title of design : Elephant Walk Desk
name of participants : Stephen Pennington
school / institution : University of Notre Dame
department : Art, Art History, & Design


Please provide an overall description of the project?
What are the aims and objectives?

Many classrooms in Nepal lack adequate furnishings for learning. If furniture is available, it is often old, deteriorated, miss-matched, or uncomfortable to sit for extended periods of time. Compared to classrooms in many developed countries, there is an absence of printed materials and inspirational décor. Most of all, the Nepalese rote memorization learning methodology creates an atmosphere that commonly isolates children, discourages peer-to-peer interaction, and lacks individual thought and creativity. The aim of this project is to focuses on creating a locally manufactured and sustainable furniture solution which targets primary school-aged children to create a more collaborative and engaging classroom environment.

How does your design sufficiently address the current situation as described in the design brief?
Elephant Walk utilizes locally accessible bamboo in Nepal and builds upon techniques currently being practiced in India to manufacture corrugated roofing tiles. In India, bamboo mat boards are made by laminating woven bamboo mats in a veneer like fashion using adhesives and then formed to make flooring and roofing tiles. This design, builds upon the idea of laminating woven bamboo mats by forming them into bent-wood classroom furniture which leverages the plentiful availability of bamboo and weaving skills in Nepal. Elephant Walk is an attempt to create an inspiring educational product that can be manufactured entirely at the community level. Since many classrooms in Nepal operate through rote memorization, this furniture design challenges and allows for flexibility in the way Nepali children are being taught and interacting with one another at school. Keeping in stride with UNICEF’s Child Friendly Schools Model, the Elephant Walk desk places the child’s needs at the center of their learning environment. Primary school children are offered a school desk with properly sized seating and back support for their size, as well as ample space to store their personal effects during the school day. In addition to addressing the functional needs of the children, Elephant Walk provides an emotional element of learning that is often missing or overlooked in Nepali classrooms. The whimsical shape of the elephant, so dear to the Nepali heart, creates a friendly and inspiring learning companion for children to learn alongside of. Each child’s desk interacts with the next encouraging the building of community and interactive learning in the classroom. Angled desktops allow for multiple positions of learning throughout the day so that children are active and attentive. Classrooms can reconfigure their herd of elephants to create a variety of learning spaces, from traditional row seating to more dynamic circular arrangements. Elephant Walk is not just a seating solution, but an evolutionary step in a direction away from rote memorization and towards communal interaction and independent thought. It is a way to keep over four million primary school children in Nepal engaged and eager to learn so that they can build a strong educational foundation for the future.


Describe what ideas you have for bringing this product/service to market?
In order to bring this product to market it is important to partner at the local level. To address this, the design and implementation of Elephant Walk has focused on using sustainable local materials and techniques such as bamboo, petroleum-free soy-based adhesives, and indigenous weaving skills available in Nepal. By incorporating the community in this open source design/construction technique, not only will educational institutions benefit, but local cottage manufactures as well. There is potentially cross-over opportunity to design cross-over products that utilize similar construction techniques, but could address additional needs as well as build revenue for cottage manufacturers. I am currently planning a trip to Nepal this summer through the University Of Notre Dame to break ground and work with local artisans and craftsman in building prototypes and beginning user testing to measure classroom acceptance and effectiveness.

Who are likely to be your main stakeholders and (potential) partners?
I am currently working with Hope Initiative (http://www.hopefornepal.org/). Hope Initiative Hope Initiative is a dynamic, all volunteer charitable organization devoted to bringing hope through education to Nepal’s poorest. I have been working in contact with my design professor and Hope Initiative founder, Ann-Marie Conrado. Hope currently has many strong relationships on the ground in Nepal including connections to local schools, educational ministries, artisans, and manufactures. We are seeking opportunities to partner with other NGOs who focus on education to begin to establish exploration at the community level in cottage manufacturing and design for Nepal.

How are you likely to finance this design and how are you intending to sustain it?
Since on a small scale, bamboo is readily available and free as a community resource, initial concept exploration could happen in conjunction with University of Notre Dame, Hope Initiative, and local partnerships. As interest is gained in the design and development of product, small grants can be sought to address costs associated with the setup and purchase of light machinery. Larger grants may be available from organizations with a primary focus on building education on developing places. Primarily it will be vital to gain community investment which uses local resources and building skills to produce products. It would be interesting, on a larger scale, to partner with NGOs in other areas of the world to try and adapt furniture to other developing regions. However, the idea would be to start local/small and build from there.