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Irena Tonnu and fellow semi-finalists posing for group photo at Steelcase University.

Irena Tonnu (featured on the left) finished in the top 5 at International Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition

FAUM Students Excel in Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition

March 11, 2024 — 

Faculty of Architecture Master of Interior Design Students participated in this year’s Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition, with Irena Tonnu finishing in the top 5 for her submission “Humanizing the Workplace”! Serena Tonnu also received an honourable mention for her design.

The 11th Annual Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition received over 1400 submissions, and challenged students to design a workplace model of approximately 11 000 square feet that prioritizes hybrid work, supporting diverse types of collaboration.

As a semi-finalist, Irena won a trip to the Steelcase headquarters where she, along with fellow semi-finalists from universities across North America, worked collaboratively with and presented to their peers and professional judges.


“During this experience, the Steelcase staff, including Jerry, Denise, and Mckalea, along with the judges, provided valuable guidance and insights that helped us grow both personally and professionally. They were not just observers in this process but were mentors who were genuinely invested in each participant’s journey.

One of the unique things about this experience was the collaborative environment created by the judges and staff. Everyone was rooting for us to succeed, and the portfolio reviews, presentations, and conversations that followed provided opportunities for us to connect with professionals from the industry. The camaraderie, mutual support, and the celebration of every participant’s efforts were some of the main highlights of this experience.”

– Irena Tonnu


“Irena’s entry, “Humanizing the Workplace,” for the 11th Annual Steelcase Next Student Design Competition, stands out for its embrace of a hybrid work model, recognizing the increasingly blurred boundaries between physical and digital spaces. Her project incorporates biophilic design principles by introducing an office garden, seamlessly integrating elements of nature into the workspace. With ample greenery, natural patterns, and organic textures, Irena’s design creates a calming and inspiring atmosphere – conducive to both individual wellness and the dynamics of the modern office.

Being selected as a semi-finalist and to present in Grand Rapids, Irena showcased not only her creativity and innovation but also her commitment to excellence, reflecting the values of our design community here at the University of Manitoba. We couldn’t be prouder of her achievements within our master’s program.”

– Kleighton Thomas Burns, Sessional Instructor – Master of Interior Design 3 Studio

To learn more about the Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competiton, and to check out Irena’s full submission, visit the Steelcase website.


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