A team of faculty and students in Virginia Tech's School of Architecture + Design in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies represented the United States at the imm Cologne International Furniture Fair in Germany in January 2009. Virginia Tech was the only university from the United States that was invited to participate.
The team is led by Joseph Wheeler, associate professor of architecture, and Robert Dunay, the T. A. Carter Professor of Architecture and director of the Center for Design Research. Dunay and Wheeler have been working with graduate and undergraduate students from architecture and industrial design to develop the exhibit titled ''Industrialized Furniture.''
The work represents a distinctive aspect of design research, presenting an intellectual dimension emphasizing innovative use of computer and fabrication technology.
The imm Cologne 2009 fair featured about 1,200 exhibitors from more than 50 countries. The products presented at the exhibition include exclusive designer objects, wooden and upholstered furniture, home accessories and textiles, and objects for young lifestyles.
In total, 120 independent designers and studios, as well as 21 universities from the fields of architecture, interior design, and product design presented their work to imm Cologne exhibitors, visitors, and journalists.
The invitation to participate in the imm Cologne furniture fair was a direct result of the team's participation in the Milan Furniture Fair in 2008. Imm Cologne organizers saw Virginia Tech's work and invited them.
Virginia Tech's exhibition, Industrialized Furniture, consisted of furniture that 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 Virginia Tech students who created the furniture were
Robert Dunay and Joe Wheeler have been at the center of a number of high-profile Virginia Tech projects, including ABC TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project; the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlons of 2003, 2005, and 2009; the Habitat for Humanity house project; and many others.
The furniture project was made possible by the contributions from B&M Sheet Metal of Roanoke, Va., and Duo-Gard, of Canton, Mich., and Philips Color Kinetics, of Burlington, Mass. Additional support was provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Office of Outreach and International Affairs, the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech.
A team of School of Architecture + Design students showcase their creativity and vision in Milan.
Take a look back at previous Spotlight features in our archive.