Herry Chen was initially daunted by the detailed instructions and frustrated at times by mistakes he made trying to follow them.
But after sticking with a two-day design challenge for the very first cohort of students in the new architectural engineering program at the University of Waterloo, he had helped make a sturdy wrap-around bench and learned a valuable lesson in the process.
“I think it taught me you’ve always got to leave room for flexibility,” says Chen, 17. “You need to make adjustments and, at the end of the day, just do what you have to do to make things work.”
Demonstrating the importance of trial, error and perseverance was all part of the plan for organizers of the recent Design Days event for architectural engineering students.
And in case there was any doubt about the hand-on learning focus at Waterloo Engineering, they completely cancelled the first two days of classes to make it clear from the start.
Instead of hitting the books, the first 91 students in the architectural engineering program began their academic careers by breaking into small groups at the Engineering Ideas Clinic in the new Engineering 7 building to brainstorm, design and construct pieces of furniture.
In addition to cardboard, plaster, and “lots of glue and tape” – as well as support and guidance from faculty, staff, technicians and upper-year students – the main raw material was their own collective creativity.
“We were engineers with cardboard and exacto knives, but we were building things and they worked,” says Kaitlyn Drake, 18, whose team scrapped at least five designs before hitting on a workable one for a combination bench and standing desk. “Our project was a beast – it could hold seven people.”
Ideas for pieces of furniture, designed to be used in specific areas of E7, ran from a practical garbage unit to an ergonomic chaise lounge.
After constructing their projects, teams made presentations to a panel of judges, as well as their classmates, and tested their load-bearing capacity by progressively adding weight to them.
That format allowed students to learn from each other as well as their individual successes and failures. It also helped them break the ice as classmates.
“I’m proud of what we made,” says Chen. “There were definitely a lot of improvements we could have done, but that’s all part of learning.”
Drake describes the experience as “difficult, but the kind of difficult that’s fun, so it doesn’t really feel like it,” and welcomed the opportunity to get her hands dirty from the get-go.
“We were just kind of thrown into it – and that hypes you up for the next five years,” she says.
Maxime Daviau, Ibaa Kassab Hassan, Joanna Poon and Yvone Yang took the top prize with their bench seat.
Patrick Angkiriwang, Julia Fleming, Dixon Leung and Ayden Ryan won the people’s choice award for a double study table.