Student work is always something we look forward to during New York Design Week for its unapologetic willingness to explore the depths of material and conceptual possibility in design. One great example of the engaging investigations coming out of academic programs will soon be on display at ICFF, Rhode Island School of Design's exhibit of student work created for their Narrative of Making furniture course.
Run by RISD furniture design professor Lothar Windels, this course was a guinea pig of sorts to test the opportunities for cross-disciplinary work in an academic setting. Putting together students from the furniture design and textile programs, the course aimed to see how ideas could be pushed further when students with different expertise worked together to create something. Students were partnered and asked to reevaluate how soft materials are used in furniture design—rather than conventionally upholstering hard structures with textiles, the course challenged students to instead investigate and utilize inherent qualities of these soft materials through the use of weaving, knitting, knotting or crocheting.
The class, consisting roughly of six furniture design students and six textile students, allowed participants from different disciplines to learn from one another on an intimate level. Participating Furniture Design MFA student Mayela Mujica noted when working with her textile partner Michelle Dunbar that "being a bit naive of the other's respective field really stretched the limits of what we each thought was possible."
When it came to producing their furniture pieces, students were encouraged to study the diverse possibilities of different materials, which would often lead to interesting discoveries within each group. Furniture Design MFA Maria Camarena Bernard said when creating her crocheted yarn chair that she came across several unexpected material discoveries:
"We started crocheting rope and thick materials thinking that this would help to give some structure to the bodies we were creating. Instead we found that this kind of material became very heavy. Rather than forming a structure, we ended up with a heavy mass of knotted rope wanting to spread on the ground. So we tried again, using soft yarn that would allow us to play more with the forms we wanted to create. Using acrylic and wool yarn, we were able to play with a larger variety of colors."
Camarena also states that the collaborative nature of the project caused her to step outside of her normal patterns of thinking, saying that "as a furniture designer my first instinct was to create a frame or structure to be covered with the textile we would produce. But my collaborator, Aakanksha from the textiles department, was interested in solely using textile as structure and body. I loved the challenge."
Professor Windels feels that the ultimate takeaways from a course like this is in one part about the technical knowledge students gain when tackling their individual project challenges, but it is perhaps more importantly about what each student gains from working with someone possessing a different skillset. "It's almost like working in the real world that you have to work with an engineer, you work with a marketing person," says Windels, "so it just forced them to also see a different perspective and it really worked out well."
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So Awesome. Good Work.