Claire Radner '19 | September 29, 2018
West Lake Hall is not a building name frequently uttered by the average Notre Dame student. Nestled on the far edge of South Quad behind the Knute Rockne Memorial Gym, it is at least a fifteen-minute walk from the center of campus.
The building primarily supports visual communication design instruction and research in the Department of Art, Art History and Design, and is home to multiple computer labs and creative workspaces. However, if you wander into a small wing off one side of the building, you will stumble upon West Lake’s Fabrication Shop. The shop is a production facility, and has a wide range of tools used by design students in different facets and for different projects.
It is also the home of Robert Brandt’s ARCH 41811: Beginning Furniture. Taught in three-hour blocks on Tuesdays and Thursdays, this class is the introductory offering in the architecture school’s little-known furniture building concentration. It is open solely to fourth- and fifth-year architecture students who are pursuing the concentration, with occasional exceptions made for upperclassmen majoring in industrial design.
Although not widely known to the majority of the student body, this class has been around for almost 27 years. The School of Architecture brought Professor Brandt to Notre Dame in the early 1990s to start a furniture design program in the college, and the rest, in many ways, is history.
Brandt’s background was in art — he holds an MFA in sculpture — but both he and the School of Architecture felt that there was significant crossover between the two disciplines. In art foundations courses Brandt had taught before coming to Notre Dame, he always had students draw from life, in order to understand three-dimensional objects and render them two-dimensionally. Architecture students do the same — you may have spotted first-year Arkies staring intently at architectural details around campus before, sketchbooks in hand — and furniture is a useful medium in which to build those skills.
“It’s a supplement,” Brandt says. “We teach furniture in architectural contexts, so the students start to understand the environments they’re designing a little bit better, so they see the connection between the various scales: urban, building, interior and furniture. It’s just a thorough understanding of all the elements,” said Brandt.
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