University of Colorado professor Julee Herdt gave students in her design class an assignment: Build architecturally beautiful pieces of furniture.

The tricky part? Undergraduates in this "Green Tech" course were instructed not to buy any materials for the project -- and, instead, search for scraps, whether in alleyways or salvage yards. If students did need to make purchases, they needed to be minimal -- say, at thrift stores.

By the end of the semester, students came up with myriad rustic projects that were juxtaposed with modern designs. They included a stylish seesaw, a table with metal filling in decayed voids of a recycled lumber plank, and a floor lamp constructed partly from the rusted gears of abandoned farm equipment. Another student constructed a beverage cart from repurposed 1920s industrial cart wheels, scrap metal and donated oak lumber.

Loryn Lewis used metal to fill in decayed voids of a recycled lumber plank for the "Green Tech" course at the University of Colorado.
Loryn Lewis used metal to fill in decayed voids of a recycled lumber plank for the "Green Tech" course at the University of Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Cardinale/CU )

The eco-friendly design students came up with varying designs that have been on display at Design Within Reach, a modern furniture store in downtown Boulder.

Professionals from Design Within Reach judged the students' projects -- awarding first place to Josh Arndt for the re-imagined seesaw. For the project, Arndt bent and welded a salvaged steel plate for the seesaw's fulcrum and restored a weathered pine beam for the seat.

"The class is all about salvaging and teaching the students to go out and bottom feed," Herdt said.

She teaches students to find beauty and potential in the discarded objects by investigating their original materials. Her students are inspired to test their creativity while finding new purposes for scraps and waste.


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Kevin Brooks, studio proprietor for the Design Within Reach Boulder Studio, judged the projects. He said customers have been enamored with student designs on display. Brooks is also helping students learn how to market their creations.

Through collaborations with design companies and businesses such as HW Home, Factory Made and Design Within Reach, students who take the Green Tech class frequently sell their functional art and architecture projects. Then they are able to donate to charities such as the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, the Dairy Center for the Arts and CU's Students in Recovery.

For her project, recent CU graduate Karina White created a modular shelving unit.
For her project, recent CU graduate Karina White created a modular shelving unit. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Cardinale/CU )

Herdt -- who is also the founder of BioSIPS Inc., a CU spin-off corporation that develops environmental building materials -- has been teaching the popular Green Tech course since 1996.

Recent CU graduate Karina White created a modular shelving unit as her project. She used plywood layers and non-toxic glue to form a wood block that she shaped using computer numerically controlled equipment, then sanded the project.

"Julee is a remarkable teacher in that she will try to understand you and figure out how you think and work as a designer, and she pushes you and nourishes that," White said. "Through this process, I learned that I like to tell stories through my designs."

Her shelves might find a permanent home in a new office space for a CU group that serves students recovering from addictions.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.