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Striking Student Designs in NYC + Milan

Eight RISD students in Furniture Design and Textiles are exhibiting crocheted and knitted furniture as part of Italy’s renowned design triennial.

Striking Student Designs in NYC + Milan

These prototypes of four crocheted and knitted chairs are on view through June 26 at the 2016 triennial in Italy.

As part of NYCxDesign events in May, nine undergraduate and graduate students in Furniture Design and Textiles are exhibiting new collaborative work at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, the mega-event at Manhattan’s Javits Center from May 14–17. Simultaneously, selected work from the same RISD studio is on view in The Narrative of Making, which continues through June 26 as part of the XXI Triennale International Exhibition Milan 2016 (XX1T). As the only students from an American college invited to participate in the Under 35 portion of the renowned triennial in Italy, they’re showing their full-scale furniture prototypes at Milan’s Cathedral of the Fabbrica del Vapore.

Produced in a fall research studio, the six pieces of furniture featured at the ICFF grew out of a collaborative effort between Furniture Design and Textiles students doing in-depth, multidisciplinary materials research to rethink applications for soft materials in furniture design. Rather than using conventional upholstery techniques – where an underlying structure typically made of wood or metal is covered with foam and then skinned in fabric – in this work students emphasize the inherent qualities of the materials themselves by weaving, knitting, knotting and crocheting comfortable seating options.

Two chairs – both a brilliant red – present very different takes on the potential of crocheting furniture. Working with paper yarn, Andrew Bannar 16 FD and Noelle Webster 16 TX created a striking contemporary chair (top left) with a seat suspended from a stainless steel frame and self-reinforcing arms and backrest. In contrast, grad students Maria Camarena Bernard MFA 16 FD and Aakanksha Sirothia MFA 16 TX used acrylic yarn to crochet a stuffed lounge chair (top middle) in which the crochet work itself offers a structural framework and creates ruffled armrests and back support.

For their Looped Pile Seat (top right and second row left), Ana Mosseri 17 FD and Elaina Runge MFA 17 TX referenced the way plush carpets are made – using a supplementary yarn pulled through a structural base fabric to form a surface of loops. Using a continuous strip of upholstered foam that changes color from fuchsia to coral, they’ve created a wonderfully inviting, nubby chair that envelops the user in a deep embrace.

Michelle Dunbar 16 TX and Mayela Mujica MFA 16 TX experimented with industrially knitted wool, cotton and spandex to create an equally playful piece (second row right). Called Stretch Lounge, it offers seating for two and stretches to reveal vibrant colors hidden in the folds of the knitted textile when someone sits in it and then reverts back to its original form when not in use.

“The furniture in The Narrative of Making tells a visual story about how it was made,” says Associate Professor Lothar Windels BID 96, who led the fall research studio. “In each piece, various components come together in a transparent, self-explanatory manner.”

During the semester, the juniors, seniors and graduate students in the studio presented initial models and then iterated on their designs with each round of critical feedback before creating full-scale mock-ups. These, in turn, provided a solid foundation for making the prototypes selected for both the Milan triennial and the ICFF in NYC.

“By focusing on authentic construction principles and accentuating the haptic qualities of the material, students present objects that allow for a deeper emotional attachment” than is afforded by “the world of concealed consumer goods,” Windels says. Exhibited in the context of one of the world’s most renowned showcases for architecture, design and craftsmanship, this new work exemplifies the sense of wonder and possibility with which RISD students approach their work.

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