The greatest highlight of my time in Copenhagen, Denmark was designing and building a veneer chair with the most skilled craftsmen and teachers in Scandinavia. Part of this course with the Danish Institute for Study Abroad involved a study tour to Sweden and Finland to study furniture of Scandinavia. I got to study the works of the greats: Wegner, Juhl, and Aalto. I learned the cultural significances and principles of Danish design which involves making good design accessible to the masses, staying honest with materials, and being well-crafted.With these principles in mind, we designed (for about 4 weeks) and built (in a period of 2 weeks) our own chairs. The first four weeks were made up of mostly guest lectures from design professionals and academics. We visited many museums, showrooms, and manufacturing facilities. We also sat in, examined, measured, and sketched out many chairs. We learned how to create visual journals out of our sketchbooks, which meant drawing things that are not obviously seen. My instructor Erling Christoffersen is a Danish furniture designer who was an amazing, supportive, and helpful figure in the entire process. The instructional assistants Gudmundur and Clinton were also exceptional teachers who made sure our questions were always answered. All the faculty at DIS were extremely supportive and helpful through our design and building processes.
Designing a chair is a very challenging task. Unlike other pieces of furniture, the chair is the most intimate object to the human body. It is so much about scale, structure, and ergonomics. When designing a chair, I was constantly trying to create something of beauty, function, and comfort. Knowing that I was working with veneer, I wanted my chair to embody the different properties veneer can take: the rigid and the organic. My chair was a combination of that as well as a study of the kinds of techniques one can use to create a veneer chair. A lot of designing was continued through the building process. Changes were made every day when I stepped into the woodshop and worked on making the design into reality. Making objects out of veneer is really different than working with most other materials in that you make the negative space, the molds, to create the positive. So changes are always made to make sure the molds will produce the positive object you intended. I learned so much about furniture design and Danish design during my time in Scandinavia, but I also learned a lot about the people I spent my time with there and about the the city itself.
Through DIS I also met many different students from other design schools like Pratt and Rhode Island School of Design. Some also have backgrounds in Architecture, some in Industrial Design. Getting to work closely with other students from other schools and studies was also a great learning experience.
Being immersed in the city of Copenhagen was such a valuable experience. Getting to understand the city through its public transportation, its unique architecture, and the culture was an experience I value greatly.
Not only do I get to take with me the unforgettable memories, new friendships, and newfound knowledge I’ve gained through this experience in Denmark, I also bring back with me a beautiful chair I am extremely proud of making and designing. It not only embodies all the great things about the study abroad experience I have mentioned above in this essay, it is also something I will have with me and use for the rest of my life.
Annie Chiang, Product Design at DIS