Metaproject 03: Areaware Wooden Toys

Metaproject, the student challenge created by designer and Rochester Institute of Technology professor Josh Owen, is back again for another round. Last year’s focus was on using glass in partnership with the Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG), but this year, Owen partnered up with hip New York-based company Areaware to present the students with the challenge of working primarily with wood and creating contemporary wooden toys geared toward adults. Areaware, who distributes some of Owen’s own designs, has had great success with its wooden products, like David Weeks’ jointed toys.


Throughout the semester, students researched wood and examples of culturally specific historical and contemporary toys to define the meaning of Universal Toy. Then, each student develops his or her own toy, and one will be chosen by Areaware to possibly be manufactured and sold by them. The projects will be on display this year during ICFF.

Areaware Creative Director Laura Young spent a significant amount of time with the students throughout the process. “I visited with the class several times over the course of the semester, which included a rigorous concept critique where I reviewed collections of drawings and models from each student and addressed the students as a whole on what worked, what didn’t and why.”

“She [Laura] was heavily invested in the outcomes and as such became very attached to the students of the course. This was a treat because the students built a relationship based on mutual admiration,” said Professor Owen. He believes that working with an actual client is an excellent experience for students to prepare them for the industry. “Metaproject adds into the mix the tenants of ‘good design’ espoused by the Vignellis’ teachings which further guides the students towards making sustainable choices. Strategic placement of the class output in the ICFF in NYC further positions the students to connect with potential employers and with media contacts. When viewed as a constellation of assets, the course offers an elegant immersion into the field, under expert faculty guidance.”

I asked Professor Owen why wood was chosen as the material. Josh explained that wood is ideal because it can be easily manipulated and student models would “closely approximate their would-be mass-produced counterparts and can be tested as such.” I respect his answer when asked about the possibly disadvantages of using wood: “In my view there were no disadvantages. As designers, we typically focus on the brief we are given – we are in the business of defining opportunities.”


This year’s winner was James Paulius, whose design was called Blockitecture (both photos above) is a collection of hexagonal blocks that nest together in various formations, allowing them to counterbalance each other and create unique cantilevers found in modern and contemporary architecture. Blockitecture is a toy that allows users to enhance their understanding of physical laws by using their creative and imaginative processes.

The other winners included Jay Liu (second place), Katharine Beyerle (third place) and runners up Megan Lin, Blair Prietz, Jaclyn Jacobson, Jeffrey Burrell, Nanxi Yu.

Here are all of the student designs:


Alexandro Flores


Alexander Cloutier


Aaron Jackendoff


Blair Prietz


Ashley Valenti


David Buchanan


Gonzalo Ciurlizza


Jaclyn Jacobson


Ian O’Neill


Jay Liu


Jeffrey Burrell


Kathrine Beyerle


Kevin DAmico


Lindsay Randall


Sean Petterson


Rob Fish


Ryan Erbe


Megan Lin


Nanxi Yu


Nicholas Kelemen


Paula Garcia

Get more information on all of these designs on the Metaproject website.

Jaime Derringer, Founder + Executive Editor of Design Milk, is a Jersey girl living in SoCal. She dreams about funky, artistic jewelry + having enough free time to enjoy some of her favorite things—running, reading, making music, and drawing.