Role Models Student Contest

Many of the modeling materials typically used in art & design schools today can be unhealthy — meaning, they can pose harm to the planet or present risk to human health. Some cannot be recycled, thereby creating waste and pollution, while others contain harmful chemicals like flame-retardants, antimicrobials, or VOCs.

Thanks to significant innovation in the material sciences, there are now materials that minimize harm to designers, fabricators, communities, and the global environment. In addition to new materials, there are a host of materials that have been used forever that have great qualities. The trick to using materials is to identify them and use them in new and interesting ways.

That’s where you come in.

Healthy Materials Lab has partnered with the Making Center at Parsons to sponsor the Role Models Competition, an opportunity for New School students to take a closer look at the materials that make their models and challenge themselves to design with global health in mind. As a participant, you will be asked to propose and use healthier model-making materials in your Spring 2017 projects for the chance to win $1000.

In order to showcase your support and use of healthier materials in every aspect of your project, you must document your model-making process through pictures, drawings, short videos, etc. You must also provide samples of the materials you used with your submissions. Additional guidelines are provided below.  

Remember — designs are never made in a vacuum. Whether considered or not, their impacts are far-reaching, inescapable, and inarguable. So, as a designer, you have to ask yourself: how does what I make impact the world at large? You have to consider not just who you’re designing for, and why, but also with what.

Safety and well-being are priorities in our school, and our fabrication spaces should be no exception. While we have made great strides in reducing the use of unhealthy materials, we need your help to expedite this goal. Participate in the Role Models Competition and help us change the face of design.


Contest opens: January 23, 2017
Submission Deadline: May 15, 2017
Winners announced: June 1, 2017



Any student at The New School.


  • Contact information including name, phone number, and email address.

  • Project information including materials used, project description, (course name, course number, professor name if applicable).

  • Link to 7-10 project images (in one PDF file under 5MB), videos, drawings and/or other aids that demonstrate use of healthier materials, including any coatings and/or adhesives used.

  • All submissions must be sent in electronic format. Finalists may be asked to submit physical material samples.



Winning projects will be chosen by a jury of designers, architects, and faculty. It will be at the jurors' discretion to determine the number of winners.

Judging Criteria:

  1. Material Source:
    Are the materials salvaged? Are they recycled or reused? Where did you find them?

  2. Document Benefits or Health Impact:
    Record why material and fabrication choices were made.

  3. Innovation + Creativity:
    Detail your design process, e.g. did you use mechanical joinery instead of adhesives?

  4. General Aesthetics:
    Remember, this isn’t a science project. This is a way of improving the beautiful design work that we do and this should be communicated through an equally beautiful model, prototype or physical design proposal. We want to see innovation that will proliferate, which means aesthetics are important.


About the Sponsors

The Making Center at Parsons

In Fall 2016, Parsons opened the doors to its new Making Center. The space provides a place for students to explore new techniques and tools for making and prototyping.

Unfortunately, the materials used for making projects are not always innovative and many materials used by students in the fabrication shops on campus contain chemicals that are known to be harmful to human health. The building insulation material, extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam, is often used by students to make models and to prototype designs. XPS is made from a petroleum-based plastic that not only is a nonrenewable resource, but also contains added flame-retardants that can be harmful if ingested or inhaled. Because design students often experiment with the material, cutting it with tools that create dust and smoke, they could have an even higher risk of being affected by XPS than professional installers of insulation.

This is just one example of the issues art & design students face today, and it’s one that exemplifies the need for minds to come together and innovate.

Healthy Materials Lab

Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design is an interdisciplinary, international, and professionally diverse collective dedicated to a world in which people’s health is placed at the center of all design decisions. Committed to raising awareness about toxins in building products and to creating resources for the next generation, the Lab has been passionately looking for alternatives to all physical materials with human safety and wellness as the primary focus. Inspired by how these new products have the potential to transform how students and faculty think about materials in the design process, Healthy Materials Lab is excited to see what innovations 2017 and the Role Models Competition will develop.

Want more information? Visit our Why Healthy Materials page.

Want to stay involved? Visit our Lab’s site here, take the pledge, and register for monthly updates.


  • Use mechanical joinery or fasteners instead of glues or adhesives.

  • Avoid potential toxics, including VOCs, HFRs, stain repellent coatings, etc.

  • Use natural, salvaged, or recycled materials.

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