Interior Design Student Pamela Scholten Lands in Top 2% of Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition

Posted April 25, 2024 in Student, Interior Design

Pamela Scholten, a senior in the Interior Design program at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, recently earned a place in the top 2% of the 2023 NEXT Design Competition hosted by global office furniture giant Steelcase.

Open to undergraduate students in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, the competition challenged entrants to design a mock satellite office in Dallas, Texas for Los Angeles-based NEXT Architecture—specifically, one that that could support changing workplace technologies, cultures, behaviors, and expectations.

portrait photograph of women with short hair and glasses wearing a black tank topKCAD Interior Design student Pamlea Scholten

Only two submissions per university program/studio were allowed into the competition, so Scholten first had to rise to the top of her peer group in the KCAD Interior Design program.

The competition's judging panel of industry professionals then had the tall task of whittling an initial pool of 1,400 entries down to just 28 that would move on to the next phase.

And while Scholten narrowly missed being one of the 10 competitors to advance to the semifinalist stage, earning the respect of the judges in the initial selection process is a tremendous accomplishment to build on as she begins to transition from student to working professional.

“The judges for the NEXT competition come from prestigious firms and work on ground-breaking projects, and that adds an extra layer of gravity to Pamela’s achievement,” said Interior Design Professor Lee Davis. “I'm delighted the judges could see the intention and craft that went into her work. She understands that a workplace needs to nourish the whole person, and her design does that beautifully by envisioning a complementary suite of versatile spaces and using color, pattern, light, and natural elements to build an environment where people will want to come into work every day.”

Rendering of an office spaceDesign studio area of Pamela Scholten's NEXT satellite office design

In researching her approach, Scholten focused on three key insights: attracting and retaining Gen Z talent, redefining the relationship between workspaces and workplace productivity, and reaffirming the value of fostering a sense of belonging within a company.

Her learning led her to a design concept centered on the idea of “bringing your whole self to work” that she sees as a contemporary refresh of the concept of work-life balance.

“It was especially important for me to create a design that fosters community, and thus a sense of belonging,” Scholten said. “Not only did my research indicate this as a strong need for the future of the workplace, but it also aligns with my personal design philosophy and passion for inclusive and trauma-informed design.”

rendering of an office building
Scholten's vision for the NEXT satellite office included a café lounge and banquette (above) and meeting space (below)

rendering of an office space

Interior design is a shift for Scholten, who came to KCAD having already built a career as a social work supervisor. With its focus on shaping spaces to promote emotional well-being of the people who use them, the Interior Design program proved to be fertile ground for her to merge her passions for design and making a difference in the lives of others.

The Global Studies class was particularly formative, providing Scholten’s first exposure to the concept of trauma-informed design.

“The class was all about gaining an understanding of how different people experience the built environment, based on their backgrounds and present, as well as past, experiences,” she said. “It was powerful to see how we can address trauma and other ecological, socio-economic, and cultural issues through interior design solutions.”

Meeting the needs of next-gen talent is a priority for Scholten's NEXT design just as it is for all innovation-driven companies. The use of biophilic design elements gives her spaces a crucial connection to nature and primes them to be useful for rest and rejuvenation as well as productivity.

rendering of an office space

(above): Like the rest of her NEXT design, Scholten's vision for a client presentation space features abundant natural light and open, adaptable seating options; (below): in addition to space renderings, Scholten aslo had to create detailed floor plans and building sections

floor plans for an office space

building sections for an office space design

She also incorporated dedicated social and collaboration spaces to spark spontaneous and casual connections that lead to more trust and authentic relationships between coworkers. And she prioritized hybrid meeting spaces to enable remote workers to connect meaningfully to both the social and professional aspects of the business.

One of the highlights of Scholten’s design, the Creation Studio, acts as an open-ended incubator where NEXT employees can find both rejuvenation and relaxation as well as inspiration, with elements of the design intended to combat creative block, spark out-of-the-box ideas, and foster tighter relationships between colleagues. There’s even a “Win Wall” that would celebrate the company’s accomplishments and build a collective sense of achievement.

“As a creative myself, I recognize that creative professionals are not just creative at work; rather, they are professional designers because they are creative,” she said. “With NEXT being a design firm, I sought to design a space for employees to create in whichever medium and manner would best help them flourish as their whole creative selves.”

rendering of an office spaceThe Creation Studio—an open incubator space for both relaxation and collaboration—is one of the cornerstones of Pamela Scholten's NEXT design

As she prepares to graduate from KCAD this spring, Scholten is looking forward to translating her experiences in the Interior Design program—and accomplishments like this—into an interior design practice rooted in holistic well-being, a sense of belonging, and deep human connection.

“It is my long-term goal is to become a local expert in trauma-informed design. In the short term, I want to work for an interior design firm with great company culture that recognizes the need and benefit of designing with evidence-based, inclusive, and trauma-informed design principles,” she said. “I believe that all people can benefit from designing all spaces through that lens.”

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