Architecture + Art chair making teaches craftsmanship, shop safety, geometry

All 24 first-year architecture students received 1/3 of a sheet of plywood to create an iconic Zig Zag chair based upon Gerrit Rietveld’s mid-1930s design. Formed by four wood planes joined in rhythmic sequence, it is one of the first examples of a cantilevered solid wood chair.

This is a first-of-its-kind project, designed to orient students to shop safety; to teach tool choice and use; to understand how simple planes can define space and support the body; to understand how geometry affects structure; to become acquainted with the idea of architecture and its relation to the history of furniture; to learn and appreciate craft; to work in teams; and to understand that good design needn’t be expensive.

“It is very rewarding to see how far the freshman students have come since the beginning of the fall semester.” Tom Yacawych, shop manager

Student Josh Rivera said, “The best part about this project was seeing how one piece of wood gradually turns into a beautiful piece of furniture.”

Student Donovan Kurt said, “It was incredible to see the process unfold and to see the progression of our chairs. It was very rewarding to familiarize myself with the woodshop as well as receive helpful guidance along the way.”

Shop manager Tom Yacawych said, “It is very rewarding to see how far the freshman students have come since the beginning of the fall semester — starting off with machine and safety training, and moving on to fabrication with a connection back to design.”

Student Caroline Fraser said her favorite parts of the project were the fabrication process and stepping outside of the classroom for a “hands-on” learning experience.

“Some of the students had not used a table or panel saw prior to the course,” she said, “and Tom was so helpful and kind through the entirety of the process.”

The project was part of AP 111 Fundamentals of Architecture I, co-taught by Professors Cara Armstrong and Arthur Schaller. Architectural Studies, in the School of Architecture + Art, is Norwich University’s of our fastest-growing programs.

Students got to take their chairs home over the Thanksgiving break.

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