Big Ten Design: Grace Orwen

A team of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students made their mark as the winners of a national design competition called the Big Ten Student Design Challenge.

The competition is an affiliation between Herman Miller, an American furniture company, and the Big Ten. Each team was tasked with redesigning a space on their school’s campus, and the winning team receives funding for their project to be built.

The UNL team, named “The Groundbreakers,” designed the TV lounge on the second floor of Knoll Residential Center. The goal was for the space to be inviting and to accommodate multiple groups of people at once. There is no set date for construction to begin, but  junior accounting and finance double major Dan Kruger said construction of the room will likely occur sometime between this coming summer and January 2021.

For winning, The Groundbreakers received $80,000 to spend on Herman Miller furniture pieces for the new study room and $5,000 to spend on additional elements of construction, such as electrical work. According to Junior interior design major Eliza Woodside, the team also received $2,000 to split amongst themselves.

The Groundbreakers beat out a few other UNL teams before the national competition. According to Kruger they competed against seven other teams at the national level, and the final three teams were Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

The design for the room featured three main zones: A communal zone that works well for casual socialization, a personal zone that allows for more solitary work and a collaborative zone that accommodates group work.

Woodside said the most difficult aspect of the design process was selecting furniture for a specific intent. Kruger said it was enlightening to learn about just how much thought and research goes into every aspect of furniture making.

“You really got to experience all the furniture,” Woodside said. “If you wanted to put something in your project, they had it on their floor and you could sit in it and see if it was what you wanted.”

The national portion of the competition was held in Michigan, the home of Herman Miller. After delivering their initial presentations, the final three teams received feedback from Herman Miller staff members and spent all night modifying their designs before giving their final presentations.

Junior architecture major Weston Ellerbrake said he believes the judges placed a high value on the team’s diversity among majors.

Woodside said Kruger was an asset to the team because his area of expertise is outside the College of Architecture. He was able to help manage the budget and provide insight into the perspective of someone who is not a designer.

“He was looking at it from the view of somebody who will potentially be using the space,” she said. “Getting that feedback was really good.”

The majority of teams that competed transformed rooms within colleges into study spaces, but, according to Woodside, The Groundbreakers stood apart in that they were revamping a study space in a residential dorm.

The Groundbreakers all agree that the competition taught them the importance of being adaptable and being confident in one’s presentation. 

“I usually have trouble presenting in front of people,” said junior interior design major Ariana Osten. “I took away that the people you’re presenting to care about what you're saying, and they don’t want to see you do badly.”

Despite their success, The Groundbreakers are still hungry for more.

“We’re looking toward next year’s competition right now,” Ellerbrake said. “We liked this winning thing.”