A Sitting Ovation

The best chairs ever: University of Houston students win honors for their wildly unique seats

Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition September 2014 Winner JennyTrieu with Chair
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart
Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition September 2014 Icon
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart
Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition September 2014 Lowland by Aaron McEue
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart
Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition September 2014 Cora by Arturo Barrera
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart
Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition September 2014 Satellite by Carrah Kaijser
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart
Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition September 2014 Strata by Abizer Raja
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart
Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition September 2014 Friendship
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart

University of Houston architecture students, take a bow — or make that a seat — for your creations in this year's "Wilsonart Challenges...” Student Chair Design Competition.

Wilsonart named Jenny Trieu as the winner in the annual challege and recognized more Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture students for their furniture designs, including Aaron McEuen, Abizer Raja, Arturo Barrera, Carrah Kajiser and Paulina Seng and and John Proffitt.

The chairs, formerly on view at this year's International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, will be at Houston's La Colombe d'Or — for one day only, Thursday, Sept. 18.

The University of Houston is the 10th school Wilsonart has challenged to design chairs using Wilsonart laminate.

Scroll through the photo essay for photos of all the chairs and inspirations written by their designers.

Infinite by Jenny Trieu
"Infinite means limitless or endless space; the very definition of the word encompasses the idea of “space,” the theme of this year’s competition. The curves of this chair dramatically descend and swoop back into themselves, creating an intriguing interlace that captures the eye.

"Formally, the chair has no beginning or end point, but flows smoothly and continuously like the infinity symbol seen in the profile view. This overall shape creates the perfect foil to express the nature of laminate, a seamless expanse of smooth rich surface."


Icon by Paulina Seng

"Icon is a chair inspired by the simple, geometric beauty of mid-century modern graphic design. It examines the relationship between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. It is almost an optical illusion, starkly graphic and flat from the front, but containing three-dimensional volume when viewed from other angles.

"The seat and the legs are made out of two merging planes; those basic shapes celebrate laminate in its natural form – a plane. The simple lines and bold, contrasting color scheme are reminiscent of mid-century modern graphic design and highlight the idea of illusory space, all while celebrating the use of laminate."

Lowland by Aaron McEuen

"The design of Lowland began with a reassessment of Wilsonart laminate as more than a surfacing material. Previous competitions featured chairs that used laminate in a very two-dimensional way, where color or pattern choice seemed to be the only design considerations. Lowland requires laminate as a structural component, as it provides much-needed tensile strength that suspends the body on the seating surface.

"As a lounge chair, Lowland already has a distinct dialogue with the user, but this design has a more engaging discourse than even a typical lounger might. The strips of laminated wood that comprise the seat are spaced to create direction and rhythm, but more importantly the chair was designed to have a clear relationship to an organic body.

"Often, physical objects serve little function other than to appropriate space in an environment; as designers we spend much time simply coordinating the emptiness between objects. Lowland forces us to think of space in a subtractive way, deforming a plane into compound curves then reconstructing it with a series of simple, linear lines."

Cora by Arturo Barrera

"The theme of space is very open to interpretation. With the design of Cora, I chose to explore 'space architecture.' I drew inspiration from two iconic buildings that embody fluidity, simplicity and futurism: Seattle’s Space Needle and the Theme Building in LAX. In an effort to capture these three aspects of 'space architecture' while designing something that would fit into the style of the Wilson House, I incorporated characteristics of mid-century modernism both with choice of materials and with the strong, solid colors used.

"The result is Cora, a chair that fluidly breaks down the body of a common chair from toe all the way to the backrest, merging two halves that share the same simple shape into one design. The chair splits itself to create negative spaces that generate as much excitement as the positive space. I decided to use polished metal legs to showcase the beauty of a raw material and to create an interesting transition of materials from laminate to metal. The red of the body represents the iconic Wilsonart red and makes the chair stand out." 

Satellite by Carrah Kaijser

"Outer space, far beyond the confines of our atmosphere, can be described as mysterious, ethereal and unknown. In the context of the universe, just the word 'space' conjures incredible imagery of stars, science fiction-type landscapes and fantastic creatures.

"My inspiration came from the futuristic spacecraft and technology created to explore the 'final frontier'' stylistically. I drew influence from the modernist movements of early 20th century art. The Futurists and their dynamic expressive shapes, as well as the broken abstractions of Cubism, were both particularly influential in the process of creating this chair.

"Over the course of the semester, the chair’s form evolved into a kind of abstract satellite. Four legs taper to a point, a nod to mid-century design and a shape that creates a lifted lightness. The seat has a rotating faceted profile with a stark white laminate surface to project subtle shadows on the facade. Holly Berry red covers the back of the seat for a bold accent. The Satellite chair is a playful interpretation of the modern technologies that connect us to space."

Strata by Abizer Raja

"Laminate is a material that imitates various surfaces; how can a chair that uses laminate be honest? By taking the concept of layers and applying it to the overall structure and aesthetics of the form, Strata is characterized not by what is present, but by what is absent. Space is defined by the fluidity of the chair’s shape, from the continuous movement of the cantilevered structure to the exploding layers that form the back.

"Rather than the typical flat surface application, laminate’s inherent flexibility is highlighted to by the chair’s shape. The red layer is used to reference the laminate chip, a nod to the heart of the chair, Wilsonart."

Friendship by John Proffitt
"The interior of a Mercury space capsule is about the size of a small two door car. There is one window, one door and one passenger. Orbiting the Earth in a Mercury capsule is one of the most complete forms of being alone.

"Friendship aims to capture the feeling of isolation and introspection experienced inside of a space capsule by mimicking elements of the internal experience. The window faces upwards for a view of the sky while the structure keeps the passenger completely hidden from the outside world.

"Friendship is a safe place and a comforting experience, but most importantly, Friendship is for being alone."