BLACKSBURG, Va., June 10, 2003 – A team of Virginia Tech students won the "Editor's Choice" award at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City May 17-20, 2003. The yearly furniture fest is this country's premier event for contemporary design. Virginia Tech, one of only four schools selected to participate, exhibited alongside hundreds of companies showing the best and hippest home and office products from 22 countries. During the four exhibit days, the convention center attracted more than 17,000 interior designers, architects, retailers, facility managers, wholesalers, store design professionals, hotel and restaurant designers, manufacturers, students, and members of the general public.
Associate Dean and Director of Industrial Design Robert Dunay answered a Request for Proposal advertised in Interior Design Magazine, and the work was selected to receive a complimentary exhibit space. Each year, the ICFF holds a juried competition to select the top design schools to fill these spots which are among the most coveted at the fair because the students are invited to present their works-in-progress alongside the finished products of the international design community's leading designers and manufacturers. During the event, a panel of editors from leading design journals judged all the exhibits in 16 categories. Winners were named at an awards ceremony at the event. The Virginia Tech exhibit was chosen winner of the "design school" category, competing against the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California; Parsons School of Design, New School University, New York, New York; and the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York. This is the first time Industrial Design has answered the RFP, the first time to have been selected to exhibit, and as rookies came away the top winner in their category.
The 10 x 20 ft. exhibit represented a portion of the solar house (designed last year to compete in the National Solar Decathlon held in Washington, D.C.) emphasizing the structure's materials, and showcasing furniture made by industrial design students. "We already had the raw material, so when I saw the RFP, it seemed to fit in terms of the industrial design program and the university and what it could bring in terms of national recognition. I also saw it as an educational opportunity -- for seven students to participate in something like this is a chance they'll rarely get in their academic studies," says Dunay.
When the students weren't manning the exhibit, they had the chance to walk around and visit the exhibits from 400 designers, manufacturers, and representative firms displaying choice examples of contemporary furniture, seating, lighting, carpet and flooring, wall coverings, textiles, materials, accessories, kitchen and bath products, and outdoor furniture for residential and commercial interiors. "It is an outreach project, it's a spin off of a research project, and it provides a unique educational experience outside the classroom. It simultaneously fulfills the three missions of the university," says Dunay.
The efficient design of the exhibit utilized the actual packaging crate used to transport it to New York. The structure was designed as a spatial expression of the solar house. One wall of the crate became the floor, and the other panel served as a large exhibit wall. A special structure was integrated to allow forklift transport. This frame also contained electrical distribution and held computers and a plasma screen that continuously showed the 7-minute Solar Decathlon video developed by VT's Visual and Broadcast Communications.
Student team members who traveled to New York included Aaron Emmons (lead), Yousef Nawas, Ross Marks, Stefani Bachetti, Junko Hosokawa, Tor Stevertson, and Chollaporn Ounkomol. Also working on the exhibit were Kelly Blanchard and Joe McCoy. When asked what stood out the most about the experience, Nawas said seeing all the design at the Javits Center was exciting. "When you go there, you get to see different trends, different schools of thought, different ideas, and things you've never encountered before."
When comparing the Virginia Tech exhibit to the other participating schools, Nawas said ours was distinctively different. "It was not superficially polished like many of the exhibits at the exposition, but you could see there were tons of ideas in one element," Nawas gives the credit to Emmons, who designed the display, and says "we didn't go into this with the mindset of winning a prize or seeking fame - we were there with our best to promote our ideas about design and sustainability. Winning first in the design school category was merely the result of doing what we love to do -- design -- and people could tell by exploring our pavilion." As winners, the team will automatically be invited to exhibit at next year's fair.