Chicago Students Bring 1866 into the Future at Milan’s Annual Furniture Fair

A global leader in art and design education, Chicago’s School of the Art Institute is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a range of student-made designs inspired by 1866. After analyzing the people, their beliefs, available technology and fleeting fads, SAIC’s students dove deeper into the distant culture, researching everything from Victorian mourning rituals to hypnosis and prostitution, imperialism to solar-powered engines and the mandate of an eight-hour work day.

These ideas were then processed and reimagined in a contemporary context, making their official debut this week at Spazio Rossana during the Milan Furniture Fair.

“For nine years, students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago have had the unique opportunity to design, produce and show their objects next to some of the world’s most renowned designers during the Milan Furniture Fair,” said SAIC Professor Helen Maria Nugent. “Going through the process of concept to creation and having this type of exposure to design professionals and buyers allows our students to gain significant, invaluable real-world experience over the course of just two semesters.”

Of the 15 exhibited student designs, standouts include a “Crylus” pen that writes with tears (or water), a paper-made clock with movements that reference the migration of global refugees and a double-lensed condiment container that magnifies its contents and ultimately becomes functional, countertop art. Scroll through more of our favorites from SAIC’s 2016 whatnot collection, below:


“Yi-Rack” by Ying Cui (MDes 2016)

“Inspired by the coexistence of the Chinese and British in Hong Kong in 1866, as exemplified by the double-sided 1866 coin, this clothes rack integrates the different approaches each culture takes to hanging clothes.” (Materials: Patinated steel)


“Solar Sonnet” by Alice Gong (BFA 2016)

“A curiosity-inspiring set of nesting glass objects which change color via solar-to-thermal conversion. Inspired by Augustin Mouchot’s solar experiments.” (Materials: Borosilicate lab glass and thermochromic netting)


“Allele” by Shau Heng Li (MDes 2017)

“A stapled plywood table, inspired by Mendel’s Law, in which functional elements mutate into decorative abnormalities. Staples and plywood were commercialized in 1866.” (Materials: Plywood and metal staples)


“Passage” by Jackie Jeong (BFA 2016)

“A large paper clock that captures the constant migration of refugees through the slow movements of its minute hand.” (Materials: Washi pulp, plywood and clock mechanisms)


“Jacks-Up” by Sung Jun Kim (MDes 2017)

“An array of turned wooden architectural legs form a small stool, embodying the collective efforts taken to raise the Briggs Hotel in downtown Chicago in 1866.” (Materials: Poplar wood)


“A Dash” by Charmaine Da Costa (BFA 2016)

“Inspired by the act of gift giving in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, The Porter’s Son, ‘A Dash’ is a lensed condiment container which reflects the taste of the receiver.” (Materials: Brass, two convex glass lenses and stained walnut)


“Crylus” by Chang Liu (MDes 2016)

“A glass stylus that catches tears to moisten ink when writing letters to lost loved ones. It is inspired by the elaborate mourning ceremonies of the Victorian era.” (Materials: Hand-blown glass, wax, dye, walnut and white oak)

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