Armed with an understanding of cultural differences in housing needs, designers can develop residential prototypes that accommodate diverse values and ways of living. Culturally sensitive designs ease the adjustment process of new immigrant groups and contribute to the well-being of communities and the country as a whole. Responding to multiculturalism, design education must prepare graduates for cross-cultural practice by engaging them in the consideration of cultural differences. The paper presents the example of two upper level undergraduate studios, taught in Spring 2002 and Fall 2003 in the Department of Architecture at the University of Minnesota, that exposed students to the design process through the exploration of cultural differences in housing design. Undertaken by an instructor trained in both architecture and social science, these studios integrated social science research into the teaching of design. The projects explored culturally sensitive housing for Hmong and Somali refugees, two of the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area's largest new immigrant groups. Students used verbal narratives collected through focused interviews with members of the Hmong and Somali communities living in the Twin Cities metropolitan area to define both the programmatic and conceptual stages of their designs. The paper elaborates on the theoretical framework that guided students' inquiries; states the methodology and process used to accomplish the research within the constraints of a semester; and outlines the challenges and opportunities afforded through this teaching technique. By focusing on the research phase of these studios, the paper hopes to inspire further development of pedagogies that cater to the changing demographics and respond to cultural differences.
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© 2006 Emerald Publishing Limited.