September 4, 2007

Cornell Architects Win National Chair Design Competition

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Cardboard and glue were the only materials that three Cornell architecture students used to win first place in the annual Chair Affair competition hosted by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and the International Corrugated Packing Foundation (ICPF) last spring.
Nicholette Chan ’10, Andrew Kim ’10 and Jean You ’10 worked together to design a chair not only to learn about new building materials and systems, but also to become aware of the abundance of leftover corrugated cardboard and its potential for re-use.
“The poster caught our attention — creating a chair out of recycled cardboard and glue is such an interesting design challenge,” said Chan.
Corrugated cardboard is made from a natural renewable resource and is one of the most widely recycled materials. In 2002, more than 23 million tons of corrugated cardboard, 74 percent of all containerboard produced in the same year, were recovered and recycled in the U.S.
The team was instructed to build a chair which “elevates an user of undetermined size off of the ground comfortably for an extended period of time,” according to the competition’s official website. Entries were submitted from 56 schools and were sent to the AIAS office in D.C. where they were judged based on their clear and comprehendible design, originality, ergonomic comfort, aesthetic quality, cleverness of craft and details and potential for reproduction. Six finalists were selected. The entries had to include a design board describing the chair’s attributes as well as an essay explaining the most important concepts of the design project and what the entrants learned by building the chair.
The ability to use only cardboard and glue was only one challenge put forth by this competition.
“Getting the cardboard ‘skin’ to glue and bend properly was tricky. Only on the third attempt did we finally find the right combination. Also, we had to find creative ways to hold our cardboard together as it dried, which mostly resulted in using our bodies as ‘human clamps,’” said You.
The three Cornell students used the design techniques of folding and aggregation while creating their chair, which was unique in that it focused more on public spaces than on aesthetics, one of the main factors that led them to winning first place.
“Our main goal was to accommodate more than one person. Every other entry just had one formal aesthetic chair, but we focused more on the public and accommodating for more people, or using this in a more public place such as a subway or airport,” said Kim.
After the first tier of judging, four merit distinction awards were given in the categories of aesthetics, construction process, comfort and innovation. Their recipients were not limited to the finalists.
The Cornell entry was chosen as one of the six finalists. It advanced to the second tier of judging at the 2007 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in San Antonio.
The Cornell students won first place and a total of $2500 and $275 for the AIAS Cornell Chapter and a trip to the Association of Independent Corrugated Converters Convention in Minneapolis this October. The finalists’ chairs were put on display in San Antonio.
The competition was both educational and fun, according to Chan, Kim and You who all agreed that their favorite part of the competition was “dumpster diving for recycled cardboard at midnight.”