time: Current Day or near future
Design Scope: Maximum 50 Square Meters. The competition is open to interpretations of the safe space. You can either choose an existing indoor or outdoor venue, or you can propose a temporary installation that can be relocatable or reproducible in other locations. There are no programmatic requirements for this project. You craft the needs and justify the spatial solutions based on your specific site selection and research.
Users: Students in Institutions of Higher Learning.

Conceptual Influences

College students are suffering from mental health issues in record numbers. The distress has been magnified by the global pandemic, isolation, financial uncertainty, systemic racism, and challenges related to gender non-conformity and climate change. The American College Health Association reveals considerable mental health issues among students, particularly among non-binary students who face increased academic, financial, and emotional challenges. Specific racial and ethnic groups, including American Indian/Alaskan Native students, reported a notable rise in depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. These affected groups are among those least likely to seek mental health services, affording us the opportunity to experiment with the creation of a physical space that might help to address these pressing issues.

There is a critical need for safe, restorative physical spaces on campuses – “mind-scapes” – that promote wellness and foster a sense of community. In response, the development of interior environments which encourage healing, from conventional spaces to more creative, future-oriented solutions, may be an essential step toward addressing these mental health needs. Investigate the potential of an interior environment to provide a healing influence. Consider various aspects such as alternative spaces, the energy they provide, and the experiences they offer, in addition to conventional restorative elements. Utilize your creativity to envision these transformative spaces. Aim not just to address current needs but to provide innovative solutions that might meet future challenges.


“Restorative environments should permit and actively promote restoration, meaning that the design of the space must match its intended use.  Restorative spaces should be designed so that social or physical demands are absent (e.g., noise, reminders of work obligations), and further introduce other elements that facilitate greater mental ease and rehabilitation.”

WELL Building Standard MIND Research Digest, Feature M07 Restorative Spaces

Consider the following:

  1. What specific needs are being addressed based on your research and site selection?
  2. Some student demographics experience higher levels of mental health distress (neurodiverse, women, non-binary, people of color).  Are you designing for a specific user group?
  3. Your design can push the boundaries of a traditional “space”, but it must have elements of enclosure which may or may not be “built” or physical. Your design is an installation that may be temporary, demountable and may be replicated in other locations.

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Research topics relevant to mental health, wellness and inclusion as related to the narrative that your team creates (i.e., scope of student mental health issues; the effect of the pandemic on student mental health; institutional site considerations; specific mental health issues related to user race, class and gender identity, etc.). Research should be evident in the narratives, conceptual description, and design outcomes.


  • To assure digital viewing, create a single HORIZONTAL [16:9 ratio or 24” x 48”] poster including all the requirements below.
    • All diagrams, drawings, and renderings are to be completed by student teams. Faculty are encouraged to provide critique and feedback to their students in a timely fashion
    • All stages of work including the creation of the poster file must be prepared within the TWO WEEK (14 full days) timeframe of the competition.
    • All entries must be submitted using PDF file format demonstrating the team’s design.

Within the poster your submission must include:

  • Design concept (maximum 100 words) supported by visuals and notations.
  • Written narrative describing the user and the user’s experience in the environment (maximum 350 words). The narrative should support all design decisions.
  • Visual representation of critical aspects of the user experience in context to the environment, including site analysis, research (e.g., observations, interviews), and what you deem relevant.
  • Documentation of installation to include plan (site plan if needed), axonometric (or equivalence in three-dimensional visuals) and conceptual diagrams.
  • Provide additional notations as needed to enhance visuals. No word count maximum, but notations should be concise in nature.
  • Each project must adhere to these requirements:
  • The file must be .pdf format and the file size must not exceed 100 Mb.
  • Format to be 24” x 48” wide or ratio of 16:9 to accommodate digital viewing.

To assure blind review, submissions must NOT include author(s) name(s), institutional affiliation(s) or branding(s), course numbers, or any other forms of identification. Submissions that do not satisfy all requirements will be disqualified from review.

Judging Criteria

To be considered for judging in the IDEC Student Design Competition, all entries must abide by all the competition rules.

  • 35 points. Needfulness and creativity of overall design solution
  • 25 points. Specificity and effectiveness of the restorative environment
  • 20 points. Specificity of user group, user need and evidence-based design.‎
  • 20 points. Graphic composition of the poster presentation

All drawings, diagrams, and other visual items are expected to be executed to the highest level of craft. All writing must be free of spelling and grammar errors. Quotations or support images must be properly cited.

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Timeline & Schedule

Due to the variety of studio schedules, the overall timeline for this competition is two full weeks, regardless of times or length of classes. It is suggested students work both inside and outside of the studio as they so need or desire to accomplish the goals of the competition, with the first part of the competition devoted to research and the second for design and execution; however that is split is up to studio teachers. Feedback should be given after the first part to ensure the student is on track, and the final poster should be submitted to the instructor in PDF format at the end of 14 days. Students are encouraged to read the referenced articles noted but should also do first-person research on this via observation, interviews, or other inquiry.

  • June 26, 2023: Student competition is published on the IDEC website.
  • Entries may be completed either in the Fall of 2023 or early Spring 2024 semester.
  • November 1, 2022 – Feb 2, 2024, 11:59 PM Pacific, in PDF format: Submittal window is open online. Each college or university program can submit up to 2 projects; both may be undergraduate; both may be graduate or a mix of one from each group.
  • July 1 – February 2, 2024: Faculty sponsors may choose any consecutive Two-week period during this time to facilitate the competition.
  • February – March 2024: Projects are juried and will be judged by IDEC volunteers and professionals.  Winners and their respective faculty will be notified prior to the 2024 IDEC Annual Conference.
  • March 2024: Finalists are displayed at the 2024 IDEC Annual Conference and recognized, along with the respective faculty. Winners will be displayed digitally and announced at the Annual Conference on March 8, 2024.


There will be three categories for winning entries, for a total of nine teams recognized.


  • FIRST PLACE $500
  • 2ND PLACE $250


  • FIRST PLACE $500
  • 2ND PLACE $250


  • FIRST PLACE $500
  • 2ND PLACE $250


In the case of a tie or limited entries in any categories, the final jury reserves the right to adjust awards accordingly. The winning entries with more than one person will share equally in the prize money amount.

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Competition Rules

  • The IDEC member faculty sponsor must upload entries to the online submission portal by the deadline of Feb 2, 2024, 11:59 PM Pacific, in PDF format.
  • Students may work individually or in a team of no more than four.
  • In no exception, shall the school be identified within the project. Students may use a specific site on their campus to locate their project, however no school buildings should be identified by the name of program or university. If there are any references to the site, they must be generic and not identifiable (no school mascot, colors or other logos allowed). 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.
  • Teams can be cross-expertise including any level of development (first year and 2nd year; First through 4th yr; graduate only per the submission categories). No graduates shall work with undergraduates on this competition.
  • Students enrolled in undergraduate or graduate interior design programs that have at least one faculty member that is a member of IDEC are eligible to enter. The supervising faculty will facilitate access to competition materials and updates via the IDEC website.
  • Projects must be supervised by a faculty member and completed in a consecutive two-week (14 days) including all changes, edits and revisions.
  • Projects must be submitted with no student and/or program identification on the poster or in the file name.
  • A total up to two (2) projects will be accepted from each program, including undergraduate and graduate submissions.
  • Project information will be available on the IDEC website through Jan 20, 2024, and can only be accessed by a member of IDEC.
  • Faculty are encouraged to use this design challenge to aid in fulfilling their school’s learning objectives as well as those outlined in this competition.
  • A Q & A section will be available online beginning Aug 20, 2023, with the competition information and will be updated through Jan 15, 2024. It is the responsibility of the supervising faculty to visit the Q & A postings frequently to stay updated on the competition project.
  • Questions or inquiries should be directed to: and will be answered within a 48-hour period.


Abelson, S., Lipson, S.K., Eisenberg, D. (2022). Mental Health in College Populations: A Multidisciplinary Review of What Works, Evidence Gaps, and Paths Forward. In: Perna, L.W. (eds) Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, vol 37. Springer, Cham.

Abrams, Z. (2022). Student mental health in crisis. campuses are rethinking their approach. Monitor on Psychology, 53(7), 60.

American College Health Association (2022). National College Health Assessment (NCHA): Executive Summary, Spring 2022.

Connellan, K., Gaardboe, M., Riggs, D., Due, C., Reinschmidt, A., & Mustillo, L. (2013). Stressed spaces: mental health and architecture. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 6(4), 127-168.

Lipson, S. K., Zhou, S., Abelson, S., Heinze, J., Jirsa, M., Morigney, J., … & Eisenberg, D. (2022). Trends in college student mental health and help-seeking by race/ethnicity: Findings from the national healthy minds study, 2013–2021. Journal of Affective Disorders, 306, 138-147.

Miwa, Y., & Hanyu, K. (2006). The effects of interior design on communication and impressions of a counselor in a counseling room. Environment and Behavior, 38(4), 484-502.

Mohamed, R. M., & Ali, M. A. M. (2023). Promoting Students’ Mental Health through Design and Implementation of Multi-Activity Pods in Educational Institutions Using the WELL Building Standard. Designs, 7(1), 30.

Pedrelli, P., Nyer, M., Yeung, A., Zulauf, C., & Wilens, T. (2015). College students: mental health problems and treatment considerations. Academic psychiatry, 39, 503-511.

Platt, L. S., Bosch, S. J., & Kim, D. (2017). Toward a Framework for Designing Person‐Centered Mental Health Interiors for Veterans. Journal of Interior Design, 42(2), 27-48. (*This one is tailored for veterans but will provide some insights for students)

Shepley, M. M., & Pasha, S. (2017). Design for mental and behavioral health. Taylor & Francis.

Windhorst, E., & Williams, A. (2016). Bleeding at the roots: Post-secondary student mental health and nature affiliation. Canadian Geographer, 60(2), 232–238.

Worsley, J. D., Harrison, P., & Corcoran, R. (2023). Accommodation environments and student mental health in the UK: the role of relational spaces. Journal of Mental Health, 32(1), 175-182.

Inside Higher Ed. (2022, April 19). Survey: College Students Reflect on Mental Health and Campus Help.

“The Mental Health Crisis on College Campuses.” (2022, July 8). The New York Times.

Spotlight on Mental Health Website: WELL Certified

Design for Well-Being Website: American Institute of Architects (AIA)

Eva, A. L. (2019, January 11). How Colleges Today Are Supporting Student Mental Health. Greater Good Magazine.

Nexus. (2022, March 10). Designing for the Neurodiverse (No. 1) The Nexus Podcast. Thomas Jefferson University.