Product Development classes assist Pittsburgh Botanic Gardens

Students present furniture to PBG representatives

Mr. Poppelreiter's Product Development classes designed and built nature-inspired furniture for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. The child-sized furniture will be used in the garden's Hermit Hut and at outdoor gathering areas.


Garden Education Manager Amanda Joy and Marketing Associate Kevin Fernando got their first look at the furniture on March 31. "It's incredible," Joy said. "It's so much nicer than what I was ever expecting. They all did a great job."

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden provided all of the materials for the projects while students provided their creativity, design and building skills. The students got started by brainstorming ideas for children's furniture and play things and how they could incorporate nature into the design. "We all drew our own designs focusing on biomimicry," Tanner Sullivan said. Then we voted on all the drawings and used the top four. Once the drawings were chosen Mr. P. set up groups for the build. From there we had to think about what material we would use for the piece and how to go forward with the construction."


Original CAD drawings were used to program the CNC router for cutting specific designs such as the leaf seats on the tree table. Acorns were laser-etched into the backs of Adirondack chairs and a torch was used to enhance grain on a natural wood bench and to incorporate a butterfly design on a picnic table. Other tools included a jigsaw, table saw, miter saw and orbital and belt sanders. Paints, specialty brushes, and clear coat finishes were selected and used to enhance the biomimicry of the furniture and ensure a lasting finish. 


When students found a weakness in their design they had to adapt on the fly. "Our initial design had pipes coming out of the trunk to simulate branches," Katie Linner said of the tree table. "But for stability purposes it was changed to build the frame underneath and have the seats extend out and up from the base."  


"Initially we wanted to do a butterfly cutout for the table top, but we found that it would take too much time and the table wouldn't have been as strong," Mitch Hess said of his group's picnic table. "So we decided to use a torch to burn the butterfly design on the table top and then clear coat it to preserve the finish. I never tried anything like that before. Mr. P. suggested that we try it and showed us what we should do. We also modified the angle of the legs to promote stability. Since the table was kid-sized we increased the angle to make it more stable. It was fun and we're really satisfied with how it turned out."


John Sexauer said his group also had to rethink their original table design. "Originally, our idea was for a honeycomb design based on bees nests so we went with the hexagonal shape. Our original design gave us some problems so we decided to keep the hexagonal designs but do something different, stacking the hex boxes and making some chairs. We used the same design for the table base then used some decking to tie three other hex boxes together for the top. We wove rope through the boxes to create seats because we knew the table would be outside and we wanted to minimize the potential for rot. Plus the rope is light weight, which helps when they want to move it around and it's strong enough to support both the kids and adults. I enjoyed the whole process. We had to work as a team to figure things out through the whole process and it was a great hands-on activity. The creativity part was enjoyable, too."


"It made me feel good that they liked it" Mitch hart said. That was the whole point, so it was satisfying. Plus knowing that what we built was going to be used by the garden to educate and spur the interest of children gave the job a sense of purpose for us."


"It is great to have support from one of our neighboring school districts here at Pittsburgh Botanic Garden," Executive Director Keith Kaiser said.  "The furniture adds dimension for the little people to feel connected to spaces created just for them."


Students taking part in the furniture construction included: Noah Winger, Sal BiBacco, Cole Gojsovich, James Goscinski, Josh Windsheimer, Nik Krieg, Ahmed Albugami, Cayden Jenner, Alex Bagnull, Logan Haley, Mitch Hess, Katie Lenner, Kody Gibson, Tanner Sullivan, Mitch Hart, John Sexauer, Will Zang, and Jake Walko.


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