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Giving A Second Life To Unused Design Samples

Many architecture and design offices are familiar with the feeling of having hundreds of different unsolicited product samples laying around the office that were sent to them by client companies. On their own, they're cool-looking the first time you see them (hey, who knew that there was a granite called 'Stormy Night'?), but their use seems only ephemeral and momentary. But an initiative called Save a Sample! seeks to give these fragments a new life in design students' projects.

The initiative, which started in 1999 and took place on April 6-7 this year, is similar to Materials For the Arts in New York City, which collects all kinds of odds and ends and brings them to nonprofit organizations with arts programming, government agencies, and public schools. Participants in Save a Sample! receive all kinds of design goodies, like colorful slabs of stone and pamphlets for collaging that companies have deemed outdated, and use them for design projects.

Save a Sample! is a wider-reaching effort than Materials for the Arts, touching several cities that hope to pair local design schools with local organizations in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Wilmington. This year, three Canadian cities also participated in the project. This year, schools received approximately 750 boxes (7.5 tons) of samples from over 100 design firms nationwide. 'Top-Boxers' from arts and design firms are also entered to win prizes for donating; this year, they were an Eileen Gray Adjustable Table from Gordon International, Different World Seating from Humanscale, and a Triscape Pouf from HBF.

Will the concept of real-world pamphlets eventually go out of style? "Most designers feel technology will never replace materials and finishes," said Suzanne Swift, Save A Sample!'s founder. "Designers need to touch materials and see what they look like under different lighting scenarios."

Swift is also the founder of SpecSimple.com, which helps companies manage their samples, so that isn't exactly an outsider's perspective, but examples of student work made using the samples prove that working with real materials as a starting point—especially when some of them are so unusual and eclectic—has a real benefit. At Pratt Institute, Won hyung Choi created a concept for a 'Hotel M,' where "Maasai Tribe’s earthy feelings and Harlem’s industrialized materials bind two culture[s] together."

This earthy, hands-on perspective seems to be exactly what some budding designers need.

Save a Sample

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