2nd Place: A Tough Tuft

Students from The Ohio State University created a cushion made of foam, chopped strand fiberglass mat and polyester resin. Photo Credit: The Ohio State University

Rachel Ghindea, a recent graduate of the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University, and teammates Chris Block and Jon Decipeda began with one goal: to cast aside the usual flat, hard, linear properties of structural insulated panels (SIPs) and instead create something that appears light, approachable and soft. Drawing on the overinflated sculptures of Austrian artist Erwin Wurm and the bulbous plaster accent walls by American designer Andrew Kudless, the students used the buoyant properties of expanding foam to create an SIP that resembles a giant couch cushion.

To make the cushion, the students filled a wooden mold with several pounds of polyethylene teraphalate (PET) foam in its liquid state. This was covered with a highly elastic sheet of fabric, compressed with a second open mold and depressed with dowel rods to create low points. Once the foam expanded, the team layered chopped strand fiberglass mat and a polyester resin and allowed it to cure for a day. To finish, they smoothed it with joint compound and applied multiple coats of exterior enamel paint.

Ghindea says that making the final 3 x 4 x 18-foot prototype was highly satisfying – and adventurous, in part, because they had only five minutes to stir and pour the foam before it began to expand and harden. Nonetheless, she is hooked. “I’m already thinking,” she admits, “what else can I do [with composites] to inject character and personality into these elements so that they are a source of surprise as well as structure?”