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Dartmouth students constructing cardboard chairs in the Couch Lab

This term, I'm taking a very interesting mix of classes: a statistics class in the economics department, an interdisciplinary class on Russian film in the 20th century and an engineering class. ENGS 2, as the engineering class is called, is an introduction to the integrated design of structures and the evolving role of architects and engineers. This class is designed for students who are not engineering majors but are interested in exploring the design aspect of the engineering discipline. I decided to take this class to simultaneously push myself out of my academic comfort zone while also fulfilling the Technology and Applied Science distributive requirement for graduation.

For the past two weeks, I've been working on a fascinating project for my engineering class. For this project, we were required to design and construct a full-sized chair made entirely of cardboard that could comfortably support someone weighing up to 200 pounds. We had to consider the three main elements of structural design: firmness, commodity, and delight. Essentially, the chair had to be sturdy, good for sitting, and good-looking. At first, I thought it was completely impossible to make a full-sized, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing out of a material as simple as cardboard. But with a lot of advice from our professors and teaching assistants, I discovered it is indeed possible!

For this project, we were put in groups of three or four students. I always enjoy working on assignments, projects, and other exercises in groups at Dartmouth; it's a great way to meet new and interesting people at Dartmouth that you might have otherwise not had the opportunity to meet. It also makes projects more interesting and productive because you can incorporate each person's creative and intelligent ideas into the end product. Moreover, when you spend an entire weekend in the engineering lab meticulously measuring and cutting countless pieces of cardboard with someone, you get really close!

This class also made me further appreciate teaching assistants at Dartmouth. Teaching assistants (commonly called TAs) are Dartmouth students who have taken the class before (and did really well in it) and essentially help to enhance the learning experience of current students by providing any assistance or help necessary during class periods or office hours. Our amazing TAs showed us the basic principles that you have to follow in order to build anything out of cardboard and make it structurally sound. After our first TA help session, my group realised just how surprisingly strong cardboard is. We left that session feeling a lot more confident about constructing our chair!

After days of measuring, folding, cutting and gluing pieces of cardboard, we constructed a full-sized, structurally sound and incredibly beautiful cardboard chair that actually did support up to 200 pounds without collapsing!

Cardboard chair made by Dartmouth students
Cardboard chair made by Dartmouth students

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