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The warmth of wood

Who doesn’t love a good bit of wood? All but the exceptionally dogmatically modernist architects love its warmth and ease of use. It’s naturally attractive to most people: it feels good.

There are tens of thousands of different wood types, of which around 1,000 are used commercially. Wood’s various incarnations, from soft to hard and pine to palm are of interest to us as designers. It is processed in more different ways than other materials: by sawing, homogeneous use, as chipboard, in pressured laminates, veneer, pulp or cardboard.

Industry by-products are useful too: wood production waste – sawdust – and off-cuts are used more and more. Also, wood is finding more applications both post-industry, in recycled or reused products, and post-use, as recycled raw matter, or as up-cycled material.

Currently, there is an uptake in the use of wood in architecture. This is due in part to its low cost and ease of use, but also there is a trend towards representative and ‘as-is’ architecture. This means that the material is used in its original form. Examples include several recent projects by Japanese architects who use wood almost unchanged from its original state.

Why? Apart from the reasons above, wood also works on the human scale. It is pliable; by hand at small scales. Sliced thin it becomes translucent; it can be processed to form light-weight, truly transparent insulation panels. Squarely aimed at modern material design trends, it is so versatile that certain wood types, such as zebrano or teak, can also create a retro effect. Wood works on many different scales, yet its growth-lines and knots reveal it’s humble origins. These inherent characteristics communicate to people directly, and clearly.

Best of all, it is useable, and reusable. This ties in neatly with our increasing realisation that we must take steps in order to conserve our planet. Limiting the use of the finite supply of raw materials, as well as reducing waste or better yet, re-using waste to close the usage cycle.

The great advantage of bio-based materials – and in particular wood – is that, if properly managed, they are reusable as well as biodegradable. Inherently, they also reduce CO2 emissions, release no toxic emissions during production, and their usage does not deplete the earth’s resources as quickly as the use of hydrocarbons, metals and many minerals.

Walls and floors can now be made with knitted, foamed or 3D printed wood. The demand for good wood is growing fast and ongoing development is bound to produce more successful innovations soon. We can’t wait.