March 7, 2017
Our graduate-level Furniture Studio enjoys some unique characteristics within the mix of studios offered each year, but it also shares one: that intense, last-gasp, total-immersion, getting to completion scenario. Students learn early and often that this can be a constant feature of their education and – later – of their professional life. Why this is part of our culture could be argued, but it is a very rare student indeed who makes it through their years at UW without experiencing a beyond-total-exhaustion push to the finish. With five days to go to final review, we are in Crunch Time.
Furniture Studio does differ from some others in one critical aspect: It is possible in some design studios to push off decisions about how to best present a design almost to the end, while the particular challenge here is to set reasonable presentation goals early on to achieve them by finishing completely. A complete design and a complete piece are required – without a real, fully finished thing in front of reviewers there can be no discussion.
Consciousness about the final push starts in the middle of the quarter, when the purchase of final materials – primarily wood and metal – takes place. From that point onward every student is behind. Not all of them know it, or can admit it to themselves, but they are all behind. They have successfully negotiated the design of their pieces, have created physical and digital models, made full-scale prototypes, and have figured quantities and types of final materials. They feel they should be ready for production, but discover instead that specific grain patterns, the actual size of and behavior of materials and the technologies available require a period of design development.
Then production. As they cut and shape their material some of them choose the wrong line, drill holes in the wrong place, experience splitting or warping or denting…and come close to tears. Frustration can ensue, but faculty and staff are quick to show how such “mistakes” create opportunities to move out of production mode and re-engage design, typically making the pieces better than they were before. This is perhaps the biggest take-away of the studio – that any opportunity to intelligently re-engage the design process can yield real benefits even very late in the day.
We are in the middle of the final push now. Students move more quickly along the well-traveled paths between workbench and tools. Their speech is clipped and they focus intently on what they are doing. They dance around one-another, and sometimes with one-another as they apply their learning to the tasks at hand; drilling, carving, planing, sanding, fitting, gluing, tapping, bending, helping, clamping, cutting, turning, cleaning…and more. They are confident and organized, and they all have one eye on the clock and calendar. If brains could be on fire we would see smoke coming out their ears.
In a week they will be recovering from the many late nights required to get to the finish line – the final review. They will be preparing to travel to Copenhagen to continue their studies under the guidance of Erling Christoffersen, the 2017 Scan|Design Professor of Furniture Design. We will visit furniture galleries, collections, factories and historic installations to see how furniture design, building design and the design of infrastructure can be seamlessly considered and integrated. They will see that what they have learned through individual effort can – with additional effort – be translated into production terms, and will continue to develop their designs during the trip to suit those conditions. We will allow plenty of opportunities to relive and savor memories of – and tell (exaggerated) stories about…Crunch Time.