Future100: Flexibility and Choice Define Fangming Cai’s Design

This interior design standout from Pratt Institute conjures sheer happiness by centering users’ agency and empowerment in projects.

Fangming Cai
Explore with Stairs is Fangming Cai’s museum concept in which the act of climbing leads people to experience “levels of discovering.” Bubble Memory is a childcare center imagined for Beijing. Lighting Kids Memory is from a series of artworks included in Green Memory, a children’s library concept. Courtesy Fangming Cai

If 40 percent of our happiness depends on environment, as some psychological studies have shown, then an enormous burden falls on interior designers to create settings that delight and support well-being. One important tool at their disposal is designing for choice—that is, creating flexible spaces that enable users to exercise their voices.

Fangming Cai, a graduate student at Pratt Institute, stands out as one who understands this dynamic. Her portfolio is filled with projects that lend users agency and independence across different programs and contexts. In a speculative design for B-Side, a music company, Cai used the experimental and improvisational nature of jazz as inspiration for workspaces, which empower staff. “I want to design for the employees,” she says, “so I want to make this place more flexible.” A series of rotating modules that include cork- and whiteboards, bookshelves, and upholstered furniture can be rearranged into six combinations that allow workers to personalize their work areas. A modular benching system transforms into a stage, a catwalk, and additional office seating.

In Cai’s designs, even the youngest occupants of a building are granted agency: Green Memory, a children’s library that she conceived as part of a group project, showcases furniture that can be manipulated and reconfigured by young children. A series of “tents”—reading areas delin-eated by sheer curtains—gives young readers a choice of semiprivate spaces that are also open enough for supervision by adults. By viewing spaces from the perspective of a child, Cai and her team have created an environment that empowers new generations.

fangming cai
Courtesy Fangming Cai


Visit metropolismag.com/future100 to see more groundbreaking student work.


Pratt Institute

Graduate Interior Design

NOMINATOR: Jon Otis, Professor

Cai’s concepts are informed by free will. In her portfolio, the improvisational quality of jazz is abstracted to create a fluid workplace and children’s furnishings function as class-room manipulatives for truly independent learning.

Fangming Cai
Courtesy Fangming Cai

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