The Pratt Institute's School of Design recently announced the winners of the first annual Material Lab Prize in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Design Strategies and Pratt’s Givetake recycling initiative, spotlighting students who used reclaimed waste to create innovative design concepts. The prize, which includes a $1,000 grant to grand prize winner Sophia Yimeng Sun (MID ’21), draws attention to the importance of material exploration, particularly when it comes to reusing material found in waste streams.
A panel of external jurors across design disciplines selected Yimeng Sun's project, “Cocoon,” a proposal for a lighting collection made with repurposed grocery bags, for the top honor. While "Cocoon" reflects a finished design, several finalists submitted work that explored the raw development of new materials from waste instead. “Homeware Using Newspaper Wood," Asad Jawed Ahmed’s (MID ’21) research into repurposing newspaper earned second prize, while third prize went to Julia Brière, enrolled in Pratt’s Sustainable Design Certificate Program, for “Avocado Waste,” an exploration of bioplastics derived from avocado pits. Jurors included ceramicist and lighting designer Joseph Algieri, fashion designers Dara Douglas and Tara St. James, architectural designer Carlos Arnoldo Gamez, designer and sculptor Misha Kahn, and designer and artist Pat Kim.
The inaugural Material Lab Prize has been several years in the making; Jay Lemire, manager of the Material Lab, began working on developing the grant shortly after joining the school in the fall of 2018. "We knew students were making use of upcycling in projects already... so we thought it would be interesting to see an interdisciplinary exhibition of that work," said Lemire. The competition enables students throughout the Pratt Institute—whether studying architecture, product design, fashion, or other design fields—to engage with materials, and their peers, more broadly.
As one of the jurors pointed out during the review, often in design prizes within an educational setting, there's a tendency to prioritize refined, completed projects and we wanted to show that speculative projects can be equally generative. "We encouraged students to propose potential applications for materials that designers can explore in their own right," added Lemire. Many of the resulting submissions took that liberty to heart. Honorable mentions include: Zoe Herring’s (MID ’20) “Lint and the Laundromat,” which explores lint’s upcycling potential; Yijin Wang’s (BFA, Interior Design ’20) “Too Good To Waste,” a proposal for a facility dedicated to repairing donated goods; and Emi Stearn’s (BFA, Fashion ’20) “Scavenger Hunt,” a zero-waste fashion collection made from scrap material.
The Material Lab Prize, originally conceived of as an in-person exhibition, transitioned into a digital format following the onset of COVID-19 this spring. Now all 27 student submissions are on display on the Material Lab website.
For more on sustainability, including expert perspectives, specification resources, and free webinars, visit the Metropolis Sustainability Lab at www.metropolismag.com/lab.