Too Good to Waste is an interactive installation, designed by Benedetta Tagliabue of EMBT, crafted by furniture makers Benchmark and initiated by the American Hardwood Export Council, for Milan Design Week. It will be presented at Università degli Studi di Milano from 3 - 15 April.
This bold timber installation comprises four individual and unique pieces, wrapped around the statuesque pillars of the entrance to the Aula Magna auditorium, transforming at the hand of visitors to reveal hidden pieces of fine furniture. Benedetta Tagliabue, founder of EMBT, says, “I feel very privileged to be designing an installation with American hardwoods and Benchmark’s craftsmanship in wood, which will be presented in Milan, the city where I was born and raised.”
Too Good to Waste seeks to question the validity of the current relationship between wood consumption and fashion. Contrary to popular perception, not all forests are disappearing. In fact, the vast American hardwood forest is a quickly expanding resource and the volume of its standing timber has more than doubled in the last 50 years. However, due to fashion and colour trends, demand is too often focused on just a few species, while many others are underused or left in the forest, which is a lost opportunity for design and carbon storage.
Too Good to Waste is an invitation to reflect on the responsible use of these forests and to discover species and grades of American hardwoods rarely found in homes or furniture stores in Europe, but that need to be considered if we want to contribute to a balanced and sustainable use of the forest.
Sean Sutcliffe says: “We have built a woodland from rough sawn vertical planks of American tulipwood, cherry, red oak and maple and out of this woodland we are drawing finished pieces of furniture. We have kept the vertical stripes of the forest and extended them into the furniture, transforming them from the raw state of the tree trunks into the polished finish of the cabinet maker”.
Sean’s favourite part of the project is how this installation elegantly expresses that furniture comes from the woods, a direct relationship that people don’t always make.
In the words of Benedetta: “Imperfection can make a piece completely beautiful and unique and I hope this project will convey the message that you can work with materials that are considered imperfect and with skills, intelligence and curiosity you can transform them into something beautiful, unique and beloved.”
American red oak
Red oak is the dominant species in the U.S. hardwood forests with distinctive grain and wood that is not always red in colour. The name is supposedly due to the Autumn leaf colour. Red oak trees grow only naturally and almost exclusively in North America, although planted elsewhere. Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) data shows red oak growing stock is 18.7% of total U.S. hardwood growing stock and that while 33.9 million m3 of American red oak are harvested each year, more than 32 million m3 are naturally growing over the same period. In general the sapwood of red oaks is light brown and the heartwood is often pinkish to reddish brown. American red oaks have very good overall strength properties relative to weight. Its main uses are furniture, flooring, doors and certain construction applications.
American cherry is a supreme species from the U.S. hardwood forests and is unique to North America, with warm colour tones and superb finishing qualities. Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) data shows U.S. cherry growing stock is 3.0% of total U.S. hardwood growing stock and that while 4.3 million m3 is harvested each year more than 11 million m3 of American cherry is growing naturally across the U.S. forests during the same period. The heartwood of cherry can vary from rich red to reddish brown and darkens on exposure to light with time. The sapwood is creamy white. Being hard and stable when dry, the wood is very easy to stain and finish to an excellent surface. It is highly prized for furniture and interior joinery.
Growing naturally in the hardwood forests of North America, the American maples, comprising soft maples and hard maples, are amongst the most prolific and sustainable species. Both types of maple are similar in appearance, with a creamy white sapwood and a light to dark reddish brown heartwood. Maples grow widely across the eastern USA, with hard maples favouring the colder growing conditions of the Northern Sates. Forest Industry Analysis (FIA) data shows U.S. maples make up 17.9% of total U.S. hardwood growing stock and while 23.9 million m3 is harvested each year, in the same time period there is natural growth in the forest of nearly 55 million m3. Maple wood is generally straight grained with a fine texture and can be stained and polished to produce a high quality smooth finish. Both maples are ideal materials for furniture, cabinet making and joinery, although the hardwearing properties of hard maple make it more suitable for flooring.
American tulipwood is one of the most prolific species from the U.S. hardwood forests and is unique to North America. Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) data shows U.S. tulipwood makes up 7.7% of total U.S. hardwood growing stock and while 12.8 million m3 are harvested each year, more than 32 million m3 of American tulipwood grows naturally in the hardwood forests every year. Tulipwood has less strong grain characteristic than species such as ash and oak and exhibits a marked difference between the sapwood and heartwood. The sapwood is creamy white whereas the heartwood can vary from pale yellow or brown to green and purple in extreme cases. The wood darkens on exposure to light. Tulipwood has extraordinary overall strength properties relative to weight, making it highly suitable for structural applications, such as glue-laminated beams and cross laminated timber (CLT).
Architect: EMBT - Benedetta Tagliabue
Design team: EMBT - Nazaret Busto, Ling Yang, Andrea Martínez and Enrico Pinto.
AHEC: David Venables, Rocío Pérez-Íñigo, Lucy Peacock, Brogan Cox and Lauren Smith.
Benchmark: Sean Sutcliffe, Oliver Tillbury, Martin O’Hara, Ben Morgan, Rob Honeyman, Mark Paradise, Mark Kendell, Josh Hale and Sam Brown
Video: Migongo films
Photography: © Jon Cardwell