Photographic Arts Center

My first real UX project wasn't digital, it was physical.

Finished Model - Photographic Arts Center -  by Sanjiv Sirpal

Design School


  • Architecture Design project 
  • Year long project
  • 1994 - 4th Year


  • Thesis Program (100+ Pages)
  • Design Proposal 
  • Model
  • Mechanical Analysis
  • Structural Analysis
  • Sample Working Drawings

My very first “UX” project wasn’t digital. It was in fact a physical structure I designed for my final year of architecture school.

This project was the culmination of an intense studio based degree on form, function and space. The Architecture school I went to, taught a holistic approach to design, which laid the foundation of all of my design thinking. It taught us to consider the built form in context to a place, a society, and purpose in order to serve its habitants.

Design Thinking

We learned to hypothesis in line, and validate in form. Iterations of ideas, materialized in models, which led to countless visual discussions on rolls of trace paper.

This constant process of think-making created new insights that informed the next iteration of design.

When I learned about “Design Thinking” I chuckled at IDEO’s sly marketing of process that is spine of every design process across the planet.

Architecture Thesis

My original thesis project was to design a facility for the blind. I was fascinated by perception, and how it might impact the design process. What fundamental assumption would I have change in order to develop a concept that would address the needs of the blind.

Unfortunately I couldn’t develop the support I needed or to find a mentor to act as the client. It was a good idea, that was deemed to be more complex then the program could handle.

My second idea was more close to home, design something I thoroughly understood. Design a building to embody all facets of the art and science of Photography.

"My thesis attempts to create a multi-use facility which will encompass all areas related to the field of photography to provide the public and professions of this discipline a place to produce, display and sell art. I hope to also create this facility to inspire others to investigate photography as a means of expression."


My early exposure to photography, was through my fathers Yashica FXD. A simple SLR with a 50mm 2.8. Every single shot I had taken from 16 until 26 was through that camera. It had been with me for that whole time.

A powerful lesson I learned in my first year Studio class was “to be pure in thought and pure in action”. I knew that the form of the building would relate back to the art of photography. Somehow they were linked.

Where does inspiration come from? How is it formed and shaped? These are things I can talk about today, but early in my design career, it was more about doing then thinking about doing. A lesson I have to remind myself about every day.

Where does every photograph start from? A roll of film. This singular thought created a flood of insights that resulted in the original concept, and final form of the space.

The canister would house the things that needed to control light, the dark rooms, the studio spaces. The lead, or the film, would house the things that needed to be exposed to light, the surfaces that would display, and the spaces that people would need to discuss their work


Synthesis: User Stories, Information Architecture, Goal Directed Design

A few years ago, I was thumbing through the Building Program and noticed that I had employed “UX” techniques in order to understand who my building was for, and how they would use it.

This excerpt was taken from my 1994 thesis program. I credit my school and professors for this perspective.

page 24

3.1.2 Gallery Walk

In contrast to the traditional gallery, the Gallery walk is not a display space which shall be for a few elite artists. It shall be a space which shows the work of anyone who wants to put their work up. This area should be the most accessible to the public since it is the area where the most people can display their work.

The location of this gallery should be on the ground floor. Also in contrast there should be no formality in approach to this space. Lighting can be natural in order to display the fragility of the photograph’s.

“...I’ve printed two, one for me and one for the world, on my way out I’ll pin it on the (gallery) walk...”

“...what’s this place, check out those pictures, I have something like that. You know I probably could do that, now where do I go to find out how to enroll in a...”

Final Thoughts

I would consider what I learned from this project to be irreplaceable and priceless.  From writing a hundred page specification to creating countless prototypes and sketches (otherwise known as 'design thinking'), to instinctively looking to create user experience (using user-centered design techniques), and practicing information architecture years before it became a discipline - I am eternally grateful.

Photographic Arts Center - First Floor Floor Plan, by Sanjiv Sirpal

Photographic Arts Center - Second Floor Floor Plan, by Sanjiv Sirpal

Photographic Arts Center - Third Floor Floor Plan, by Sanjiv Sirpal

Photographic Arts Center - Basement Floor Plan, by Sanjiv Sirpal

3D Model & Floor Plans - Photographic Arts Center, by Sanjiv Sirpal

Final Model - Photographic Arts Center, by Sanjiv Sirpal

3D Model Study - Photographic Arts Center, by Sanjiv Sirpal