Recycling Sparks Imagination, Avoids Landfills (For A While)
March 6, 2018
Nearly twenty years ago, Suzanne Swift’s company, SpecSimple.com, faced a challenge.
The company sets up and maintains resource libraries for architectural and design firms. Ultimately the materials become outdated and need to be replaced.
Firms were accumulating boxes and boxes of design samples they wanted to get rid of, including wood, wall coverings, small stones, cork, and other flooring samples.
Swift, who has been recycling since she was a kid, thought, “‘I don’t want to throw these out! Is there someone who could take them?’”
At the time, Swift was part of a design school initiative and was learning how difficult it was for students to get materials. So, she brought together people who needed to get rid of stuff with those who could use it: architects with design students.
She also invited a third partner: furniture dealers who provide trucks and drivers to pick up the boxes of samples from firms and deliver them to schools.
Today, 150 firms and 25 schools participate in Save A Sample! in ten U.S. cities and five in Canada. Everything happens locally. Nothing is shipped.
Swift says the project makes a huge difference in the lives of students. “It is like Christmas morning,” she said. The students “run down and open up all the boxes … descending like locusts … grabbing whatever they can for their projects.”
The tiles, fabrics, and stone, glass, and wood samples fuel the development of the students’ design skills. “Anything that they can use to spark their imagination for a project,” said Swift, “something that will help build their skills and build their eye for what’s important when they design.”
The project can’t deliver heavy items such as hefty stones or large glass samples, which might splinter.
And Swift concedes that at some point the materials will be landfilled. “Unless they keep their project for archival purposes,” said Swift, “it is delaying probably the inevitable, but in the process giving design students an opportunity to learn something from really good materials.”
The project tries to avoid landfills by also donating materials to much younger students. “Fabrics are very popular with daycare centers and elementary schools,” said Swift. “They love the carpet samples for nap time.”
The Save A Sample! nonprofit is funded this year by Formica.
Perkins+Will is the design firm partner and helps publicize the event.
Save A Sample! also holds a hand drawing competition each year. Students submit a rendering and a materials board to illustrate how the samples were used. Architecture and design firms in New York judge the work. The winners receive between $250 and $1,000 in scholarship funds.
Save A Sample! has awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships since its inception.
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