By  on April 10, 2007

Pratt Institute is trying to break down the barriers among four different design disciplines.

When the ribbon is cut April 17 for the $5 million Juliana Curran Terian Design Center on the school's Brooklyn campus, students and faculty in fashion, interior and industrial design and communications will be housed together for the first time. Created by Hanrahan Meyers Architects, the center brings together two older buildings to create a 200,000-square-foot complex where students should be able to interact more easily and share ideas.

"We're breaking down the silos between these fields and we're very comfortable with that,'' said Pratt provost Peter Barna, who designed the lighting. "When you go out in the world to work, that's the way it is.…A lot of good business ideas are exchanged around the water cooler.

"In addition, the new setup should make the faculty and students closer — it's the same sort of thing,'' he said. "We believe the space will help shape the program and the people."

Terian, a graduate of the Pratt School of Architecture, made the center a reality with her $5 million gift to the school — the second largest from a living individual in Pratt's 120-year history. The school of architecture will continue to be based in another building. Terian is the founder of Curran Architects and Planners in New York and is the chairman of the Rallye Group, the largest female-owned automobile dealership in the U.S.

"It's important for designers to glimpse more than their own specialization and gain a sense of the larger context in which they're working,'' Terian said. "After all, the great timeless designs — and the most successful — have embodied seamless relationships between disciplines."

The design center's features include state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment to project art installations or film screenings on the building's northern glass exterior at night. A Pratt trustee, real estate developer David Walentas, donated that equipment. The pavilion, which was five years in development, will also have the campus' only gallery devoted to design.

With enrollment near maximum levels, Pratt is more interested in having the center improve the quality of students' work rather than attracting more students, Barna said."This complex is probably one of the most important steps we've taken,'' he said. "It will be the largest facility on campus."

The building will open as design — in all disciplines — continues to attract young people embarking on careers. "I think students are more interested in design because in this complex world, there is a great need to identify oneself,'' Barna said. "And that identity is basically what one wears, what one reads and what space one inhabits. As we see more and more of the world, as to who we are culturally and subculturally, that need only increases."

He added, "It's almost a luxury to be able to indulge in things that express oneself."

Part of the intensified interest in design may be an outgrowth of the notion that the arts don't "speak as directly [as they once did] to those not trained in visual fields," Barna said. "Design by its nature is more joyful. It doesn't try to express a full range of human emotions. You're not going to design a toaster with angst or a car that feels dangerous. Designers understand that the user's experience is the number-one thing."

Companies such as Target and Ralph Lauren have gotten out the message that they are about design — whether in clothing or home furnishings. In many cases, educators have been focused on the curriculum needed to fulfill requirements for design degrees, which "has not allowed us to step back and see design as a broader new thing," Barna said.

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