iMADE Muncie students create new Minnetrista benches

<p>John Smith, president of the industrial division at Mid-West Metal Products, talks to students in the MadJax studio fall 2019. Mid-West Metal Products is based in Muncie and provided materials for the Minnetrista farmers market project. <strong>Kevin Klinger, Photo Provided</strong></p>

John Smith, president of the industrial division at Mid-West Metal Products, talks to students in the MadJax studio fall 2019. Mid-West Metal Products is based in Muncie and provided materials for the Minnetrista farmers market project. Kevin Klinger, Photo Provided

After designing 12 buildings for class projects without being able to see any of them built, Steven Polchinski, fourth-year architecture major, spent part of his spring 2020 semester working with graduate students to assemble new benches and trash cans for Minnetrista.

Polchinski took an immersive learning elective operating out of the MadJax Muncie warehouse that helped architecture students apply what they learned in classes and see one of their designs come to fruition.

“It was really fun to see how these things can move from the computer to the real world,”

Polchinski said. “So often in classes, we design really cool things, but it just exists on our computers, and that building is never going to get built.”

Polchinski joined the project to develop Minnetrista benches and trash cans after designs were approved and a prototype had been built.

“A lot of what I did was more so the fabrication and assembly toward the end,” he said. “Getting the right dimensions, all the right lengths [and] staining the wood so it looked nice.”

Betty Brewer, Minnetrista president and CEO, said the bench project has been developing since 2018 when Kevin Klinger came up with the idea to create a portable farmers market sign.

Klinger, Ball State professor of architecture, runs the 5Chickens farm stand at Minnetrista with his wife and oversees iMADE Muncie projects.

The farmers market sign includes a map of Minnetrista and shows where vendors are located along with their product lineups. Brewer said the sign was delivered in January 2020.

Klinger has been involved with iMADE since 2005 and serves as a coordinator between students in iMADE and industry partners.

“iMADE is Indiana made, but the ‘i’ is actually a bit nebulous,” Klinger said. “The ‘i’ could be Indiana, industry, information or it could mean ‘I,’ the author.”

iMADE worked with local industry partners Indiana Hardwood and Mid-West Metal Productions to build the Minnetrista benches and trash cans. 

The hardwood underwent thermal modification to cook sugars out of the wood and make the products weather-resistant to prevent warping and last longer outdoors. Because of the wood’s durability, Klinger said these products are environmentally-friendly.

“There are a lot of great benefits to thermally-modified wood. It can last 15 years with minimal treatment,” he said. “We feel like it’s a win-win to partner with these people who are willing to be our industry collaborators and provide students with material to work with and experiment with.”

Klinger said he was pleased with how their industry partners worked with students to produce prototypes and final designs.

“We’re only going to work with local manufacturers,” he said. “They see the value in education and experimentation of students’ ideas.”

iMADE’s spring 2020 projects were interrupted due to COVID-19 and MadJax closing temporarily. Klinger said students focused on documenting their ideas for new projects after classes transitioned online, and the benches and trash cans were finished slightly later than expected. Brewer said six benches were delivered to Minnetrista’s campus in June 2020, and trash cans were delivered in late September. iMADE students worked with Minnetrista groundskeepers to find appropriate places for the benches and a picnic table.

The first prototype bench, which Brewer said was brought to Minnetrista in fall 2019, was too tall for people to comfortably sit on, so it operates as a coffee table.

“When most people sat on it, they could barely touch their toes to the floor,” she said. “It’s sitting in our lobby now as a coffee table. Everybody loves it.”

Though Brewer said the design and production process for Minnetrista’s benches and trash cans took longer going through iMADE than it would have a construction firm, she was happy with the end result.

“We weren’t on a hard deadline of any sort, and we enjoy working with Ball State and their students,” she said. “They learn from it, and we learn from it. Everybody had input into the final product.”

Brewer said she looks forward to iMADE’s future projects in the Muncie community.

“It’s great experience for the students in making, fabricating, and designing and also in meeting client needs,” she said. “I’m sure as they continue to work with other organizations in town, we’re going to see some great products.”

Contact Grace McCormick with comments at or on Twitter@graceMc564.


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