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Hundreds of architecture student projects were recently showcased in downtown San Luis Obispo for the 19th Annual Vellum Furniture Design Competition. Projects included solid wood tables, led light fixtures and innovative seating solutions. 

Architecture professor Tom Di Santo and local firm Vellum Design Build co-founded the event in 2004 as a way to initiate architecture student’s thesis ideas. 

“When I taught thesis design it was a way to kick start the arguments. The discourse was discovered through the making of the furniture, exploring a language at a very small scale,” Di Santo said. 

Now the reception showcases work from students of all years, and places an emphasis on pushing the limits of creative design. 

This year’s event saw a large turnout after returning to downtown for the first time in three years. 

“It’s a brilliant way to share what Cal Poly students are doing with the community, that’s why it was so great to be downtown again for the first time in three years because we weren’t able to share it with the community during Covid,” Di Santo said. “We would have it online through a digital whiteboard space or last year we did it here in the architecture building, still great events but it’s not the same as having that community engagement.”

Seven years ago the competition partnered with Space Architecture to sponsor one grand prize award. Along with the recognition, the award provides one student team or individual with an all-expenses paid trip to visit the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the largest furniture fair in the world in Milan, Italy.

This year’s Space Milano Grand Prize award was presented to architecture senior Ethan Odberg for his project, ‘Rural Basin.’

“I definitely was a little surprised, I wasn’t expecting to win the award, but I’m very grateful for it,” Odberg said. “I’m excited to see what kind of opportunities that brings.” 

According to Odberg, his project aims to explore the relationship between urban and rural areas through form and different materials. 

“It was a good bit of woodworking, but also the construction of half of it was pretty similar to that of a surfboard using sculpted foam, fiberglass and resin,” Odberg said.

The competition hosted thousands of visitors over the span of the two-day weekend and looks forward to showcasing student work for years to come. 

“I love seeing all the people coming to see great designs, I just love that energy,” Di Santo said. “It comes from the community, from all the students, they’re tired, they’ve been working hard. That energy is what it’s all about.”