Can one find inspiration in garbage? Denis Oudendijik and Jan Korbes think so. European designers who were frustrated by the conventionality and bureaucracy plaguing traditional architecture, they are the founders of REFUNC (an apocope of “refunctionalize”), a laboratory for spontaneous and creative experimentation in design, where discarded, locally available materials—considered garbage by many—serve as the materials for thought-provoking architecture and art. Oudendijik and Korbes made their U.S. debut last month at the University of Maryland as part of a workshop sponsored by the Maryland Design Impact Lab (mDIL) and MAPP’s Linear Gallery.
REFUNC was the first event launched by the Maryland Design Impact Lab (mDIL), a cross-disciplinary student collaborative that aims to leverage the diverse expertise of the UMD student community to create positive social impact at multiple scales. Established last fall by graduate student Valerie Sherry as part of a University Innovation Fellowship from National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), mDIL facilitates venues for experimenting and making, fostering an environment where students from all disciplines can come together to create and innovate. REFUNC is the first in a series of “Design Tents” planned for this semester, where students from all over campus can assemble together and play “under the same tent,” encouraging innovation through making.
The two-day workshop brought together both graduate and undergraduate students from a host of disciplines across campus, including architecture, planning, engineering, environmental science, sculpture, business and plant sciences. Under the guidance of Oudendijik, Korbes and the Pennsylvania-based group Salvaging Creativity, the exercise—which centered on creating a mobile gathering space for students on campus—encouraged students to reconsider the role of architecture and design in a world where raw materials are becoming scarcer. Hands-on, improvisational and high-energy, the workshop challenged students to step out of their comfort zones by building inspirationally with locally found and salvaged materials, without plans or a blueprint.
“It was amazing experiencing this type of architecture,” says Jannah Madyun, a junior in the architecture program. “It was a fun and playful environment and I learned a lot about tools I didn't know before. I enjoyed just building and hardly having a plan. Sometimes jumping straight into a project is the best way to handle it.”
While the REFUNC exercise challenged student to think differently about discarded materials, it also aimed to serve as an exercise for collaboration across a variety of programs.
“All items fabricated in the workshop were considered ‘trash’ prior to this event,” explains Sherry. “Now these items have been converted into mobile structures and adaptable products and spaces that can be used around campus to further encourage University of Maryland Students to innovate and interact with each other.”
“The REFUNC workshop was a great experience,” said Elizabeth O’Keefe, a freshman studying Environmental Science and Technology. “It was also fun to be with people of different majors, working together towards the same goal. I remember looking at the finished project and thinking ‘wow, I helped build this; I am a part of this end result.’ This experience really showed me that being a part of a team is a powerful thing. It also showed me that you can create some pretty cool things by just having fun and being creative.
The finished products will be installed on campus this spring to continue the dialogue with the greater University community, starting with MAPP’s Linear Gallery this month. The Linear Gallery is also exhibiting images and sketches of the process alongside the finished pieces. mDIL’s next event is scheduled for Maryland Day, April 26, which will also give campus visitors and alumni a chance to participate. An additional Design Tent is tentatively scheduled for later in the spring.
“Overall, we were trying to attract students who may not typically get the chance to design, build or work together in a hands-on and collective atmosphere,” said Adam Chamy, a graduate student in the architecture program and officer of mDIL. “We wanted to give students a head start on getting their creative energies flowing for our next event, so that we can begin to expand the limitations on what products, services or spaces we will be able to design, make a prototype for and then build.”
REFUNC was organized and executed by the student members of mDIL and the Kibel Gallery, with generous help and support from The Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Professors Michael Ambrose, Ronit Eisenbach, Garth Rockcastle, Brian Kelly, David Cronrath and other architecture faculty. Local salvage group Community Forklift provided materials for the workshop. To see an amazing time-lapse video of the two-day project, or to learn more about mDIL, visit their Tumblr page here.