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Six years ago Lucite International in China (LIC) launched its Acrylic Design Competition (ADC) to students at some of China’s most prestigious fine arts universities. The goal was to build awareness and understanding of acrylic, and to encourage young people to use it as part of their studies as well as continuing to do so in their future careers. Chris Cowell, LIC General Manager, talks about ADC and his ideas for extending the programme in 2015.

The winning design for the 2014 ADC, featuring colour-changing LEDs, is an amazing lighting concept called ‘Iceberg’ from Mei Yaguan, who is studying at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. Mei Yaguan envisaged her work would create mood and atmosphere in a busy bar or sophisticated restaurant environment. Joint second place went to Zhu Tingting from China’s Tongji University and to Liu Tingyu, from National Cheng Kung University, with their soap box and spotlight designs inspired by the qualities of acrylic’s brilliant performance with light. The special LUXEON prize, sponsored by Philips Lumileds, was awarded to Xie Yu from the China Academy of Art.. Congratulations to the talented creators of this outstanding collection of winning design concepts!

This year’s competition attracted a fantastic 175 entries from young designers studying at six institutes in China: the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Nanjing University of Arts, Tsinghua University, Sichuan Academy of Fine Art, Tongji University, the China Academy of Art as well as from the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.

Chris said: “Once again the ADC has been a real success. The competition gives LIC an opportunity to talk directly with the people who will help shape our future through design – through buildings, through products, and in environments where communities live and work together. Giving young designers in the early stages of their studies a great experience of acrylic, in terms of its qualities and the benefits they can bring, is a powerful way of helping to inspire them to use it in their future work. And we are delighted to see such high-quality design concepts being produced.”

One important element of the ADC is teaching students how to process acrylic into finished products. This has been achieved largely because of the fantastic, close working relationships that LIC has with its manufacturing partners and their fabricator partners too. With this collaborative approach, students are able to gain first hand experience of processing acrylic in a commercial environment, which has proved invaluable.

In 2013, collaboration also extended to Philips Lumileds, which sponsored LUXEON LED, a new award introduced to encourage students to combine LEDs with acrylic in their work. From the 2013 and 2014 entries, it is clear that combining LED light with acrylic is firmly established as a winning combination.

We asked Chris about his thoughts on how the competition might continue to help in developing the market for acrylics in China. He said: “ADC has been incredibly important in spreading the word to designers and fabricators so that acrylic is on their list of materials that can bring value to their work across many different products and applications. The LIC team has done a great job coordinating the ADC with design academies, fabricators, and our customers. However, now that acrylic is firmly lodged in the minds of this design community we need to evolve the competition to bring in the element of commercialisation at scale without losing the freshness of pure design thought.”

So, what does this mean for the competition in future years? Chris continued: “Overall I want acrylic to be intimately associated with light. There is so much to explore if we focus our thinking on this one simple yet hugely expansive idea. At the end of my awards ceremony welcome speech – with the theme of light in mind – I made a slightly ad-hoc, cryptic suggestion to the students. I said that I’d like them to use acrylic to make me a cup of tea!”

Chris explained: “Making a cup of tea is both simple and complicated. Simple because you put the kettle on, pour water onto the tea, infuse and drink. However, outside of the cup (which could be acrylic) the rest requires a lot of effort: making the electricity; finding the water and getting it into a vessel that can convert it to hot water; finding and harvesting the tea… The design challenge that I have set is to do all of that using acrylic as a central element, which will mean students thinking more laterally about the qualities of acrylic and its ability to be stretched, incorporated with other materials, and actively used to capture the sun!

“Discussing this further with the team, we have expanded on the initial idea to broaden the challenge, so next year students will consider ‘using acrylic with the sun to heat your play: light your way: cool your day.’ We wholeheartedly believe that we can spring some ideas that have real open market potential in the category Acrylic Energy… so let’s wait and see!”

ADC 2014 FIRST PRIZE (shown)
Title: Iceberg
Designer: Mei Yaguan
Institution: National Cheng Kung University
Concept: LED lights are located above a matte acrylic surface, which diffuses light so that it shines softly below while the sheet edge provides a more vibrant, linear lighting effect that defines the structure of an iceberg. Using colour changing LEDs means that this concept can be used to create different moods in a space. Ideal for use in bars, restaurants, and more widely in the hospitality industry.