ID Chicken Chairs

Pictured above: Students from Prof. Holly Sowles’ interior design class show their work on a collaborative project with Dr. Katy Tarrant, of the Animal Science Department.

ID - Projects

Real World Learning Opportunities

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities

You never know when you might meet your next collaborator.

At the new faculty orientation in the fall of 2016, Holly Sowles, an interior design professor in the Department of Art and Design, and Dr. Katy Tarrant, a professor in the Animal Science and Agricultural Education Department, accepted a challenge to work with others outside of their own colleges — the College of Arts and Humanities and the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

In the almost two years since then, Sowles, Tarrant and students in both of their departments have worked toward creating an environmental enrichment that expands the diversity of welfare enhancements for chickens raised in the agricultural science program. In the process, they have created a richer environment for students in both areas of study.

“Holly and I began discussing how interior design could be incorporated in chicken production. She spoke about how with clients, her goal is to design innovative spaces to fit the environment.  We began referring to the chickens as the clients at this point,” Tarrant said. “I spoke to her about creating different environmental enrichments to be used for small- and large-scale poultry production, and came to her with the idea of using a platform as an enrichment. The platform would be a simply designed structure that added to the topography of a chicken’s landscape, and would give the chicken something to sit on, or around. Holly humorously dubbed the platform as a chicken chair.”

Interior Design is often incorrectly associated with what the public sees on HGTV (Home and Garden Television), which is decoration, Sowles said.

“Although aesthetics is essential, interior designers do much more than select furnishings, fabrics, and wall colors,” Sowles said. “As a licensed profession we are most concerned about the health, safety and welfare of the occupant within the built environment. Working on collaborations such as the chicken chairs allows the interior design program to introduce to others across campus the versatility of our skillset.”

Tarrant explained how the “chicken chair” can be added as an enrichment for the chickens:

“As a natural prey animal, the elevated platform provides a vantage point for the chickens who choose to use it.”

Sowles explained several invaluable lessons her interior design students have learned from the chicken chair project:

  • It allows the students to actively engage with a real client through their entire lifespan, from the tiny chick to the fully mature adult.
  • It teaches the concept of ergonomics, which is the study of the relationship of human physiology and physical environment — how humans interact with the physical objects within their space.
  • It addresses designing using the guidelines of the ADA  Americans with Disabilities Act, which are the standards for accessible design.
  • Students are exposed to the idea that the occupant is not always a human being. It helps them to develop a sense of civic responsibility.

“This cross-campus collaboration motivates innovation,” Tarrant said. “Bringing in two different sets of experiences promotes discovery of new ideas, which perfectly explains the working relationship Holly and I have had on this project. The impact of the project’s results will increase due to the novel ideas we have formulated as a team. This collaboration will cultivate numerous student experiences in the classroom, and in the research lab, and will increase interest in our respective programs for students, and industry partners.”

Tarrant appreciates the opportunity the partnership has provided to her and her animal science students.

“Being able to bring agriculture into the Art and Design classroom is important to me, so I can share with students the impact that Central Valley agriculture has on the rest of the world, and so we can work together to explore innovative methodology in production systems,” Tarrant said. “This project has also put students outside of their comfort zones, and will aid in developing flexibility and adaptability skills in their future careers after graduation.”

And there is no finish line in sight for this project.

“The longer we speak about the collaboration, the more ideas we come up with,” Tarrant said. “We have planned activities for her studio class over the next few years revolving around this collaboration.”