Class project sweetens students’ Friday


Photo: Karuna Ang/Iowa State Daily

(Left) Chase Kramer and Ryan Gauquie, both graduate in architecture, grab cupcakes from one of the tables, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, at Design Building. The cupcakes that were put out in the Design Building atrium were part of the TOYS! Studio class project. The class came up with a project that involves people in the College of Design to participate without them actively knowing it.

Nicole Wiegand

The scene in the College of Design’s atrium Friday morning looked as if it had been taken straight from a child’s dream — and a very sweet one at that. The 11 tables, typically packed with students diligently working on studio projects, were instead covered in more than 1,500 cupcakes, and for no apparent reason.

Little did students know that what appeared to be an explosion of sugar, frosting and sprinkles was actually part of a class project.

Anna Snider, senior in architecture, said the display of cupcakes was the culmination of a project for her “TOYS! Studio” course. The assignment directed the 14 students in the studio to plan an event within the College of Design that allowed for student participation but needn’t necessarily integrate toys.

“I believe the goal was to make the project as ambiguous as possible to allow us to formulate ideas without the constraints of an actual, traditional assignment,” Snider said. “We began with the idea of building larger versions of the toys we had made in studio or somehow integrating balloons. Eventually the thought process moved toward cake, and we settled on the idea of cupcakes.”

Mitchell Squire, associate professor of architecture and instructor for the “TOYS! Studio,” agreed.

“When the idea to do cupcakes was under consideration in the studio, I could tell it was going to be very much on point regarding the assignment,” Squire said.

“Their original idea was to make a giant cake and sit it in the middle of the forum. The cupcakes made everything possible without heavy-handed orchestration. The plan was to interfere as little as possible in what would unfold. That’s a good lesson for designers to learn.”

But how exactly does one come up with 1,500 cupcakes overnight?

Snider said the students made arrangements with Hy-Vee to use their commercial kitchens to bake around 1,100 of the cupcakes Thursday night. The remainder of the treats were donated by Hy-Vee and Yummy’s Cupcake Emporium.

When asked about the aspirations of the project, Snider said the intent was to observe what types of student reaction the cupcake display would elicit.

“Part of the project was to see how students would react to the tables being covered with cupcakes since they can’t really sit down and work with them sitting there,” Snider said. “Would they move? Would they eat them? Would they sit on the floor, or maybe just move to another space?”

In order to help document student response over the course of the day, the atrium was filmed from various locations on the third floor from the time the cupcakes were placed on the tables around 6 a.m. until they had all been eaten.

“At first there was more of a solemn reaction to the setup and a sort of respect for the cupcakes,” said Snider, noting that not many were initially taken from the tables in the morning. “I think a few students were even wondering if the cupcakes were part of an art installation.”

As the day progressed, however, the cupcakes began to disappear at a much faster rate. Many students nonchalantly grabbed a cupcake or two as a part of their lunch while passing by. Two more ambitious students walked off with more than a dozen cupcakes precariously balanced in sandwich trays from the Design Cafe.

Seth Dreier, a landscape designer from Chicago recruiting for the College of Design’s Career Days event, was among those confused about the abundance of baked goods in the atrium.

“It looks like Little Debbie just went to town in here,” Dreier said. “Two people have actually asked if they could take one from our table.”

Despite the fact that Dreier had noticed the video cameras above and was a bit suspicious as to what was going on, he was not deterred.

“Of course, I still plan on having one for dessert,” Dreier said.

Leah Willadsen, senior in graphic design and advertising, said she didn’t know what to think at first either.

“My initial reaction was that there was an event I wasn’t aware of, so I left them alone,” Willadsen said. “Then a classmate came in with a cupcake, which led to our entire class deciding to go get some.

“Design students were posting all day about free cupcakes in the College of Design, and that they made their day. No one had any idea what they were for but loved the idea of free food.”

Around 1 p.m., however, the cause for the seemingly random display of cupcakes became a little more clear. Students from the TOYS! Studio, including Snider, dropped stacks of fliers from the fifth-floor balcony proclaiming “You got caked!” flanked by an image of a cupcake as well as the sponsors’ logos.

After all the cupcakes had been eaten and the project had concluded, Snider described it as a success.

“I think we were impressed with the response — that we were able to complete the project how we had imagined, that all the cupcakes got eaten and that it was as fun and exciting for all people involved, us the creators and the College of Design participants.”

Squire said he also enjoyed watching the project unfold.

“What I liked most about the project were the micro-communities that it helped form and how these extended well beyond the walls of the college,” Squire said. “My daughter at the University of Iowa sent an e-mail that said she saw an accounting student’s Facebook status that read, ‘omg free cupcake Friday WOOOO design ppl are SWEET.'”

However, it was a comment from within the college that helped drive the effect of the assignment home for Squire.

“When a staff member from the college’s business office came up to me, introduced herself and said the students truly made her day, I knew the work was a success,” Squire said.