It's not unrealistic for some students in Furniture Design to visualize their final renderings on the stage of a legendary music venue like Carnegie Hall. In a fall research studio, they developed groundbreaking design concepts for Steinway & Sons - the New York-based company widely known for making the word's finest pianos.
After a series of consultations over the course of the semester, representatives from the iconic company visited RISD for final reviews, where students presented innovative case designs now being considered for production. "There were a couple of designs presented by our students that representatives especially liked," said Associate Professor Lothar Windels BID 96, who taught the studio. "These approaches are very different from the current product range that Steinway offers - even in the limited editions."
An unusual veneer developed by Andrew Prioli 13 FD was a hit with the piano aficionados. Utilizing an unorthodox layering technique, he created a pattern that mixes blacks and browns into interesting geometric patterns. "This is the strength of the design," noted Andy Hobachevsky, Steinway's vice president of marketing. "It's the subtle stuff that takes it to the next level."
And a structural design presented by Matt Muller 14 FD was especially well received. To give the instrument some added panache, the junior designed a decorative, wooden frame that traces the outline of the instrument's exterior curves and sits on the ground directly below the body of the piano. "I thought the curve of the piano was really beautiful," Muller explains. "I didn't want to change it all. Instead, I wanted to enhance it." To ensure that his lovely frame remains secure, he attached it to each of the four legs.
After Muller concluded his presentation, Hobachevsky noted that the piano might rock back and forth due to the shape of the frame. "We have a rule - never catch a falling piano," he joked, adding that the tasteful design would actually be appealing to a global clientele. "This can be commercially marketed," the vice president explained.
Before putting the finishing touches on his final model, Muller developed three concept designs - an assignment given to each student enrolled in the research studio. To bring those concepts to fruition, he honed his ability to hash out renderings in Rhino, a version of 3D modeling software. But more importantly, while designing for Steinway, he cultivated the flexibility to design for almost any client.
Initially, Muller found the assignment quite challenging since there were certain mechanisms of the piano that must remain unaltered. "It was so unnatural for me at first - having to work within parameters. But it was a huge lesson," he explains. "You have to push the boundaries to make things your own. And you have to compromise."
Laura Seele, who manages custom design projects for Steinway, was especially impressed with the variety of the work presented. "There are some exceptional designs here that Steinway & Sons might be interested in manufacturing," Seele said. "I love engaging with RISD students. They think outside the box."
The students will find out in February if Steinway intends to execute any of their designs. Because it takes over a year to produce just one of the sonorous instruments, there are a variety of factors that must be considered before any concept is finalized. But students say the opportunity is well worth the wait.
"Steinway employs the best craftsmen in the world," Muller notes enthusiastically. "It's amazing just to get the chance to work with such an iconic brand." -Abigail Crocker
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