The Course: Furniture Design-Build | University of Nevada, Las Vegas

The Course: Furniture Design-Build | University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Editor’s Note:

The Course is a recurring UNLV News Center feature that spotlights new and unique classes being taught across the university.   

With millions of professionals streaming into Las Vegas’ convention showrooms annually, UNLV students often get unique experiences that put the smack-dab in the middle of industry conventions and conferences. It gives them a unique opportunity to learn while making early career connections with prospective employers.

A perfect example: The UNLV School of Architecture’s Furniture Design-Build class, which is giving students a chance to showcase their work on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center this week. We asked architecture professor Joshua Vermillion, who specializes in the integration of digital technologies with the design and fabrication processes, to tell us more about the class.

About the course: AAE 495/695: Furniture Design-Build

We are designing and building seating furniture prototypes using tile material systems and tools provided by our industry partners. As both constraints and generators of design, these free materials will provide us an opportunity to learn by doing, or, in other words, we will fold material finishes, joining methods, construction workflows and other practical training into our design work in order to conceive and then make full-scale furniture.

Our prototypes will then be displayed on the showroom floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center in April 5-8 during the 2022 Coverings Show, the preeminent convention for the ceramic tile and natural stone industries in North America. 

Why is it being taught

Tile industry leaders approached us with the original idea. Then the following learning objectives where developed: 

  • Learn from and collaborate with industry professionals 
  • Manage time, develop leadership skills, and work within teams in order to accomplish a series of tasks with a tangible outcome
  • Better understand the relationship between design decision-making and material, production, and budget constraints
  • Learn and practice some practical skills from the tile and coverings industry
  • Prototype your ideas, work out detailing, and manage quality control within the development of a working furniture piece

Who’s taking it

It’s an elective course open to any upperclassmen and graduate students in the School of Architecture.

Who’s teaching

I am the official instructor. In practice however, our colleague Paul Morrison, who manages some of the labs and shops in the School of Architecture, has been crucial to the course. Morrison manages the course resources, gives practical feedback and training in shop skills, and ensures participants maintain  a safe working environment. These courses are really big efforts by those involved.

How it works

The class is hands-on, project-based, and uses experiential-learning strategies. Industry performed a series of workshops with us and then the students applied what they have learned to create tangible results–in this case, fully-functional furniture that will be displayed at Coverings 2022 (the largest tile and stone show in North America) at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Prioritizing the experience of the process as a way of learning and generating knowledge, experiential learning is a cyclical, iterative learning model with four parts: Experience, Reflect, Conceptualize, Experiment (and then repeat). Students learn from their failures, develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and are actively engaged, not only in learning, but internalizing what they are learning through description and reflection. They develop an understanding that designing, thinking, and speculating do not stop when making begins and are able to hypothesize next steps for experimentation, and on and on as they cycle through the loop.

What students might be surprised to learn

I think students would be surprised that the instructors learn just as much as the students during these sorts of courses. There is a steep learning curve anyway, but more so in trying to stay a step or two ahead of the students.

What excites instructors the most about this class

This course lays out a possible path to combining research and development with materials, community and industry engagement, economic development, and active, project-based learning, all-in-one. This is something that architecture schools around the country are good at doing, and we are uniquely positioned to do more projects like these given our location in Las Vegas and the number of trade shows and conventions that meet here every year.

Read more: The trade journal TileLetter magazine featured the UNLV students in its recent article “UNLV architectural students shine with bench project at Coverings”

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