Wilson School of Design students volunteer with Habitat for Humanity

Students were able to add hands-on construction experience to their design curriculum

Students from KPU’s Interior Design degree volunteered for the Habitat For Humanities Youth Build Week in Richmond, to build a site that will house six families. (Flickr/ Wilson School of Design)

The Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver organization recently hosted a youth build week, and interior design students from the Wilson School of Design were there to help.

Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver is a non-governmental organization that works to bring “volunteers and community partners in building affordable housing and promoting home ownership as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty.”

This location is one of the 56 Habitat for Humanity affiliates across Canada, and provides affordable housing to families through volunteers and donations.

Wilson School of Design faculty member, Marlis Joller, led the volunteer program for her students in the Building Systems courses. The course teaches students about current building techniques and explores sustainable innovations.

Joller decided to create the on-site volunteer program for her interior design class after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Joller said she found being on the job site “extremely empowering,” and important for interior design students to understand the construction of the spaces they work with.

“I feel strongly that interior designers need to know how the space is built. So that when they go to do renovations or modification, or new construction, they actually have a knowledge base that they can talk to the contractors and the trades, and other people on the job site,” she says.

Due to the pandemic, the on-site volunteer program is not mandatory, so students can decide if they want to participate or not.

Joller says a few of her students chose to participate. One of them was Chadwick Morrice, a second-year Interior Design student.

Morrice says volunteering with Habitat for Humanity was a valuable experience, and the staff were welcoming.

“It was interesting to see how a house is constructed and the process that goes behind it,” he says, adding that he chose to go on-site because he was interested in the project, and it was for a good cause.

“I think it’s a really interesting cause. They do a lot of good work, and it’s fascinating to see how a job site is run if you’ve never been on one.” Morrice says.

The pandemic has made working on-site a little different. Joller says the volunteer site made sure to provide wash stations, have students practice social distancing, and sanitized equipment.

Joller says she’s trying to figure out another project for her students next year. She’s currently looking at Unbuilders, which is a company that deconstructs houses while salvaging natural resources from the home to be repurposed.

“I still really feel that it’s a wonderful experience to get them to see and interact with the environment that they’re actually designing,” she says. “The learning just makes so much more sense when they can physically put it all together and see it in action.”