30 November 2011

Wonder Wood

Written by Published in Architecture
Wonder Wood ©Image: Spooge UK

There has never been a better time to sing the praises of one of the world’s most enduring, beautiful and endlessly usable natural materials. Sublime ran a loving hand over the winning entries of an Award that is as much a celebration as a competition

From an elegantly arching chair inspired by the sketches of shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, to a soaring staircase which springs from its foundations like a branch reaching towards the sky, the 2011 Wood Awards showcase the very best in design and craftsmanship using this most versatile of materials.

Wood is an abundant, carbon-neutral resource and an important source of renewable energy and the competition, which this year attracted a record 348 entries, aims to encourage and promote its use.

Chosen from a shortlist of 30, it was the Rothschild Foundation which scooped the Gold Award as winner of the Structural category. The design of the Foundation’s building in Buckinghamshire was inspired by its former use as a farm, incorporating vertical boarding and roof trusses. The building’s centrepiece, the archive reading room, was designed as a modern reinterpretation of a barn structure, with a timber diagrid frame formed from European oak glulam (glued laminated timber) beams veneered in European prime-grade oak.

Far Moor Bridge in Selside, north Yorkshire, was highly commended in the same category after being designed to span a new section of bridleway across the River Ribble. It needed to be visually appealing to walkers and riders enjoying the beautiful local landscape, as well as being environmentally sustainable.

Scottish larch was used in the design, a flat arch structure which was conceived to complement the egg-shaped drumlin landscape that is a feature of the area.

The judges said: ‘The bridge is a very good example of what can be done with clever design and locally available materials. It fits wonderfully well into this landscape, and as the timber weathers it will look even more appropriate.’

Also making the grade was the Manolo Lounger, a striking chair crafted from American black walnut, which won the Outstanding Craftsmanship Award. Glasgow-based designer John Galvin dreamed up the design after coming across a rough sketch of a high-heeled shoe by the Spanish fashion designer.

He said: ‘The elegance of the thin stiletto heel and feminine curve of the shoe inspired me to start sketching chair designs. The back legs of the chair are loosely based on this sketch, and led to its name.’

Highly commended in the Best Small Project category was a house which was designed to ‘touch the earth lightly’.

The Watson House nestles in the New Forest in the south of England and began with the idea of a holiday home where the family wished to stay in contact with nature. They wanted a retreat which offered the opposite to their day-to-day urban life – a place which breathed, that was open, light, easy to maintain and which interacted with the garden and woodland nearby.

Using larch and fir cross-laminated panels and sweet chestnut cladding and joinery, the result was a simple, linear, single-storey home which was built and made weather-tight in weeks. Judges deemed the use of chestnut cladding ‘appropriate and attractive’.

Sympathy to its surroundings was also crucial to the success of The Apex, a music, entertainment and community venue in the historic market town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, where many buildings are timber-framed.

Hopkins Architects used American white oak to create an auditorium which judges deemed ‘a real pleasure to be in, with the clean lines of the galleries and the splendid timber roof. For such a flexible space it is remarkably uncluttered.’

Lincolnshire designer Sebastian Cox harvested hazel in a local Forestry Commission-coppiced wood by hand to form the basis of his furniture collection. ‘I researched the use of coppiced hazel in contemporary design as a way of utilising this otherwise wasted resource, and found that it is an excellent timber for lightweight pieces of furniture,’ he explained.

The flagship piece of the collection, the Suent Superlight chair, weighs just 1.7 kg. The name of each of Sebastian’s pieces comes from the vocabulary used by traditional woodmen, much of which has now been lost.


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