Syllabus: A Seat of Learning
Last fall, students in the School of Architecture’s “Construct” course learned how to design a chair.
Winter 2024 | Story by Nithya Ramcharan '25 | Photos by Zeisha B.
ARCH 327/627: Construct
This popular course involves undergraduates and graduates in the design and construction of real projects. For this semester, the focus is building a chair. The goal for each team is to develop critical thinking, project management, technical skills and collaboration, in addition to building the chair itself.
A considerable amount of thought is given to chair construction.
In this Construct class, taught by Professor in the Practice Danny Samuels ’71, students spent a semester working in teams to build a chair that factored in various considerations such as load distribution, human comfort, aesthetics and stability.
Offered by the School of Architecture since 1986, Construct courses have included large-scale projects, even as large as a house. “The intention is to get students out of the studio into the community doing design projects and building the projects they designed,” Samuels says. These courses are time- and labor-intensive and require faculty to supervise the construction. Before thinking about the technicalities of building a chair, the fall class conducted research and sought inspiration in several ways, such as taking a field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to view its chair collection.
The intention is to get students out of the studio into the community doing design projects and building the projects they designed.
The goal of the class was for students to explore techniques of chair construction with one main constraint: “The beauty of it is that [the chairs] are all wood,” Samuels says. Students had to choose the type of wood that worked best for them and discuss their design and technical choices with Samuels. Subsequently, they spent hours in the wood shop building and shaping the components for their chairs.
Fifth-year student Gabriella Feuillet and her group, which included junior Nikola Kolarov and sophomore Musab Salah, wanted to integrate traditional weaving methods with a more contemporary style. “No screws are used in our chair,” she says. In class, she shared a prototype for a joint that took 15 hours to build. “Achieving balance can be a matter of centimeters or millimeters,” she adds.
By the end of the semester, each group was to have produced a full-scale chair model and entered their projects in an international competition for chair design. Regardless of their success, their hard work and deliberate technical choices will sit well with them.
Go to arch.rice.edu/projects/construct to learn more about this series.