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FCS Interior Design Students Recognized by the American Institutes of Architects

marisa Jivan and mariana selvig

During their senior year, Family and Consumer Sciences Interior Design program seniors Mariana Selvig and Marisa Jivan won the American Institutes of Architecture (AIA) Student Design Competition with their project, "A Hidden Treasure."

We talked with Mariana and Marisa about their winning design project and their experience at CSUN.

Q: What was your challenge for the competition?

Mariana: "A Hidden Treasure" was a project for Club 21, a non-profit organization that supports inclusion for people with Down syndrome. We were asked to design a space that would be a new addition to Club 21.

Marisa: The space was a basement that was a very dark and hidden place. We really wanted to make it come alive.

Q: What made your project stand out among the others in this competition?

Mariana: What differentiated "A Hidden Treasure" was strong concept. When we met with the executive director from Club 21, Nancy Litteken, she told us about the kids and how she believes with proper training kids with Down syndrome can be included into society. Down syndrome is really only a minor disability. Nancy said the basement was dark, no windows, and felt unwelcoming, but she wanted it to be a place where the kids could learn and be inspired, as well as a space where the kids’ progress could be shared with the community.

That’s what we based our idea on: We related the dark, hidden, and unwelcoming basement to how society perceives people with Down syndrome. But what if we really looked for the best potential for the room, just as Club 21 does for children with Down syndrome? So, just as you can work properly with the design of a room to make it a great space, you can work with a child and help them find their optimal way of living. So our project brought light to the room, and brightness to the children, thus turning the basement into a treasure. We brought the basement “up!”

Marisa: We also designed a floor plan that was ADA accessible, followed California building codes, and was exact to scale. We were one of the few teams that were able to develop the concept into an actual plan.

drafting a plan

Q: How did you do this as an interior design project – are you talking about restructuring the building?

Marisa: We were instructed that we could not move any walls that were drawn on the plans given to us. We solely had to focus on this as an interior project rather that making architectural changes.

Mariana: The design calls for minimal construction. The main change was the opening on the main floor so when people come in the main floor they can see kids performing, learning and interacting. The change also lets in natural light and fresh air to the basement. The opening restores the connection between both floors. The main floor will serve as the transitional space, where counseling offices and athe computer lab and music room will be. The basement floor was designed as a flex room very fluid and open.

Q: And this is a real-world project, right?

Marisa: Yes. The design will be implemented and completed. After winning the competition we were asked to put together project in more polished way. The rules of the competition were that we had to do everything “old school” all drawings by hand, no computers, no technology.

Mariana: But with the go-ahead, now we can make the plans up to date professional grade using auto CAD, 3d modeling and official materials boards.

Q:How did your experience at CSUN prepare you for the AIA competition?

Mariana: The faculty mentored us! They really took the time to get to know us and they were encouraging all the way along. We had great communication and we always got good advice for anything related to career.

Marisa: We are both truly thankful to Rodica Kohn, Judith Griffin and the other instructors in FCS. Rodica mentored us through the program and especially opened our minds in different ways.

Mariana: And it was Dr. Victoria Feinberg who nominated us for the project.

Marisa: We learned what we needed to know and then were offered an opportunity to demonstrate it. It’s been a group win!

Q: How was your partnership as you worked together?

Mariana: Marisa is a great friend and we work really well together. It was fun to participate on the competition with her.

Marisa: I think one of our greatest assets was that we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we were able to use this to our advantage during the competition.

presenting the project

Q: And I understand you both came to CSUN as transfer students.

Mariana: Yes, I went to Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) for 4 years and transferred my credits from Brazil to CSUN.

Marisa: And I went to University of Arizona and studied Business Economics for 3 years before transferring to CSUN.

Q: Have you thought about graduate school?

Mariana: I am planning to go back to grad school to study architecture, but I haven’t decided on a school yet. I studied architecture in Brazil before coming to the US and I want to complete that part of my education.

Marisa: I was accepted into the Masters of Interior Design at Arizona State University but have decided to defer a year after accepting a job offer.

Q: Did you have an affinity for the project, doing something to support children with Down syndrome?

Mariana: I have a cousin with Downs, so when the topic was presented I really took it to heart. It wasn’t any surprise to me that people with Downs could be helped and life could be improved. When the opportunity came along, I was confident that I had been very well trained through CSUN and previous university about that type of project.

Marisa: I am a parent of a 3 year old. I love kids and felt this was very important thing that would make my son proud and inspire him to give back to the community.

Q: You mentioned this winning project is a real world project. Are you still involved with it?

Marisa: I treat it as a job but I am also working as a designer on a remodel of a residential loft in downtown Burbank, and I manage a restaurant, so I’m really busy these days.

Marisa: I try to put as much time as I can into this project because I feel it is a very important cause, however, I have relocated to Arizona and have been working full time for a commercial design firm so I have been working remotely.

- Jean O'Sullivan, 2010