When Aurelia Vining and Jacqueline (Jaci) Harbin met during their first design studio course at Chaminade University, they became fast friends. They had both come from Army backgrounds before joining the Environmental + Interior Design program as transfer students in 2018, and their shared experiences matched with their opposing design approaches quickly proved to be a winning combination.
They worked on a group project together during that first class, and it went so well that it solidified their partnership for much of the last two years. Since then, they’ve collaborated on several extracurricular projects, including working with the Marianist brothers to design a new exterior patio for the Mystical Rose Oratory.
“We had the chance to work on several extra-curricular design projects together, and it became clear that we balanced each other well,” says Harbin. “Things that I struggle with, Aurelia has completely mastered and areas where she might not be so strong, I excel.”
Their synergy recently came to fruition when it won them the 2020 Award of Excellence at the recent American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Hawaii Chapter virtual award ceremony.
In January, their senior level commercial design studio course comprised a semester-long partner project. The class had chosen to design a boutique hotel—they were all given the footprint of an imaginary hotel in Vancouver, Canada and the pairs were tasked with designing three public spaces: the ground level, the lower level and the penthouse. The final design was due at the end of the semester in May.
“For this project we got to choose our partners so of course I was going to pick my Ace, Jaci Harbin,” says Vining. “She’s a wonderful designer and our styles are completely opposite of one another. I think that aspect of our relationship makes us question each other enough that we make sure our designs are purposeful, intentional and beautiful.”
Harbin and Vining designed The Glacier, an immersive hotel designed to capture the serenity that comes from being in nature. Upon arrival, the design protects guests with an outdoor vestibule positioned specifically to mitigate the northeastern winds. The lobby is darned with curved woods, semi-transparent materials and multi-faceted built-ins that help create a sense of humility and a feeling of being part of something bigger. On the inside, the ground floor included a lounge with a kids play space, a bar and space for casual dining, and outside the designers made space for an outdoor lounge, a rental area and an outdoor ice skating rink.
But the part that really captured the attention of the ASID judges was the outdoor star-gazing balcony in the penthouse. The virtual award ceremony specifically called out this area, with a quote from one of the judges saying “My favorite is the stargazing area. I like that the students thought through every scenario so that visitors would be able to see the constellations and stars day or night and all times of the year.”
The project wasn’t without its challenges—halfway through the semester COVID-19 hit and in-person classes were canceled.
“Zoom presentations are completely different from in-person presentations,” recalls Harbin. “The way you present yourself, how you showcase your work, all of that changes. You cannot have physical material boards because they don’t showcase well on a digital platform but that also means the client cannot touch the materials.”
It helped that the pair was already so close and had such a solid partnership to begin with. “The fact that we were already so comfortable with one another made a huge difference—it would have been very difficult to excel if we had just met one another,” admits Harbin.
But they did excel. Combined, the two put in over 600 hours to perfect the design of The Glacier. And when the project was completed, they submitted it for the ASID award, and won.
“Winning the ASID Hawaii Award of Excellence is a pinnacle moment for Jaci and Aurelia,” says Joan Riggs, the director of the Environmental + Interior Design program and a cherished professor and mentor. “This pair of emerging professionals hit the ground running with wanting to learn everything about design, taking risks with ideas and stretching themselves from day one.”
The two credit a lot of their success to the mentorship they received from both Riggs and their professor, Liza Lockard.
“I don’t think [Professor Lockard] ever told us we couldn’t do something—she just guided our explorations in the design process,” says Vining. “I loved when we’d ask her if we could do something and her response would be ‘I don’t know, can you?’ That was so encouraging and refreshing.”
Though they will both graduate this semester, this is likely just the beginning of the duo’s journey together.
The day after submitting their final design of The Glacier, they received an email from Joan Riggs saying she had a paid summer project for them if they were interested. The project was to design the tour check-in and retail area for Magnum Helicopter Tours at their Honolulu Airport facility. The space was being constructed, and they were looking to the design students to help them execute their vision.
“It was fascinating to watch a project happen in real time,” says Harbin. “There was a real sense of urgency regarding this project, but they were looking to us as the professionals and trusted our opinions and recommendations.”
Now, with graduation just a few weeks away, Harbin and Vining are trying to work out the logistics of a long-term professional partnership doing real estate development in San Antonio, Texas, where Vining will be moving next summer.
“I think hands down, you have to find someone that you can work with and trust they will put in the same amount of effort,” says Vining. “Jaci and I have been pairing together whenever we can, and have done multiple school projects, service learning and freelance projects together. She is by far the best partner!”