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Students furnish the goods

Design students develop furniture for the Maison du développement durable
May 2, 2011
By Karen Herland
Source: Concordia Journal

Emmanuel Lalande asks students Sarah Nesbitt and Antonio Starnino (right) about the modular tables they designed for the Maison du développement durable as a class project. | Photo Concordia University
Emmanuel Lalande asks students Sarah Nesbitt and Antonio Starnino (right) about the modular tables they designed for the Maison du développement durable as a class project. |  Photo Concordia University

Concordia students are working to make the Maison du développement durable into a sustainable home for the nine community-minded organizations that will occupy it when it opens its doors in fall 2011.

Students in the Department of Design and Computation Arts have worked with professor Martin Racine to design furnishings, reception desks and benches for the structure that will house organizations including Equiterre, the Montreal Amnesty International office and the headquarters of the city’s Eco-quartiers program.

The project, billed on its website as “65,000 square feet of hope,” is being constructed at the corner of Clark and Ste-Catherine streets as a showpiece for sustainable design. The building will function as a public and community space as well as allowing resident organizations to benefit from shared resources, equipment and facilities.

“When I asked Normand Roy, the coordinator of the project, last October what the plan for the furniture was, he said they didn’t have one yet,” said Racine, who, as a member of Equiterre, knew some of the key players in the project. That proved the perfect opening for a project in Racine’s ecodesign class.

The mission was to conceive of and design multi-purpose, functional, attractive and ecologically responsible furnishings that would withstand wear and tear and be flexible enough to adapt to existing, changing and possible future needs.

Sarah Nesbitt, one of the students in the class, was excited by the opportunity. “It’s always fun as a student to work with a client,” she says of the experience. “They wanted a really eco-friendly environment, and it was a challenge to meet that expectation.” She adds that the experience has led her to question a distinction between this project and others: “We don’t need a category for ecodesign; that should just be part of how design works.”

Students had to consider the glues and materials used to finish the pieces that would be constructed using a stash of bowling alley wood that had been stored in a nearby farmhouse for just such an eventual reuse.

The class worked in smaller teams to develop the different pieces needed for the project. Nesbitt worked with another student, Antonio Starnino, to create tables that could work in the kitchen.

In the end, they worked off a “bio-inspired” honeycomb design that reflects the colour of the blond wood they will use. The pieces are modular and can fit together in a classic dining style or combine to create a long banquet or meeting table if the need arises.

Students also designed an information kiosk with an interactive information and referral screen that is powered by a hand crank.

Racine, who was named a Sustainability Champion by Sustainable Concordia earlier this spring, explained that each piece of furniture will have a kind of time capsule hidden underneath or behind it, a concept designed by Marisa Renaud. These will contain details on the sustainable materials and models used in the furniture’s construction along with information on disposal.

Although the class is over, the students’ involvement in the project continues over the summer. With the designs in hand, students will be working with youth at Le Boulot vers …, an organization that teaches furniture-making skills to unemployed, underemployed and homeless people 16 to 25 years old. Since 1983, young people in the program have produced furniture for shelters and daycare centres. The plan is to have the furnishings in place for the Maison du développement durable’s grand opening in the fall.

Related links:
•    Concordia Department of Design and Computation Arts
•    Maison du développement durable
•    Le Boulot vers ...

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