- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sarah Clemente needed lots of support, and Jessica Brown needed lots of Red Bull. Both needed lots of cardboard to tie for second place in the 2009 Chair Affair Competition. Ms. Clemente’s and Ms. Brown’s designs, creations that had to be made only of cardboard and glue, will be displayed through Sunday at the National Building Museum. The unusual contest, now in its fourth year, is sponsored by the International Corrugated Packaging Foundation and the American Institute of Architecture Students.

Both women worked with partners on the project.

“Everyone thought we were nuts,” said Ms. Brown, who recently graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a master’s degree in industrial design.

The idea of sitting on a chair made of the same material as the cardboard box it came in may seem like an odd idea to some - but not to Vern Yip of TLC’s “Trading Spaces,” honorary chairman of this year’s event.

“I absolutely think it is a viable option,” he said. “Some of these look like something I would have in my home … and the industry is moving in the direction of green products.”

Mr. Yip considers corrugated board “green” because 80.7 percent of cardboard boxes are collected for recycling and 43 percent of corrugated products are made of recycled material.

Some contestants certainly consumed a lot of energy on their projects, however.

“The most stressful and difficult challenge is when you have like three other midterms to study for, and you’re cranking along making little cardboard squares,” Ms. Clemente said, laughing. “You start to think, ‘What am I doing?’ ”

Ms. Clemente said the encouragement from classmates motivated her to keep going on her project, a small, modern-looking rocking chair.

“Everyone in class started coming by, saying, ‘Oh it looks so cool, you have to finish it.’ ”

Ms. Brown said the students where she worked on the project were much more critical.

“They were like, ‘You could never get this manufactured because of the cost of the [labor]’ and, ‘You should pick thicker cardboard,’ ” she said. “That part got annoying. After I’d been up for over 20 hours, I don’t want to hear that.”

Ms. Brown said the project was so time-consuming, she and her partner actually missed the submission deadline. He had to convince her to send it in anyway - making it an extra surprise to win second place.

By the time they did send in the design, it included two chairs. After they finished their first chair, they realized they had a lot of material left over - so, “in the spirit of the contest,” they decided to make another chair that looked like it could fit into the first one.

Contest judge and licensed architect Pam Touschner said that idea brought their entry to the top of the pile.

“I thought that was interesting, because when you think about sustainability, they were able to take something, design it, and then get two chairs out of it. I thought that was very clever.”

Ms. Touschner also said that the winning chair, “Hole on Hole,” particularly impressed her because the contestants did not use glue, but simply wove pieces of cardboard together to create a comfortable, sturdy and versatile chair.

“You could almost envision a dog curled up in it,” she said. “It’s not just for an adult - a child could get into it and use it. It really transcends multiple generations.”

Ms. Brown said she likes to be “responsible” with the materials she uses in her designs, and hopes her future design career emphasizes sustainability.

Richard Flaherty, president of the International Corrugated Packaging Foundation, has a lot of hope for people like Ms. Brown, since one of the purposes of the competition was to show students the kind of opportunities available in the corrugated industry, which employs 80,000 people.

Similarly, Mr. Yip hopes none of the contestants is discouraged by the bleak economy.

“You really have to explore your options, and you know what? There’s always going to be an opportunity out there for a good, creative mind, and I think that’s what this competition is meant to showcase,” Mr. Yip said.

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