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.
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.
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.
The Virginia Tech students who participated were
The undergraduate program sets itself apart by way of its innovative projects and forward-thinking faculty and students.
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