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News . Feature Stories . CIA students help protect the Cuyahoga River


November 13, 2015

CIA students help protect the Cuyahoga River

Partnering with Cleveland Metroparks to design nature-inspired shipping channel improvements

By Julie Troha

The Cleveland Metroparks Natural Resources Division is partnering with CIA Industrial Design students to solve a design problem in the Cuyahoga River.

Cleveland’s industrial economy has always relied on the shipping traffic that flows between Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. Navigation buoys keep the river’s shipping channel running smoothly. Over time, though, the buoys incur damage from dead tree debris and powerful bow thrusters of large ships.

The Metroparks brought this problem to Associate Professor Doug Paige, CIA’s expert in sustainable design and biomimicry. Paige, a 1982 CIA graduate, encourages his students to consider how nature can inform the design of products and systems.

“They’re examining the problem as a system incorporating biomimicry, to see how nature has solved similar problems,” he says. The project focuses on using buoys as a river buffer between the navigation channel and a wetlands wildlife habitat zone.

The resulting concept will combine a new buoy design with other elements to emulate how a natural river system works. Ideally, these concepts will lead the Metroparks to further research and development.

Director of Natural Resources Terry Robison is grateful for the creative ideas.

"The CIA students have been great project partners, and Doug provides excellent leadership to the group," Robison said. "The students listened to the needs and challenges of the project, and used impressive critical thinking skills to come up with innovative designs. We were impressed by their team-oriented presentation, and are thankful for this partnership opportunity."

The buoy project is an assignment in the Industrial Design Department’s Design Center course, a course that focuses on professional partnerships with real-world organizations. Since Department Chair Dan Cuffaro established the course in 2006, other partners have included Rubbermaid, MOEN, GE lighting, Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, NESTLE, and Ford Motor Company.

“Doug's partnership with the Metroparks is another great example of the school's academic mission,” says Barbara Chira, academic director of CIA’s Cores + Connections initiative. The initiative engages students in community-based learning and real-world projects.

Chira has been developing a multifaceted partnership with the Cleveland Metroparks since December 2013 (read about another collaboration between interior design students and the Metroparks Zoo). In August, she worked with Paige to pull together this project for his class.

“We floated some ideas to the Metroparks,” she says. “They were able to help Doug chart a new course very quickly, literally getting him and his students on board a boat within days."

Although the students’ current project ends after one semester, taking any of the ideas further could take several years to refine design and engineering for production—creating opportunities for more students to carry on the work through future semesters.

The Cuyahoga River project is an example of Cores + Connections, CIA's academic vision in which core values of world-class faculty mentorship, studio and academic rigor, cutting edge curriculum, and state-of-the-art facilities power extensive connections for student engagement in field-based hands-on learning, real-world professional projects, and community-based practices in art and design.

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