Students prepare interior design proposals for historic building

Chris Beckley

The students' Dove Block proposals included renderings of a first-floor community gallery — like this one by Chris Beckley.

Before graduating earlier this month from RIT’s Interior Design program, 14 seniors made major contributions to restoration efforts focused on a historic building in the region.

Seniors in a spring studio course taught by Adjunct Faculty Kelly Jahn worked with several clients to propose designs for the three-story Dove Block in downtown Geneva, N.Y. Throughout the semester, students presented in-process and final renderings to the project’s clients — the Dove Block Restoration Group, Dove Tribute Group and Philadelphia-based Corbett, Inc., the prospective new owner of the 19th-century structure. 

Informed by conversations and site visits with the clients, the interior designers each provided a concept for a third-floor Corbett experience center and first-floor community gallery space honoring famed artist Arthur Dove. Floor plans for a retail area on the second floor were also submitted. 

Jahn said the seven Corbett reps at the final review each had a different favorite concept, hinting that elements of many students’ work could see real-world application. 

“Corbett has said there is something from everybody’s proposal that added value to the way they’re thinking about the space,” Jahn said. “And Dove Block has said the same thing — they learned something from each student’s proposal.”

Students tour and observe an experience center space at Corbett, Inc. in Philadelphia.
Students tour and observe Corbett's Philadelphia experience center.

The restoration of the Dove Block, vacant for more than a decade, is in the early stages. But the students have provided inspiration and a vision for how the space could be used.

Chris Lavin, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva and a Dove Block Restoration Group member, said the students’ work is “a gift to the Finger Lakes region” and “professional caliber.”

“Their designs resolved, in a number of ways, the competing aspects of the project and helped the board conceive of an institution that could meet all its ambitions,” said Lavin, a former art and architecture editor at the St. Petersburg Times and San Diego Union-Tribune. “From the layout of all three floors to the intricate balance between public gatherings and flexible artistic presentations, the students demonstrated a maturity in their work that astounded. Clearly a credit to four years of hard work and creative polish at the Henrietta campus. 

“These students will undoubtedly be shaping the look, feel and function of our country's future.”

Stefani Schultz, a senior in the class, designed around the concept of capturing cherished life moments — as well as preserving and enhancing the building’s historical architectural characteristics that help tell the story of Arthur Dove. 

“Having real-world experience before graduating is something unique to RIT and incredibly valuable,” Schultz said. “The most important aspect to me is remembering all the clients wants and needs and really pushing them to their limits. Having a reason to back up every design decision makes the project really special and reminds them you were thinking of them throughout the whole project.”

Stefani Schultz's rendering of the Corbett experience center on the third floor of the Dove Block building.
Stefani Schultz's rendering of Corbett's third-floor experience center in the Dove Block.

The first couple months of the class were hands-on. Jahn operated the project like a workplace, setting a typical deliverable schedule and established check-ins with the clients. 

Students visited Corbett’s Philadelphia experience center in January to gather information about their goals for a similar space in Geneva. In February, they toured the Geneva building and met with the Dove Block Tribute Group to discuss ideas for the gallery. 

Chris Ryczek and Matt Sennett from Corbett’s sales team also led on-campus reviews. 

“The students had all of the skills needed to pull this together,” Jahn said. “They took in the different perspectives of multiple clients and came up with solutions that worked for everyone.”

A photo of a Zoom meeting with project clients.
A Zoom meeting with project clients.

As the coronavirus pandemic shifted the second half of the class online, students still developed high-quality designs amidst the added challenges, Jahn said. Enthusiasm and focus was sustained through regular class Zoom meetings and one-on-one video critiques with the clients.

“I think having the ability to connect with their customer and get feedback, encouragement and a real sense of appreciation for the work they were doing was motivating,” Jahn said. “And they showed up at the final presentations and exceeded their requirements.”

Ryczek agreed, saying the designs surpassed Corbett’s expectations. 

“The timing of us needing thoughtful ideas and concepts for the Dove Block building and their spring semester coursework couldn’t have been planned any better,” Ryczek said. “We gained 14 youthful and inspiring designs for us to contemplate as we move forward with the renovation of the building, and hopefully they gained a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be a small part of the history of Geneva, N.Y.”

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