Furniture design goes digital: new exhibition launched

Earlier this year students on the Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation’s Furniture Design course were tasked with creating a prototype memorial bench to commemorate the life of NZ architect Sir Ian Athfield, in collaboration with Athfield Architects. The original plan was to build and exhibit their proposed benches, but unfortunately lockdown had other ideas.

Halfway there exhibition poster

With no way to get into the workshop the third- and fourth-year students had to improvise, resulting in Halfway There, a fully digital furniture exhibition.

The students used a series of design methods to develop a final concept, allowing them to experiment with new techniques and advance their skills. However, the lockdown meant that this concepting and experimentation all needed to be done digitally.

A central theme for the bench was the idea of circular economy—which aims to reduce waste by emphasising repair, adaptability and reduced environmental impact of products—something that became even more important once lockdown meant the class could no longer access the workshops. Instead, for modelling they had to adapt and improvise, making do with materials that were easily available like cereal boxes and leftover cardboard.

Athfield Architects collaborated with the students, giving them tours around Athfield House and insider knowledge about who Sir Ian Athfield really was.

“Their input was vital to the process from start to finish. We hope the resulting products are something that really symbolises Ath,” say students Harry Chote and Yvan Weeresinghe.

The unexpectedly more conceptual approach to the project has resulted in a diverse range of concepts that encompasses each student’s perspectives of circular economy.

“The students showed adaptability, resourcefulness, and resilience in terms of the changing brief, finding materials to do sketch development models, and the move to online delivery during lockdown,” says Natasha Perkins, Senior Lecturer at the Wellington School of Architecture.

“It’s been a great opportunity for them to engage with a top-level firm like Athfield Architects and learn about the history of the practice and how they approach design and material selection. The students discovered that a concept design doesn’t become a reality without a lot of ongoing development and specification with the client around ideas, materials, and processes in relationship to site.”

The proposed bench was to be situated halfway up the hill to the Athfield House in Khandallah, Wellington. Athfield Architects plan to take some of the students’ design concepts and develop them further for the site.