Redesigning Environmental Impact


Moscow, Idaho - Interior design students at the University of Idaho are personalizing the university's call to action on sustainability and conservation, and they're hoping to make an international impact with a low embodied energy design.
A team of eight students from the University of Idaho's College of Art and Architecture recently exhibited at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) at New York City's Jacob K. Javits Center. A jury of editors from leading design journals hand-selected only six design schools from around the globe to participate in the exhibition.
"With some 23,000 architecture and interior design professionals from all over the world coming to the show, it is an honor that these University of Idaho students have been chosen to participate," says team adviser Miranda Anderson, visiting assistant professor of interior design and alumna of the university.

Recent trends show that many consumers and designers are looking for materials other than the seemingly stagnant painted gypsum board or other traditional wall covering approaches for commercial wall applications. Designers also are looking for products with minimal environmental impact.

The University of Idaho team was given a 10-foot by 20-foot exhibition space in which to express the idea of embodied energy-the quantity of energy a product, material or service requires from manufacturing to the point of use.

Jake Dunn, a junior architecture student from Mountain Home, Idaho, described embodied energy as all the energy needed to create a material. "For example, cotton has a higher embodied energy. Someone has to till the field to plant the cotton seed. It requires water to grow; vehicles using gas to harvest and transport; machinery to manufacture into fabric; additional vehicles to transport to the factories where cotton fabric is turned into end products. It's a lot of energy," notes Dunn.

Their exhibit, "Energy ... Materialized," uses BBX plywood panels with three-dimensional surfaces cut by a computer numerical control (CNC) machine to provide visual and tactile textures. This act of exposing the inner plies of the plywood reveals the fabrication processes of the finished material and its inherent beauty. The exposure of these typically concealed layers of the material is seen as a metaphor for the revealing of the hidden aspects of the embodied energy concept.

The design project was developed by Anderson for last fall's course in materials and specifications, an interior design program course, where students learn about factors and considerations in selecting materials. Students researched and designed project prototypes that expressed the embodied energy of various wood composite materials; a compilation of these prototypes was submitted to ICFF.

"Sustainability is very important, yet very few design students truly are aware of what it takes to create and design the materials they're specifying," says Anderson. "Through recent research and development, we know that not only do a building's occupants interact with their surroundings, but many materials, finishes and products have the ability to react to occupants, transforming their perceptions and experience of space."

"The project was designed for two reasons," adds Dunn. "First, we wanted to show that it is possible to create something aesthetically pleasing while using lower embodied-energy materials. More importantly, we wanted to show it's possible to do while being environmentally friendly."

Dunn said the team's booth is an example of limiting embodied energy while mitigating environmental impacts. "We minimized waste as much as possible. There is no metal; the panels use a tooth and pin connection to fit together like pieces in a puzzle."

Following the show, the team hopes to use the modular panels to create unique partitions in the College of Art and Architecture's design studios, something Anderson fully supports.

"The interdisciplinary approach is entirely necessary; it's very much the way things will work in the real world," says Dunn. "We needed an engineer to ensure structural capabilities. We reviewed graphic design options. It has been a great lesson in project management."

The University of Idaho team integrates an interdisciplinary approach. Beyond the initial design team, a graphic design class created the project logo, booth graphics and a number of hand-out materials as a class project. A mechanical engineering student advised the team on structural components.

Other teammates include: Ana Garcia, Tara Garrett, Jeffrey Haines, Tami McDonald, Nathan "Tab" Carman, Monika Kuhnau, and Emily Rawls.

Other design schools selected to compete included: California College of Arts; Free University of Bozen-Bolzano in Italy; Georgia Tech; Philadelphia University; and the University of Alberta in Canada.

Plans are underway to display the exhibit on the University of Idaho campus later this summer.
Information about the team's project soon will be available online at; more information about the ICFF is online at For information about the College of Art and Architecture's interior design program, visit, e-mail or call (208) 885-6781.

About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state's flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University of Idaho researchers attract more than $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the university is the only institution in Idaho to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university's student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Its high academic performers include 42 National Merit Scholars and a 2006-07 freshman class with an average high school grade point average of 3.42. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit