UH art students tackle benches


POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2009

A bench is simple.

“;It's something you can sit on, it can go inside, outside, you see it in the city, country, the park,”; said David Landry, an Art 358 summer school teacher at the University of Hawaii. “;It's got all kinds of connotations for just being a long thing that people sit on.”;





        Miniature benches designed by University of Hawaii Art 358 students

» What: University of Hawaii Design Challenge


» When: 6 to 8 p.m. today.


» Where: Design Within Reach Honolulu Studio, Ala Moana Center top level, next to Nordstrom


» Call: 941-2112


Pieces will be judged by design professionals Bundit Khanisthakohn of Urbanworks; Laurie Takahashi, formerly of MVE and Fritz Johnson Architects; Susan Ishikawa of Lapis Design Partners; Gina Bacon Kerr of Philpotts & Associates; and John Stasack, furniture builder




It might also be a benchmark when made part of an art exhibit, like the one debuting tonight and being judged by professionals at the Design Within Reach store at Ala Moana Center.

It's the first partnership for the store and the University of Hawaii's Utilitarian Sculpture class, said Curtis Lee of DWR.

“;We thought it would be great event, and wanted to introduce the students to some of the design people in the community, so this is the perfect marriage,”; he said.

“;The emphasis is on design, not so much production,”; said Landry, who runs the woodshop and teaches the summer class, something he's done for 10 years. “;We want (the students) to know what they mean when they say 'dovetail' or 'mortise and tenon' joint.”;

Landry, who sometimes teaches the class in the spring—“;depending on the University's budget”;—said the classes are small, consisting of about 12 students.

Experience using woodworkers' tools is helpful, but not necessary to enroll in the three-credit course.

The assignment: Make an original bench, from conceptual sketch to scale model, assuming that it could actually be built and placed somewhere like, say, Ala Moana Park.

“;They're first built at one-sixth scale, which means a person a foot tall would have to be able to sit and lounge on it,”; he said. “;It goes from fantasy to reality because all of a sudden it has to fit a person.”;

The students then progressed to the final, bigger, one-third scale models being viewed at DWR, constructed of recycled materials.

“;Ninety percent of the material came from Re-Use Hawaii (in Kakaako). The other 10 percent of the wood came from people's yards, what they could find in the neighborhood, pieces of used furniture, all recycled.”;

Landry rotates class projects from tables to benches each session, but is particularly fond of the bench.

“;The kids are confronted with all kinds of possibilities not had with a chair, table or cabinet. It can be a very simple but elegant thing,”; he said. “;You can sit on a stump or a can, but a bench lends itself to more flights of fantasy in design.”;

He gives credit to artist Lonny Tomono, based on the Big Island, for this insight. The idea developed after Landry's class took a field trip to the Honolulu Academy of Arts, during which Tomono received an award for his bench design incorporating huge blocks of wood joined by enormous dovetail joints for a striking presentation.

“;His idea was off-the-wall from what people are used to thinking about benches.”;

Most of the students go on to pursue programs in furniture or industrial design. Former student Andrew Neuman was a finalist in the DWR's champagne chair contest earlier this year and his design was one of 50 selected for a national tour.

“;It's a budding program. We're making headway, training designers,”; Landry said.

For more information about the Utilitarian Sculpture class, call 956-8221.