Mother Earth Living

Green Design: Environmentally Sound Learning in Denver

Denver Metropolital State College students get a real-life lesson in eco-friendly furniture design.
By Jennie Shortridge
May/June 2001
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In a sawdust-filled woodshop at Denver’s Metropolitan State College, instructor Glenn Aaron infuses his furniture design students with passion for quality and strong design principles. Last semester, those principles also included environmentally sound design. In a joint venture with E2M, a Denver-based environmental engineering company, Aaron’s class of six students designed and built furniture for the company’s reception area and conference room.

“It’s a good situation for us,” says E2M president Michael Cassio. “Our work involves developing ways to get rid of pollutants. The students used environmentally friendly products, just as we tell our clients to do. Now we can showcase how such construction can be done and use it as an example in our training. We’re practicing what we preach.”

“Because E2M is an environmental engineering firm, we want to reflect their vision in our design,” explains student Elizabeth St. John. “We wanted to hook into what they do and not use any materials that take away from the earth.”

Deborah Shavlik, one of the class’s principal designers, says, “We created three pieces: the reception desk, a conference table, and credenza. When you walk into this company’s offices, you’re looking out through large windows, so we want these pieces to blend with the Colorado landscape. Our design represents Colorado’s mining past.”

The furniture emulates rustic mining cribs by employing simple lines and post-and-beam construction, and it’s built from reclaimed fir, heart pine, and cypress. “We left all the holes and imperfections in the wood,” explains Aaron, “and sealed it with water-based polyurethane.” Native Colorado buff rock fills the cribs, along with artifacts donated by some of the firm’s seventy-five employees, including pine cones, deer antlers, and an old printer’s drawer from Colorado’s pioneer days. Because the students used only reclaimed materials, narrow gauge railroad spikes serve as drawer handles and old black iron bolts hold the furniture together.

“I hope the students learned that no matter what materials go into a project, those materials give the furniture life and should have an association with the receiver,” says Aaron. “With green design, we’re entering an area that people are very emotional about, and this furniture makes a connection on that level.”

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