Students recycle building materials into fab furniture

by Leah Shutes, Published March 22, 2012


When Ann Arbor's Ecology Center outgrew its offices last winter, it looked to EMU faculty and students for ways to create a new work environment using sustainable materials.

While the nonprofit environmental research and advocacy organization planned its move to the Handicraft Building in downtown Ann Arbor, project architect Wayne Appleyard of Sunstructures Architecture contacted John DeHoog, a furniture design instructor in EMU's Art Department.

"Wayne and I previously worked together on some projects," DeHoog says. "When he mentioned the Ecology Center job, we thought it would be great to get Eastern students involved in the furniture design."

DeHoog presented the project to his Introduction to Furniture Design class during the winter 2010 semester. Appleyard and center staff shared details about workspace needs with the students, who created several small-scale workstation models. The designs called for using reclaimed materials to help the center apply for LEED Gold status.

"Our goal was to create workstations using as much recycled material as possible," DeHoog says.

While gutting the Handicraft Building, crews saved the excess lumber and metal from sprinkler piping for the new workstations. The students created 10, two-sided wooden tables supported by metal legs. A frosted-glass screen gives workers privacy and soft light. An adjacent bulletin board provides space for memos. A small gap between the smoothly finished tabletop and glass leaves room for computer cords.

In addition to the workstations, the students created an entry desk and screen as well as a conference table, bench and other details to unify the office space. The class also used environmentally friendly and non-toxic glues, paints and topcoats. The furniture installation was completed last June.

"The students dealt with the challenges of a real-world project, complete with deadlines, budgets and client needs," says DeHoog, who hopes to develop future collaborative projects for his design students.

Leah Shutes

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