New face of MassArt to revamp fashion department

The Massachusetts School of Art and Design (MassArt), the oldest public school of art and design in the country, will officially open its new Design and Media Center this January, creating much-needed classroom, studio, and display space for the college’s prominent fashion program.

The $40.4 million project designed by Susan G. Rodriguez, which was first announced in 2010, will become the new front entrance to the college. It will also hold facilities for industrial design, animation, graphic design, illustration, architecture, and media.

At 40,000 square feet, the new Design and Media Center will create two additional classrooms and a 150-seat, multi-function lecture hall. Currently, the 136 students enrolled in either the fashion design bachelor’s degree or certificate program only have access to a single floor, which houses two classrooms.

Emelie Bergh, a senior fashion design student at MassArt is looking forward to the new space. “We could have our own desks and we would really be able to expand,” said Bergh.

Studio space, which is vital for fashion design students to create apparel, is limited at MassArt. These students often end up working on top of each other, as there is only one dedicated studio for each grade level (sophomores, juniors, and seniors). The new building will also include two large studio spaces slated for collaborative ventures.

“We absolutely could use more room,” said Sondra Grace, chair of the fashion design department at MassArt. “A designer or innovator likes to find their place where they can collect swatches and pin up everything they have, but it’s very much shared and tight.”

As a state-funded school that has often struggled to receive funding for new equipment, MassArt will finally see its needs being met. The $30 million in funding for the project—part of the $2.2 billion bond bill passed at the State House in 2008—will create more technical resources for the fashion department, which currently has only one computer lab.

The new facility will offer revamped technology for fashion design students, including a new fabrication lab with digital printers, modeling tools, and laser cutters. These tools will allow students to print fabrics that will be made into garments, visually model garments through software, and laser cut materials for cutting-edge designs.

“[The Design and Media Center] will create access to a lot of digital areas, which is good because we definitely need more of that,” said Nicole Dupuis, a third-year fashion design student at MassArt.

The new Design and Media Center will also support the college’s growing use of sustainable fashion. Students use methods such as hand stitching and organic threads to create garments that minimize their impact on the earth. The new building will feature an area devoted to developing sustainable projects, which will include educating students about the use of eco-friendly dyes and recycled fabrics. In keeping with green practices, the new building is also designed to meet LEED silver certification by saving resources and promoting renewable and clean energy.

According to the MassArt website, the new Design and Media Center will promote the fashion department’s interaction with the campus community and outside collaborators by creating more display space. The new center will include a transparent glass portico that extends onto Huntington Avenue, connecting the North, South, and East halls to the Tower Building.

In addition to joining the campus together, the construction will create new pathways for faculty and students to move between departments, making it easier to share the work among students of different departments. The building’s three-story, sky-lit exhibition hall, two-story gallery and critique space, as well as several project and installation rooms, will allow fashion design students to showcase their work in a more streamlined way for potential employers. MassArt benefits from strong relationships with collaborators, including the Italian Trade Commission and Chadwick’s of Boston, who support department initiatives and involve students in corporate projects. This past summer, MassArt collaborated with Primark on a visual design course, prompting the popular Irish retailer to offer one lucky fashion design student a six-week internship at the company’s headquarters in Ireland.

“We want to sit and have those kind of meetings; we want to have demonstration and display space,” said Grace. “We have what we call ‘dirty studios’ where there’s a lot of activity and work, but a space where you can digest everything, where you can visually see everything, where you can take everything in…that’s what the Design and Media Center is going to offer.”

As one of the oldest fashion departments in the country, MassArt’s program continues to be highly sought after by those pursuing a career in the fashion industry. In 2011, MassArt was named one of the top 20 schools in the nation for fashion design by, an online fashion news source with over 2.5 million views per month.

The program teaches students to design, research, and construct both ready-to-wear and couture, or high-end garments. A mix of traditional and contemporary methods, the program trains students in hand stitching and pattern drafting, as well as computer software (such as Illustrator and Photoshop) that allows them to digitally make their own patterns for creating garments. Students from MassArt also benefit from real world experience, interning with high profile designers such as Michael Kors, Rag and Bone, DKNY and Karl Lagerfeld.

As a shared space for interdisciplinary studies, the Design and Media Center will also include lighting and sound studios, a modernized wood shop and a product development lab. Information about the allocation of space within the building for each discipline has not yet been released.

“It’s a contentious thing; everyone wants to get in there,” said James Mason, associate professor of fashion design at MassArt. “But all of us will be benefiting, especially in terms of lectures or classrooms, because there isn’t really that much space in the existing MassArt area. [The new Design and Media Center] is going to be opening soon and we’re all excited to get in there and see what it looks like.”

 [Sam Peters is a student at Boston University and wrote this article for her beat reporting class. The article was previously published in the BU News Service.]

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