For One Studio Fundamentals Class, Cardboard Is the Medium

Posted: December 22, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Ryan Effgen

Last semester, a house was constructed outside the Performing Arts Building made entirely of cardboard, postconsumer plastics, and wooden pallets–materials normally considered disposable. This was the Corrugated Habitat project, the brainchild of Art and Visual Technology (AVT) students and their professor Morgan Kennedy.

In the AVT 105 Studio Fundamentals II course, students learn the basic principles of three-dimensional design and how they apply to the creation of art and the practical world. As design firms in Europe are creating functional and stylish furniture out of cardboard, Kennedy proposed this project to his students: utilize these techniques to construct a habitat that would invoke the conception of cardboard homeless dwellings, yet would be durable, comfortable, and, ultimately, livable.

Kennedy had originally envisioned each student creating individual dwellings and then actually spending 12 hours inside. He then suggested the possibility of the entire class collaborating on a larger, single cardboard habitat. It was put to a class vote and the students favored the group project. This involved drafting a design, gathering materials, and physically constructing the house. Kennedy and his 16 students met once a week for a six-hour class session. As with any college course, work outside the normal class hours was necessary and his students rose to the challenge, coming in on weekends to work on the project.

outside of corrugated house
Art and Visual Technology students created this corrugated habitat from recyled materials.

“One of the lessons of the class was the collaboration aspect-the idea of working with others as well as working on their own project. It wasn’t a question of rank, [it was] a question of doing what you need to do. The majority of the students responded highly to it and the department did as well,” says Kennedy.

Kennedy used his house-building skills and worked as foreman, concentrating mainly on the exterior of the house. The students were assigned to create specific objects to fill the interior. Many of these were usable pieces of furniture: a cardboard bed, bookshelves, table, and chairs. Others were decorative: a cardboard laptop, stove, toilet, and fireplace.

interior of corrugated house
The interior of the house featured sturdy and usable pieces of furniture.

Kennedy’s passion for the project was made clear to his students. While working on the habitat, he fractured his wrist and kept on going. “They saw how much it meant to me,” he says.

The result was a provocative creation–at once artistic and functional, political and playful. “I wanted to have the students think about the social implications of the project. What it means outside of the academy, outside of the gallery.”

“We took simple recyclable trash and transformed it into a special experience,” says AVT student J.D. Bickel. “Many times, art can be viewed as yes or no. In this case, everyone I spoke to had to know why. That is powerful!”

Kennedy adds that the project would not have been possible without the help of Atlas Packaging in Baltimore and the George Mason Recycling Center for donating the materials, the Department of Theater for its patience and cooperation, and AVT’s Sculpture Division under Tom Ashcraft and Peter Winant for their support.

Though the corrugated habitat elicited a wide array of responses, there was no question that it made for a successful class. Kennedy will be teaching AVT 105 in the spring and plans on streamlining the project, working on smaller, individual dwellings.

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