A stellar list of architects and designers brought together by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Benchmark Furniture collaborate to create a compelling installation, The Wish List, which will be exhibited at the V&A during the 2014 London Design Festival (13-21 September).Terence Conran, co-founder of Benchmark, instigated the project when he wrote to his friends and asked, “What have you always wanted in your home, but never been able to find?” His friends are, of course, some of the most illustrious names in architecture and design. Paul Smith, Norman Foster, Amanda Levete, John Pawson, Alison Brooks, Zaha Hadid, Alex de Rijke, Richard and Ab Rogers, and Allen Jones have all indicated what product they long for. Under the mentorship of these ‘greats’, up-and-coming names are now designing the desired items for The Wish List. Such an open brief guarantees an extraordinary spread of design and the challenge is to produce each project in a single material – American hardwood, in celebration of the versatility of timber and the enormous variety that can be achieved with one material. Further, the diversity of products demonstrates Benchmark’s depth in understanding of wood and skilled craftsmanship. All of the items will be crafted in American hardwood during ‘making week’ at Benchmark’s Berkshire workshops at the beginning of July. “Benchmark is the powerhouse of craft, where many of the world’s greatest designers come to push the boundaries of what is possible to do in wood,” says Sean Sutcliffe, cofounder of Benchmark. “The diversity of the pieces in ‘The Wish List’, and making them in one intense week, will test all involved. It will be a terrific platform for learning, enriched by the interaction of so much design and making talent. In our workshop of over 50 skilled craftsmen, we’re confident that we shall see ten fabulous results.” For David Venables, European Director of AHEC, this project is very much about the versatility of American hardwood, and the ability to experiment with designs, both big and small. “I can’t think of any other material that could be used to create such an eclectic mix of products and render each one beautiful and unique,” he says.Sebastian Cox will design a workspace for Terence Conran, Norie Matsumoto is creating the perfect pencil sharpener for Norman Foster whilst Win Assakul is designing an extendable fruit or cheese bowl for Amanda Levete. The sisters that form Studio Areti are designing three items for John Pawson, a triangle shelf, slanted door and a hook. Felix de Pass is designing kitchen stools for Alison Brooks whilst Gareth Neal tackles tableware for Zaha Hadid. Fashion icon Paul Smith has asked Nathalie de Leval for a garden shed, whilst Barnby & Day are hard at work on a dining table for Alex de Rijke. Richard Rogers with Ab Rogers have requested a ladder from Xenia Moseley and Lola Lely is designing a chaise longue for Allen Jones. During the manufacturing process, the teams will record all material inputs and energy consumption allowing them to assess the environmental impact for each object, using data from AHEC’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) research for 19 American hardwood species. Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific tool that helps industry to establish environmental frameworks that have real meaning and assess true sustainability. The result will present the cradle-to-grave impact of creating each product across six categories. The most topical impact category is global warming potential (GWP), or carbon footprint. Sean Sutcliffe comments, “Working with AHEC on ‘Out of the Woods’ in 2012, Benchmark produced the world’s first wooden furniture with full Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Now we seek to build on that learning and develop tools that will enable designs to be rationalised on the basis of LCA data feedback. It is an exciting moment to be working within this fastdeveloping science.” Material used for this project has been donated by timber and panel products distributor James Latham.
Group Shot and Tools: Petr Krecji
Terence Conran and Sean Sutcliffe: Angus Thomas
Logo: image credit Nigel Melling, logo credit Nick Watts