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Krista Robinson

Building Bridges in Art, Design, and Built Environment Education

Crosswalk window installation, photo by David Ettinger

      Our built environments are living histories, accumulations of physical layers that reveal economic and political power structures and reflect our collective values as a society.  The design of our environments also impacts us physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  Although we all share the built environment, it has been designed and created by a select few.  In the United States, the majority of our public and private built environments are created within a male-dominated, Western, design-centered tradition, while the experiences and needs of women, people of color, people of different physical abilities, etc., are often left out or marginalized.

            Built environment education prepares students to play a major role in critically analyzing, shaping, and improving the design of their environment.  This thesis develops an approach to integrating design and built environment education into the larger field of art education in a way that promotes critical awareness, social responsibility, and community-based education.  To compliment this approach, my thesis also addresses developing a more comprehensive built environment education that integrates scholarship and resources in the fields of architecture, interior design, urban planning, ecology, art, and design education.  I have found feminist research and discourse to be the most prominent and thorough source of critical analysis and transformative practice in built environment education.  As a result, I chose feminist research as the lens through which I address these issues.

View of Crosswalk exhibition, photo by David Ettinger

Crosswalk workshop for teens, photo by Jessica Marks

         My approach was based in two methods of research and practice that complimented and informed each other.  First, I conducted in-depth interviews with five professional women as a means to connect current thinking of women working in the fields of architecture, interior design, urban planning, and art education.  Second, I collaborated with a graduate student in SAIC’s AIADO department, Jessica Marks, to curate an exhibition that showcased and educated about the work of women designers, architects, and artists in the Chicago community who are investigating gender issues and socially responsible design in the built environment.  Titled “Crosswalk,” the exhibition became an interdisciplinary dialogue exploring ways in which women experience, critique, and create change in our society’s built environments, urban spaces and public/private dichotomies.  Through visual art, design, writing, and performance, the exhibition created a public forum to share and extend a new community of ideas.  In this study, Crosswalk functioned as both a feminist research strategy and a project model for how to actively engage in critical, transformative education about the built environment.

Crosswalk window installation, photo by David Ettinger


         Krista Robinson earned her B.A. in Art History and English from Boston College in 1996.  While completing the MAAE program, Krista taught children’s art classes and worked as a gallery manager at SAIC’s 1926 Exhibition Studies Space.  Krista now manages after school art programs for underserved youth outside Denver, Colorado.


Thesis Advisor Drea Howenstein, Associate Professor, Art Education

Thesis Reader: Linda Keane, Associate Professor; Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects

Second Reader: Therese Quinn, Assistant Professor, Art Education; Associate Director, Center for Youth and Society, University of Illinois-Chicago


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