Students design furniture of the future

   

The red Urban Artifact furniture design on display Designed by Catherine Worsham, the "Urban Artifact" is a bench, edge fencing, and a bike rack.

A group of 11 Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design students, led by Robert Dunay, American Institute of Architecture, Industrial Designers Society of America, the T.A. Carter Professor of Architecture, and Joseph Wheeler, American Institute of Architecture, associate professor of architecture, were invited to exhibit innovative furniture designs at the International Furniture Fair in Milan, Italy, in spring 2008.

A total of 20 schools worldwide were invited to participate at the fair by a jury of 11 international experts. Virginia Tech was one of only two universities in North America at the fair. 

Virginia Tech’s exhibition, industrialized furniture, consisted of furniture students designed with emerging digital and technical processes, particularly computer-controlled systems. The pieces in the exhibition link experimentation in design research initiated in earlier projects, such as the Solar Decathlon competition, and previous exhibitions at the International Contemporary Furniture (ICFF) Fair in New York.

   

Industrialized Furniture exhibit The Virginia Tech team's Industrialized Furniture exhibit displayed at the 2008 Milan Furniture Fair. The fair began 47 years ago and is one of the design world's biggest trade shows.

Creating industrialized furniture

   

Kashuo Bennett's white lounge chair This lounge chair was laser cut and folded by Kashuo Bennett.

The students created the furniture with a system called computer numerical controlled production. First, they produced designs with computer programs that automate the sizes and shapes of the various components for each piece. The program then communicates these measurements to connected cutting machines, such as a laser cutter, a plasma cutter, and a wood router. Mathematical equations and algorithms replace hands-on machine manipulation. Brand new equipment purchased by the School of Architecture + Design, along with the use of cutting equipment and generous materials donations from B&M Metal in Roanoke, Va., combined to make these innovative designs go from fantasy to furniture.

International stage

The exposition in Milan, the largest and most important of its kind in the world, showcased the best new work in furniture design from more than 50 countries. An estimated 270,000 visitors viewed the exhibition during its six-day run.

The logistics of getting to Milan and setting up the exhibition proved as significant a design challenge as producing innovative furniture. The entire process is an education regarding the complexity of design and the consequences of real decisions in a changing world. Every detail must be considered – the weight and size of each work; the material content; production process; image and identity; and the function – whether it be practical or polemical.

The student team and their professors were invited to exhibit their work in another furniture fair in Cologne, Germany, in January 2009.

For more information on this topic, e-mail Heather Riley Chadwick, or call (540) 231-2108.

Photo gallery

   

John Grinham's steel ring chair This conceptual piece made by Jon Grinham was constructed with 187 laser-cut stainless steel rings. The different size of each piece creates a 3D geometry conforming to the dimensions of a chair.

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Student designers

The Virginia Tech students who participated were

  • Kashuo Bennett, graduate student in architecture, of Faber, Va. 
  • Marc Holbrook, fourth-year architecture, of Lancaster, Pa.
  • Nathan King, graduate student in industrial design, of Christiansburg, Va.
  • Jason Tropp, fourth-year industrial design, of Forest, Va.
  • David Clark, graduate student in architecture, of Fredericksburg Va. 
  • Brandon Lingenfelser, fifth-year student in architecture, of Blacksburg, Va.
  • Catherine Worsham, fourth-year industrial design, of Chesterfield, Va.
  • Andrew Camardella, fourth-year industrial design, of Cockeysville, Md.
  • Jonathan Grinham, fifth-year architecture, of Charlotte, N.C.
  • Ryan Altenburger, fourth-year industrial design, of Landenberg, Pa.
  • Brandon Ramsuer, fourth-year industrial design, of Roanoke, Va.
  • Bryan Montanio, fourth-year architecture, of Dunn Loring, Va.
  • Charles Meyer, third-year architecture, of Tom River, Va.
  • David Rariden, fifth-year architecture, of Ashburn, Va.       
  • Nick Monday, graduate student in architecture, of Richmond, Va. 

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