Architecture grad student promotes wellness in nostalgic design, wins $30,000 scholarship

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(Photo Courtesy of Kanoa San Miguel)

Kanoa San Miguel said he never thought his project would take him this far. This summer, the Angelo Donghia Foundation recognized his work with a $30,000 national scholarship.

“There’s a part of me that doesn’t believe that it happened, just because it’s wild,” said San Miguel, fifth year graduate student in interior architecture and product design.

San Miguel, of Longmont, Colorado, found himself drawn to Kansas State for its architecture program, which he saw as a way of combining his passions for art and math. San Miguel said human interaction spaces sparked his curiosity about interior design.

“I’m just concerned about the wellness of everyone,” San Miguel said. “How spaces connect to people, and how they give back. We spend all our time inside buildings, so how do we improve that experience?”

San Miguel’s project was designed for the 2018 Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition. The competition tasked students with designing a real estate and project management firm that supports ever-changing workplace environments.

“A lot of my thoughts in initially designing and building the design came from the history of it,” San Miguel said. “A lot of it centers itself around the idea of settlement.”

San Miguel’s design reflects the solitude of the prairie and the collaboration of mining communities in Colorado.

“You get the sense of nostalgia,” San Miguel said. “But you also, in the forms and the furniture that I chose, it peaks at all the future things too.”

Solomon Renfro, fifth-year interior architecture and product design graduate student, said San Miguel has a unique way of doing projects.

“He tends to approach things a little bit more theatrically, with more of a fun and relatable feel.” Renfro said. “Not just making art for the sake of art, but actually trying to move the people he’s making it for.”

Renfro, a classmate of San Miguel since their freshman year, got to see the project come together.

“Something his NEXT project did pretty well is creating an environment that would be approachable every day, but be something that people would be proud to be a part of still,” Renfro said. “So he had that inherent beauty that art has, but keeping it practical enough to be lived in.”

San Miguel said he was surprised by how well his project was received.

“You don’t really know how successful your design is until people are discussing it,” San Miguel said. “To be recognized on that level of platform just makes me insanely happy that everything I’ve learned up to this point, everything I’ve been taught has been able to facilitate this direction.”

San Miguel said the scholarship opened opportunities that would otherwise be financially restrictive, as the cost of being in a five-year program is substantial.

“I can pursue projects in a different way than I would, I don’t have to be as frugal with the furniture design stuff that I’m doing, or I can experiment with different technology I haven’t touched before,” San Miguel said. “It kind of put me at ease, because it means that the years of my education were kind of culminating to something bigger.”

One concept San Miguel said he is eager to explore in future projects is designing furniture with the potential to last 100 years.

“Our society is leaning towards disposable things on every scale,” San Miguel said. “Not investing in a house, not investing in furniture and not investing in clothes. So everything has a shorter lifetime, so the quality goes down. And I think we’re approaching a state by which it’s not going to be okay anymore … We’re going to run out of materials or we’re going to run into financial ruin essentially.”

Michelle Wempe, professor of practice and K-State alumna, oversaw San Miguel’s work in her studio class last fall.

“I think that he had a really strong concept that he was able to visualize and carry throughout the entire process of doing his work,” Wempe said. “So his concept was about the settling of Colorado and the topography that was there, and he was able to take that as an idea and make a three dimensional reality behind that for an office space.”

“He has a really good hand in his rendering style and his ability to communicate things visually and verbally, in all forms,” Wempe added. “He’s a good representation of what we hope our students represent as they get ready to leave college.”

In addition to his architecture pursuits, San Miguel has held many leadership positions at K-State. He served as a peer educator for his college and came full circle by becoming the Residential Learning Assistant for the APDesign Cat Community, the same community he was part of his freshman year.

“I could not have completed the project without the knowledge and the instruction I’ve received through all four years,” San Miguel said. “It’s really important to me that they’re recognized for that too, because it’s not just my accomplishment.”

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My name is Rebecca Vrbas. I’m the assistant culture editor at the Collegian and a junior in journalism and mass communications. My hobbies include obsessing over an ever-expanding pool of musicals and cats (not the musical). I love writing because of the infinite intricacy of language, as well as its power to cultivate a sense of community through sharing experiences.