“The Future” was the theme that students at Kent State University considered to design chairs for the 15th Annual Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition. Preceded by a class, the competition was part of a year-long program developed by Wilsonart, a world leading creator of beautiful engineered surfaces, in which students learned how to design and build a one-of-a-kind chair and prepare for a major trade show.
Wilsonart introduced the Wilsonart Challenges program more than a decade ago, making it the longest-running sponsored student design class in the U.S. A different design school hosts Wilsonart Challenges each year.
“The process is one that takes the students, professors, and staff on a journey of exploration of not only the design process but one of self-exploration,” says Dr. Pamela Evans, IIDA 2018 Educator of the Year and director of the interior design program at Kent State University.
Kent State student Greg Genter won the 2019 competition with his design “Assembly.” His chair is an exploration into what a chair should be. Assembly requires that the user put energy and thoughtfulness into the act of sitting. In turn, by putting in this energy, one inherently connects more with the object and thus receives a richer experience.
The judges noted that Assembly is both art and architecture. The chair takes cues from Brutalist architecture and the architectural sense of form and multi-function. The use of laminate in Assembly’s design made the volume of the form read more as an authentic and integrated object. Judges also appreciated the chair’s monumental scale and the choice of grey that allowed for a delightful play of shadows.
Each entry in this year’s competition was inspired by the students’ personal interpretation of what the future means and how it can be expressed in a chair design. For the first time this year, students were encouraged to explore this theme through parametric design and digital fabrication.
“Using parametric design and digital fabrication helped the students concept, design, and build chairs that have an architectural sense to them,” says Grace Jeffers, design historian and Wilsonart Challenges program director. “Through this process, the students have created stunning chairs that are an excellent expression of the brief they were given—to think about the future.”
Students used patterns from the Wilsonart Laminate Collection. The winning chair and five runners up made their first public appearance in booth #2213 at the 2019 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) May 19–22 in New York.
“From a chair inspired by the philosophy of ‘Go with the Flow’ to another one that communicated ‘Life is a Journey,’ this year’s students have beautifully expressed their thoughts about the future,” notes Tammy Weadock, communications manager at Wilsonart. “The Future was also a perfect guidepost for designing with laminate, a material which continues to evolve each year in equal parts art and engineering. We are overwhelmed with the students’ artistry, creativity, and inventive uses.”