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Director, MS Design Research; Associate Professor
Coordinator, Sustainability in the Built Environment Minor


  • PH: 215.571.4432
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URBN Center, Suite 410

Based on over 20 years of scholarship and research, Dee believes there are three aspects to the Future of Design:
1. Research, and evidence, as the basis for all design decisions.
2. Equity, access, and climate as interconnected complex problems that are primary aspects of every design situation.
3. All designers must operate as servant leaders within their communities of work.

Her interdisciplinary research group, Design-led Co-strategy for Health group (DLSC4Health), works to create and sustain health opportunities for urban underserved families, and uses design thinking and design research to define, and solve complex issues in our current environment. Dee’s work as a researcher, teacher, and colleague is primarily concerned with the supportive possibilities within our environments through habit and environment. She believes in the co-creation of both problem identification and solution through a deep understanding of the lived experience and expertise of those she collaborates with. As a socially responsive designer and researcher, Dee draws on her personal experiences as a person of Middle Eastern (MENA) descent, who spent part of her childhood overseas, to understand the experiences of those that have been marginalized. As a registered architect, fine artist, and certified interior designer; Dee  researches, designs, and advocates for services and strategies to bring health and the security of living spaces to people in urban environments, through two interconnected areas:

1. Design-led strategy: Inter-professional creative collaborations with health and STEM researchers, includes Design thinking, mentorship of novice designers, prioritizing designing, ideating, and advocating for change.
2. Health for urban families across multiple environments.

In 2013 Dee established Design-led Co-strategy 4 Health (DLCS4Health), an umbrella Lab that houses interdisciplinary research and scholarship.  The DLCS4Health umbrella connects scholarship, teaching & service through topics such as aging in place, housing insecurity, biophilia for underserved populations, and risk in hospital environments. Funded work includes Garden Fresh Home (Patent Pending) with Professor Shivanthi Anandan; and Health and Design Research with Yvonne Michael, ScD, SM. Dee is also am currently working towards a Ph.D. in Change Leadership through Antioch University, on her process of Interdisciplinary and evidence-based Design-led Strategy. The DLSCS4Health umbrella connects scholarship, teaching and service through mentorship of students in the Master of Science in Design Research program, the undergraduate Custom Designed Major program and the undergraduate STAR Scholars summer research mentorship program.  Through coursework, advocacy, and events, Dee positions student teams, communities and collaborators within carefully considered research processes for people to create change in our urban environment. Dee believes that informed design and trans-disciplinary collaboration are at the heart of novel advances and improvements in the built environment, and instructs Graduate Design Research and Interior Architecture and Design Students as well as mentoring and interfacing with students across the university. Dee is the founding director of the Drexel MS Design Research program, and holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Carnegie Mellon University. She then received an MFA from the University of the Arts and is a registered architect, an NCIDQ certificate holder and LEED Green Associate. In summer 2017 she became a doctoral student at Antioch University under the topic of Design-Led Interdisciplinary Practices. For almost ten years, Dee ran a solo practice in Philadelphia executing residential interiors, experimental materials reuse, storefront revitalization, space planning and adaptive interior nonprofit reuse. Dee holds a certificate in Health and Design from Cornell University and current funded research includes a Health and Design Research project with Dr. Yvonne Michael, that focuses on Housing insecurity in the Urban environment. She is also a founder with Dr. Shivanthi Anandan of Garden Fresh Home, a group that examines biophilia, and food production in the urban environment.

Dee has exhibited widely and taught architecture and interior design for 21 years at various schools including Temple University, Drexel University, and Philadelphia University. An invited critic at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Tennessee Knoxville, University of the Arts and Gallaudet University, she has presented research works at both national and international conferences and locally at the ExCITe center, The Philadelphia Innovation Center, and the Enterprise Center. Most recently, she presented digitally in Gold Coast, Australia as one of the top 10 digital presentations at SDEWES. Her work has been published and exhibited in a variety of national and internationals academic and professional journals including The Plan Journal, The Design Journal, ARCH IN-Form, Context, and conference proceedings for DRS, CUMULUS, EAD, EDRA, ARCC and ACSA. Dee is also a member of The Design Research Society.

Bachelor of Architecture with Design Honors Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh PA
Master of Fine Arts: Studio Arts Program University of the Arts, Philadelphia PA
Health Facilities Design Certificate Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Current PhD Student: Projected Completion 2021, Antioch University: School of Leadership and Change

Selected Peer Reviewed (Refereed) Scholarly Journal Articles:

2020^Nicholas, D. S., Michael, Y., & Anandan, S. (2020). Covid-19 Home Sign-Posts. Enquiry The ARCC Journal for Architectural Research, 17(2), 41–62.

2019 ^Nicholas, D., (2018). Material Home: Novel interventions in the urban abode. Adaptive Intervention| International Journal of Interior Architecture + Spatial Design, 118-121.                                  

2019 ^
Stein, S., Nicholas, D., Michael, Y., Nguyen, T., & Giordano, K. (2019). Integrating practical and epistemic actors: Co-constructing a knowledge organization system to address housing insecurity in West Philadelphia. Journal of advances in classification research online, 29(1), 30–34.

2018 ^
Michael, Y., Nicholas, D. (2018). Designing with dignity: Health and design research for underserved communities. The Plan Journal: Designing for impact Spring 2018, 303-317.  doi  10.15274/tpj.2016.01.02.06 

2017 ^Nicholas, D.,
Townsend, K., & Michael, Y. (2017). Designing with dignity: Social determinants of health and design research. The Design Journal, 20(sup1),  S2238–S2246.

Selected Published Conference Proceedings: 
Peer Reviewed (Refereed) Conference Papers 

2021 ^Nicholas, D. (2021). Slow Engagement & Widening the  Frame – Emerging Models of Social  Innovation and Design Culture. In D. L. Loredana, I. Lorenzo, M. Viktor, & G. Angela (Eds.), Design Culture(s). Cumulus Conference Proceedings Roma 2021. 8-11 June 2021, Roma, Italy. e Cumulus International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media.

2020 ^Nicholas, D.,
Michael, Y., Anandan, S. (2020). Integral Living Research: Synergies in research, advocacy, and healthy living. Design Research Society (DRS): Synergies Brisbane 2020

2020 ^Nicholas, D., Anandan, S. (2020). Garden fresh home: Sustainable food production for urban families. Sustainable Development of Energy Water and Environment Systems (SDEWES): First Asia Pacific conference proceedings, 009201-009209. (DOI and Journal forthcoming)

Top 10 most viewed conference digital presentation, conference moved online due to COVID 19 Travel Ban presented by DS Nicholas

2019 ^Nicholas, D.,
Stein, S., Giordano, K., Nguyen, T., and Michael, Y. (2019). Map the gap: Iteratively bridging theory and practice to address housing insecurity in the urban environment. Architecture Research Centers Consortium(ARCC): Praxis 2019, conference proceedings, 276-287.
In-person presentation, Toronto by DS Nicholas

2018 Nicholas, D., Stein, S., Nguyen, T., Krespan, E., Tracy, D., & Michael, Y. (2018).  Health design research innovation project. Happiness Architectural Research for a Global Community | Temple University, Jefferson University and Drexel University, conference proceedings, Vol. 1, 256–264. In-person presentation, Philadelphia by DS Nicholas

2018 Nicholas, D.,
Stein, S., Nguyen, T., Krespan, E., Tracy, D., & Michael, Y. (2018). Health design research and housing insecurity: Design, dignity, and community. Social equity by design, designing through community: Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) 49, conference proceedings, 148-150.
 In-person presentation, Brooklyn by DS Nicholas

2017 ^Nicholas, D.,
Anandan, S. (2020). Integrated space: The novel design research experience. Envisioning architecture, space/time/meaning: Proceedings of the 13th European Architectural Envisioning (EAE) conference.
In-person presentation, Scotland Dr. S. Anandan

2017 ^Nicholas, D.,
Townsend, K., Michael, Y. (2017). Design research and Social determinants of design and health research. What is design for the next?, and what is the 'next' focus of design? European Academy of Design (EAD): Rome 2017, S2238.
In-person presentation, Rome by DS Nicholas

2017 ^Nicholas, D.,
Krespan, E., & Anandan, S. (2017). Mind as a thing, REDO_ing the iterative in design education. REDO Cumulus Conference Proceedings, 99–106
In-person presentation, Kolding by DS Nicholas

2017 ^Nicholas, D.,
Anandan, S. (2017). The novel design research lab experience: Teaching and trans-disciplinary mentorship for 21st-century. 11th International Technology, Education and Development (INTED) conference proceedings, 9467-9473. doi: 10.21125/inted.2017
Remote Presentation by DS Nicholas

2017 ^Nicholas, D.,
McClendon, A., Martin, K., Ruben, D. (2017). Design research and the academy: Research driven community facing work. Chakrabarti, A., & Chakrabarti, D. (2017). Research into design for communities: Volume 2, proceedings of ICoRD 2017. 999-1006. DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-3518-0 
Remote Presentation by DS Nicholas

2016 ^Nicholas D.,
Anandan, S. (2016). Reconceiving urban space making through design research: Novel approaches in urban sustainable living. 9th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (ICERI) 2317-2323. DOI 10.21125/iceri.2016
In-person presentation, Sevilla by DS Nicholas /Anandan

2016 ^Nicholas, D.,
Truoncgao, R., Char, W., Anandan, S., (2016). Urban biophilic environments: A novel lexicon for trans disciplinary practice. Architectural research addressing societal challenges: Volume 1proceedings of the EAAE ARCC, 10th international conference, 67-73.
In-person presentation Lisbon by DS Nicholas /Anandan

Selected Invited Speaking and Invited Panel Participation: 
2020 ^
Invited Keynote Speaker: D.S. Nicholas –  “Connecting Healers and Makers ”Tactics for lasting collaboration; Faimer Health Matters FAIMER partners with CraftNOW to present Global Health Matters Forum -- Each year, the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (FAIMER) hosts a morning of presentations and interactive dialogue on a topic related to health and well-being. This year on March 25, 2020, a cross-section of Philadelphia’s maker community joined health professionals and educators from across the globe.
Invited Speaker  
Bio-Design Substrates: URBN STEAMlab: Discussion of gallery installation and Lab processes in growing Bio-mix
Gallery Opening Design and Science, February 2020: Esther Klein Gallery, University City
2019 ^
Invited Keynote Speaker Diana Nicholas: 2019 ST Global Conference, Washington DC; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Washington, DC.  D.S. Nicholas will presented her work, Integral Living Research whose mission is to help remove living stress for urban families in need and create tools that can function as a bridge to improved health in urban conditions. Professor Nicholas also spoke on the Design Research Methods she teaches and deploys in her research work, Integral Living Research, and the MS Design Research Program at Drexel University. The audience participated in a short workshop in understanding the context and relationship between their work and human centered design. The goal was for Audience members to come away with a sense of the research context and possible tools to expand their reach with their research.

^International Event or Outlet





$162,000 External Federal Funding Additional awarded third year of funding

Role: Key Personnel

Allen-Handy, A., Wenrick, R., Kashock, K., Nicholas, D. (2018). Anti-displacement: The untapped potential of university-community cooperative living. Funder: AmeriCorp



$100,000 Internal Foundation Funding;

Role: Co-Principal Investigator with 50/50 effort split

Drexel Ventures Fund – with Dr. Shivanthi Anandan Garden Fresh Home: Venture Funding for Market Development Garden Fresh Home In-home Hydroponic Unit. Funding has one-year term extended until end of 2021



$ 499,174** External Federal Funding;

Role: Co-Principal Investigator

National Science Foundation; “IGE: Creative Interdisciplinary Research in Graduate Education (CIRGE)” PI- Fraser Fleming, Department Head Chemistry; Co-PI D.S. Nicholas, AIA; Co-PI Paul Gondek, PhD; Co-PI Jen Katz-Buonincontro, PhD; Co-PI Dan King, PhD. NSF 17-585 Innovations in Graduate Education Program.

Funding has a 3 year term



$4,473.00  Research Award

Drexel Faculty Creativity Award; Awarded to D.S. Nicholas for Garden Fresh Homes Bio-substrates funding award for Exhibit Installation in September 2019 and February 2020



Funded Amount: $284,983 External Federal Funding

Role: Key Personnel

Allen-Handy, A., Wenrick, R., Kashock, K., Nicholas, D. (2018). Anti-displacement: The untapped potential of university-community cooperative living. Americorp (Formerly Corporation of National and Community Service. ) This community-led participatory research study brings together an intergenerational and interdisciplinary research team to gather information on affordable housing in the Promise Zone: what options are available, how well those options are understood by residents in need, and whether the intersecting communities of West Philadelphia are interested in alternative options,

specifically in university-community cooperative living. 



$106,000.00 External Foundation Funding;

Role: Co-Principal Investigator with 50/50 effort split

Scattergood Foundation -- with Dr. Yvonne Michael- Health and Design Research for Innovation Grantor: Scattergood Foundation. Course development grant for Design and Health cross-listed Design Challenge Class; To develop with Yvonne Michael, Dornsife School of Public Health Professor. Cycle Extended: Up for renewal October 2021


Applied Research Intellectual Property Patent Pending:

2019 Garden Fresh Home with Professor Shivanthi Anandan; a trans-disciplinary project exploring urban sustainability through science and informed design. Patent pending as of Summer 2019 for In home Hydroponic Unit both free standing and countertop patent includes organic bio-mix and self-contained modular “Smart-vase”. 

2019 National Science Foundation I-CORPS Local Participants: Team Project lead two-week project and translational development of Project selected based on development


Research Driven Creative Works: Books and Catalogs

2019 and 2020

Exhibit Catalog

Atzmon, Leslie. Design and Science Exhibition Catalogue (2019). Eastern Michigan University Gallery. Diana Nicholas and Shivanthi Anandan Bio designed Substrates Pp. 36-38; Issuu website:

Companion to Traveling Exhibit Science and Design listed above

Creative Book Project

Nicholas, D., Fox, V. (2019). HOME 2 | a lifelong, dreamed of, home. (Published by Drexel Writers Room)

Part of my work on health, home and self-efficacy: HOME Book is a limited-edition boxed set of the creative and critical work generated throughout Writers Room's 2018-2019 HOME: Affordable Housing + Cooperative Living Symposium, a series of public talks with invited lecturers incorporating discussion, group activities, and writing workshops. The series put experts on gentrification—both scholars and local civic leaders—and its related economic and social impacts into conversations with the residents and students affected by this ongoing

Research Driven Creative Works: Exhibits

2019 and 2020
Design and Science, September 2019 University Gallery, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA.; Design and Science, February 2020 Esther Klein Science Center Gallery, Philadelphia PA, USA. 

Piece Title: “Garden Fresh Home: Bio-Design Substrates” D.S. Nicholas, Shivanthi Anandan. 
This exhibition featured projects that connect design and science through visual bio-design or biomimicry, including work that reconfigures design to include science or that transforms design in response to scientific or medical contexts.
International roster of curated artists, scientists and researchers including: Richard Feynman, Edward Tufte and The estate of Charles Darwin. Exhibit curated by Professor Leslie Atzmon, Eastern Michigan University.

Da Vinci Arts Alliance: Rocky (RE) Runs, Davinci Arts Alliance, Philadelphia, Pa USA.
Invited to participant, piece title: “Adrian’s Run”. This was a technology based installation on female domestic space produced with assistance from MS design research student Nicholas St. Angelo. Curated Exhibit including Jon Pron, Andrew Hart and others

 Executive Training: 2016 Health Facilities Design Certificate: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY: Certificate in management and implementation of hospital initiatives through design oriented processes. Included management and built environment frameworks, and economic management training.