Rouben Mohiuddin: Creating a Design Culture
Rouben Mohiuddin joined the faculty at Chico State in 2009, attracted to the University by an interior design program in transition. “It was going through major changes, and I was interested in the opportunity to grow with a program,” he says. The program is still changing , soon to become interior architecture.
This shift is important and exciting, says Mohiuddin. It signals a “move away from the purely decorative arts” and toward a better understanding of materials and construction techniques. Interior architecture includes instruction in design, art, architecture, understanding interior structural systems design, heating and cooling systems, safety standards, designs for specific applications, and professional responsibilities and standards.
The updated curriculum and a trans-disciplinary teaching approach will foster a “design culture,” says Mohiuddin. It is a rigorous studio-based curriculum; students develop design projects that are reviewed by professionals. To foster a sense of design culture, the program promotes community outreach projects such as the annual Frugal House, a fundraiser for the North State Symphony where students accessorize a house using inexpensive and recycled items. Classes such as furniture design and fabrication encourage the collaboration between artists and designers. And students use the fabrication shop often to create models and prototypes of furniture and other designs for student projects.
Mohiuddin is excited that the change will “distinguish the program at CSU, Chico from interior design programs offered in other academic institutions in the North State” and attract international students familiar with the term “interior architecture, ” which Mohiuddin says is much more common abroad. He and several alumni also hope that gender diversity will increase in the program, now dominated by women, with the switch to interior architecture.
Professor Jeon Kijeon is the program coordinator. “Without his support, direction, and collaboration, this culture change would not happen,” says Mohiuddin.
Mohiuddin’s own interest in architecture began as a child, while his family moved from country to country with his diplomat father. “I developed a deep awe of the architecture and the world that I saw,” he says.
That awe carried Mohiuddin through his studies as an international student in the School of Architecture and Planning at the State University of New York at Buffalo, a graduate program at Southern California Institute of Architecture, and 12 years of architectural practice based in New York and Los Angeles. He has his own design/build practice, Scale In(TER)vention Design. He is particularly interested in green design techniques incorporating modern, sustainable, and recycled materials.
“My exposure to different cultures and being from Bangladesh helps me relate with ease to students from diverse backgrounds,” he says. “ [My exposure to international design] also influenced my passion for design discourse in a globally diverse society. I believe design education should meet the challenges and opportunities of the new millennium, nurturing students by exploring how the physical and social elements join to create spaces infused with aesthetic, social, and cultural relevance.”
Mohiuddin’s exploration of the aesthetic extends to painting and sculpture. His exhibit Exile Paintings will be shown at the 1078 Gallery in Chico through April 2. Of these works, he says, “Art has been a way for me to understand the ‘self’ and express my thoughts and experiences in life. Most of my art tries to address being a Bangladeshi by ethnicity, political background, and trying to search for answers to fill a void that I have. This void is my departure from Bangladesh at the age of three and being a spectator in the trials and tribulations of our country for the last three decades.”
Mohiuddin came to teaching slowly, after 10 years as a part-time instructor. “I really, really loved it,” he says. “I enjoyed being in the classroom environment. It came more naturally to me than the corporate environment. I like the fact that I get to share and talk about design and architecture—passionately—and inspire students.”
But the decision to move into full-time teaching was born more of a love of service than anything. Mohiuddin had done a lot of community outreach work as an architect, working with nonprofit organizations and on service projects with his classes.
The highlights of his design career include not only the expensive custom projects, but also the smaller pro-bono projects like designing the Veteran’s Aviary at the Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration hospital. This animal-assisted therapy center brings injured veterans and parrots suffering from trauma together for joint healing from post-traumatic stress disorder. Mohiuddin and his students at the American Intercontinental University helped raise money for the facility, designed the space, and built it using largely their own skills and free time. “Architecture changes people’s lives,” says Mohiuddin. “I believe everyone has a right to a better quality of environment.”
“The notion of giving back is very satisfying to me,” he adds. And teaching, he thought, would give him the opportunity to make service a core part of his job. “I thought a job in teaching would be a place where I can continuously do that, especially at a public school.”
—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications