As a first-year student at the Rhode Island School of Design, Lauren Goodman found herself rushing through assignments, focusing more on the final product than the design process itself. But when the global pandemic sent her back to a quiet lakeside setting in her native Canada, she learned an invaluable lesson about slowing down, listening, and observing her surroundings. The result is a furniture series that makes use of materials other people might overlook. Entitled “This Trash is Someone Else’s Problem,” the project explores the kind of alternative methods and materials we might discover if we were all more in tune with the environment and how our choices affected others.

Sculptural furniture pieces made from discarded materials as part of designer Lauren Goodman's

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It all started when Goodman traveled back to Canada in early April 2020 only to find three feet of snow and a frozen lake waiting for her, watching the earth slowly warm up in early spring. Each morning, she spent hours sitting in the cold listening to the chickadees and other little birds, learning to identify them all by sound. Binoculars and birding books helped her sharpen her perception. By the time she returned to Rhode Island, she had developed a new practice of listening and cultivating knowledge. She began to notice things like plastic bags in ditches, masks discarded on the street, and piles of trash along the train tracks.

Sculptural furniture piece made from discarded materials as part of designer Lauren Goodman's

On the first day of classes I walked by the big blue bin outside the sculpture foundry,” Goodman writes in her senior thesis. “I had passed this bin every day the year before and had never given it a second thought. This time, when I approached it, the sun was casting its last rays of the day on the alleyway behind our studios before dipping behind the Metcalf Building. It was as if the container was glowing, light refracting off misshapen and abandoned objects. The bin was signaling to me, drawing me toward the limitless possibilities within it. I put on my welding gloves and began dragging out rusted metal scraps, contorted, some haphazardly fused together. I found a wide piece of steel tubing, some rebar, and some steel rod a student had bent into a squiggly shape. I took these items to the mig welder and made my first piece of the year. It was a chair, it was sittable, and it was like nothing I had ever made before.”

Sculptural furniture piece made from discarded materials as part of designer Lauren Goodman's

I was actively unlearning while simultaneously knowing more. The materials were speaking to me, telling me how they should be processed and shaped. It was as if they had always been trying to talk to me but in a frequency I could not hear. Suddenly, I heard everything. I could recognize my lane again and it was going in a completely new direction. I decided that day I wouldn’t go to the store anymore. There was nothing I needed that I couldn’t find in my surroundings. Undervalued items everywhere. Pure potential tossed in the ditch while thinking, this trash is someone else’s problem. Maybe it could be my problem. I could create second chances and see value all around me. All I had to do was listen.”

The resulting objects might not even be recognizable as furniture on first glance. There’s something almost alien about them, sitting on whip-like curving metal supports reminiscent of the antennae of insects or the tentacles of deep sea creatures. All of these pieces of steel, found throughout Providence, were collected and processed with oxy-acetylene before being welded and spray painted. Ultimately, Goodman sees them as a physical representation of the city itself, and of the people who used and discarded those materials.

Sculptural furniture piece made from discarded materials as part of designer Lauren Goodman's

“This Trash is Someone Else’s Problem” is deeply informed by indigenous stewardship and the history of the surrounding area, advocating for design justice and social equality as well as a sense of responsibility for the objects we create. It’s also an interesting representation of Goodman’s lesson in its own right, as the final products are less important than the actual process of conceptualizing and creating them.