Passersby may have wondered what students armed with shovels and wheelbarrows were up to this week on the South lawn of the Chifley Library.
In response to COVID, students from the ANU School of Art & Design course Furniture: Support/Body have taken their learning outside to install a “lawn chair”: a chair and ottoman built from laser cut cardboard, gravel, soil and lawn turf.
This year has been particularly hard on hands-on studio-based courses at the School, from the bushfires and hailstorm damage, to the extended impacts of COVID. In prior years, the course has emphasised woodworking and chair design prototyping, but the restrictions of social distancing impacted normal studio and workshop access, so the entire course was reimagined.
“We were able to pivot the teaching and learning to allow students to work from home and still learn volumes about design, ergonomics and the social aspects of furniture” says Head of Furniture, lecturer Ms Ashley Eriksmoen.
“To make the course extra special, we invited a series of 10 international furniture maker/designers as guest lecturers to provide a wide range of influence and expertise,” she says. And to maintain a social element to the classes, Technical Officer Simon Ramsey held with weekly meetings at La Baguette Café, based in the School.
Cardboard was chosen as the medium for the main infrastructure of the lawn chair; as it has been for all the other chairs the students have made this semester. As Ms Eriksmoen explains, cardboard is a cheap and sustainable material choice that has incredible structural integrity for its light weight.
“Using cardboard makes sense in the context of contemporary situations of population mobility,” Ms Eriksmoen says. “People are on the move and living in smaller spaces for shorter durations, whether that is driven by the frequent moving of students and young people, the plight of transient people in urban settings, or refugees from bushfire, climate change, or political and economic instability.”
The COVID situation has also meant rethinking the traditional classroom environment. Installing outdoor seating together seemed to Ms Eriksmoen a perfect way to get the students out of their Zoom windows and doing a safe and fun activity together on campus.
“At the same time, the installation of the new “lawn chair” contributes to the use of the beautiful outdoor spaces on campus for social activities, encouraging students to engage with campus in new ways,” she adds.
Student Dominic Gowens described the project as fantastic, and was keen to participate in more similar activities.
“I expect to go past and see someone sitting in it every time I pass,” he says. “As soon as people realise it’s there, it’s going to be used.”
Another classmate Olinda Narayanan says, “It was good to see everybody in person and get our hands dirty and do something physical. It’s been so long.”
“The chair looks a bit lonely with the single ottoman, but I think it’s got great potential — we could see them all over campus. We could do a whole bunch!”
The ANU Furniture workshop was grateful for the support and assistance of the ANU Facilities and Services team to help make their idea a reality.
“I hope we can continue making positive interventions around campus in coming semesters,” Ms Eriksmoen says.
This news story was originally published on the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences website.