Wood in architecture
Rycotewood Furniture at the City of Oxford College, one of the United Kingdom’s most-respected furniture making programs, has collaborated with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) to produce a series of storage pieces out of American red oak. The project was originally conceived as a way to introduce students to red oak as a new material. AHEC donated two cubic feet of red oak per student to the college and set 10 of the school’s Year 2 Foundation students a brief to create a storage solution using this versatile material.
The students were tasked with using the material as efficiently and creatively as possible, making the most of its natural characteristics. They were also asked to record all material and energy use so that the environmental impacts of each piece could be calculated using the Life Cycle Assessment method.
Acclaimed UK furniture designer and maker Philip Koomen oversaw the project and mentored the students with design tutorials throughout. As an addition to the brief, Koomen asked the students to reference artists, sculptors or architects as an inspiration for their work. “The students have responded enthusiastically to this environmental brief. Their willingness to be adventurous and take creative risks has produced very innovative designs”, says Koomen. “I am very impressed with the results. There is a lot of thought and good craftsmanship in these pieces”.
Tom Morgan has created a colorful shoe cabinet influenced by his cordwainer background. Initially inspired by the work of Richard Deacon, Tom began by breaking down red oak veneer into smaller strips. The thin strips, dyed various colors, have been woven together to create a screen that wraps around a solid wood frame with five slatted shelves within.
Farrell Livingstone enjoys creating unnatural shapes out of natural materials. He sought to combine the shapes found in aviation and modern, industrial-looking architecture, such as the Design Museum of Barcelona, with nature. The final piece is a coffee table with a pull-out Japanese garden.
Andrew Joye has designed the “Oat & Oak” desk with a movable sculptural hood made from steam-bent strips of red oak. The desk’s main frame is solid oak while the desktop is natural cork. Stitched oat straw from a farm in Orkney has been used for the drawer and cabinet fronts, inspired by the Orkney chair and a cabinet made by Gareth Neal in collaboration Kevin Gauld.
David Howson’s “biophillic desk” features exposed drawers and has three copper plant pots integrated into the red oak worktop. The project was inspired by the theory that plants encourage creative thinking within the workplace. Having to care for the plants is also likely to make you look after the desk and therefore be less likely to leave it cluttered.
Daisy Brunsdon has focused on the social side of furniture. Her record player cabinet was motivated by how her family has been brought together by a record player that her mother found. The cabinet’s arch was inspired Oxford architecture. The red oak has been soap finished to show off its natural state.
Marcin Waszak’s wall drawers are inspired by the organic, wavy and often weird shapes found in the architecture of Frank Ghery, particularly the Hotel Marques de Riscal in Spain. The design process was labor intensive as each piece of red oak had to be soaked before being steam bent.
Michael Buick has developed a series of shelves inspired by Japanese minimalism and the ancient technique of pegged wooden joints. The shelves are American red oak; the dowels are ash and the pegs European oak. The series is designed to be easily moved and stored, ideal for those who are renting and likely to move house often. Each piece begins as flat-packed furniture that once built can be disassembled when needed.
Darren Scott wanted to explore furniture design from the perspective of an architect and create a side cabinet that is a showcase of materials. In addition to the red oak, slate and washi paper, often used in Japanese architecture, have been used to play with light and shadow.
Emily Taylor was influenced by the work of ceramic artist Richard Slee who took inspiration from everyday objects. Emily’s shelving unit has adopted the form of an easel, with a curtained cabinet at the base. Emily chose grey for the curtains to bring out the cool tones of the red oak.
Freddie Jackson has designed a wine cabinet with a stack of drawers, made for a house that is approximately 400 years old. Freddie wanted the piece to sit comfortably within the house so took inspiration from its existing furniture. The color of the red oak gives the design a traditional feel while its curves are quite contemporary.
David Venables, AHEC’s European Director, says: “We saw this as a great opportunity to allow some very talented students to engage and experiment with a great looking but underused sustainable material and to teach them how to calculate the environmental impact of the pieces they have created. American red oak represents almost 20% of the natural hardwood forests of the U.S. and its volume has more than doubled in the last 50 years. However, this beautiful timber, highly considered in other markets, remains underutilized in Europe. This initiative is part of AHEC’s wider effort to encourage European designers and makers to use all the species that nature provides, and not only the few in fashion, in order to contribute to a sustainable use of the forests”.
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 color. 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 55.2 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.