Last year Josh Owen, associate professor of industrial design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, had the radical idea to team up his students with the design team at a major manufacturer and see what they could produce. The result? Industrial materials molded into beautifully designed products. Titled “Metaproject,” the program offers students the opportunity to pick the brains of design professionals, come up with cutting-edge designs of their own, in the hopes of displaying their work at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
In it’s first iteration, students were connected with Wilsonart International, a company that’s been producing high pressure decorative laminate for over half a century. Final student designs ranged from chairs, one made up entirely of small hexagons, to a ladder featuring convex and concave rungs. A panel of Wilson Art professionals, a magazine editor, a Museum of Arts & Design curator, and R.I.T. staff members reviewed the work and chose the six best student pieces to show at ICFF as a part of New York’s Design Week.
Metaproject 02, as it’s been branded, is all about glass. Glassmakers and curators at the Corning Museum of Glass will guide a group of both RIT design and glass students to create artful domestic products out of recycled glass. The hope, says Owen, is that glass students will teach design students about glass technology and how to work with the medium, and design students will educate glass students on design theory using R.I.T.’s own impressive glass studio. Stocked with coldworking, kiln casting, flame working, and hot glass equipment the studio is well prepared to take on any design they come up with.
While the partnership with Corning will give students access to a wealth of inspiring exhibits, workshops, and historical texts, the interaction of the design and glass students should also be interesting. The traditional glass program focuses on art for art’s sake, or as Robin Cass, faculty member at RIT’s School for American Crafts, says, “There is not as much attention on what you’re making it for, why, where its going. You’re making the great goblet but why? We haven’t been thoughtful about that.” Forced to go outside of their comfort zone, glass students will have to consider the client and production costs rather than flash and color. Cass thinks it’s important for craft students to consider the vessel and how its design fits into people’s lives, beyond as a mantelpiece. “We’re hoping they’ll graduate with more range in what they can do and who they can work with,” says Cass.
Experts at the Corning Museum of Glass will give seminars on the history of glass and offer advice on how to work with the material.
“Metaproject 02″ is a clear win for students, having CMoG’s experts at their disposal to help shape their artistic ventures into usable products and the opportunity to show their work in a well publicized industry event, but Meta-project’s effect goes beyond Rochester. Design industry professionals don’t often have the latitude students do to create products that move beyond mass market dictates. Presenting new and innovative work could act as a source of inspiration that flows back to those experts offering their guidance. “I think the work ends up looking quite fresh against some more staid professional works,” Owen says.
Look for the best student work in glass that comes out of the second year of this program to premier at New York’s Design Week at the Javits Center, May 19-22 of 2012.