May 30, 2019

2019 Role Models Contest Gallery

This past semester, Healthy Materials Lab sponsored the third annual Role Models Contest. The annual contest offers a chance to be a role model to the rest of the design world by sharing with us an innovative approach to design and demonstrating how creative practices have a positive impact on personal health, the health of our neighbors, and the world at large.

This year, we extended the contest beyond Parsons School of Design to students currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in the United States. We received submissions from eight universities in six states across the country. Submissions were judged based on the following criteria:

  • Material Source
  • Documented Benefits or Health Impact
  • Innovation + Creativity
  • Carbon Intensity
  • General Aesthetics

This year we award prizes to one winner and three runners-up, all of whom exemplified the use and promotion of healthy materials and provided design solutions for environmental issues.

Congratulations to this year’s winner!

Garrett Benisch, a student of the Masters in Industrial Design Program at Pratt Institute, reinvented the generic pen for his project Sum Waste. He used the form language of the ordinary disposable pen, but with a twist. His pens are made of biosolids derived from sewage. The pen is an intriguing entry product for the material. Using biosolids was a way to both reuse a material which is continuously produced and discarded, and to move society toward entirely rethinking the concept of waste and its potential uses.

If you would like to learn more, Garrett will be speaking about his project at the following event on June 12th:

Super Awesome: Pretty Ugly By the Awesome Foundation

WHEN: June 12, 6:30-8:30 pm

WHERE: Gowanus Dredgers Boathouse, 165 2nd St (near Whole Foods / 3rd St Bridge)

GETTING THERE: near the Carroll St stop on the F/G & Union on the R.

Follow Garrett on Instagram: @gbenisch @sum_waste

Websites: and

The design of a pen offsets the current plastic pen market and acts as a 'gateway product.' We are comfortable with pens; writing notes on our hands and chewing on them often. A pen made with materials derived from biosolids brings the material to this same comfort level, opening the door to producing other single use plastics with it. -Garrett Benisch

Congratulations to this year’s three honorable mentions!

Yi Hsuan Sung, Honorable Mention for Material Exploration. Yi Hsuan, who is working on an MFA in Textiles at Parsons School of Design, worked with agar-based bioplastics for her project Modular Textiles. Agar is derived from algae and is both recyclable and biodegradable. She used food waste for dyes, including citrus peels, avocado pits and often discarded items such as carrot and pineapple leaves. For Modular Textiles, Yi created different shapes of agar loops that she wove together, showing the possibility of diverse applications and potential uses for this bioplastic.

Follow Yi Hsuan on Instagram: @harrietsung

Zijin Gao, Honorable Mention for a Viable Solution Using Healthier Materials. Zijin created a useful object that proposed a viable solution to the water crisis with their project Water to Water. Inspired by how water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, Zijin, a student of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, used only glass and cork to create an evaporation based water filtration system. The simple clear glass form reveals both clean water achieved through distillation and the impurities which are filtered out. Although designed for individual use, this product has the potential to grow in scale and provide a clean water solution to communities who need it the most.

Follow Zijin’s on Instagram: @gozijin_

Phia Sennett, Honorable Mention for a Possible Viable Alternative to Petrochemical Based Traditional Geo-Textiles. Phia aimed to eliminate plastic from landscape materials with her project, Terracloth: Living Landscape Fabric. Phia, who is in the Masters in Landscape Architecture Program at Harvard Graduate School of Design, wanted to create an alternative to the ubiquitous black geotextile that blocks weeds but litters the landscape. She experimented with a bacteria-grown biofilm that will not only prevent weeds but will also nurture the soil. If this product can be manufactured and transported at a large scale, it has the potential to free soil from the use of plastic.

Notable Entries

Although we were not able to award all the excellent submissions we received, we would like to recognize two notable entries which provoked the judges’ interest.

Jennifer Yaing created an entirely compostable sneaker with her project, Local Lawn Regen One’s, in an attempt to tackle the rabid consumerism in sneaker culture. In the process, Jennifer introduced a new corn-based filament for 3D printing in the schools making center.

Baohua Sheng created a visually stunning terracotta air cooler, Analog Cooler, that would eliminate the use of electricity and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). Baohua’s product employs extruded clay technology and an ancient technique that uses porous terracotta material for evaporative cooling effect - terracotta and water absorb heat and as the absorbed water evaporates, it cools the air.

Thank you to all who submitted their work in this year’s Role Models contest! We look forward to seeing more in 2020.

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