The owners of U.S. hardwood forests usually grow their forests on longer rotations and typically selectively harvest a few trees per hectare, rather than clear-felling. Furthermore, after harvesting, forest owners usually rely on natural regeneration, which is abundant in the deep fertile forest soils of the U.S.
American hardwood also offers an immense variety of colors, grains, and characteristics, from the warm, darker tones of red oak, cherry, and alder to the lighter tones of maple, tulipwood, and ash. This makes it suitable for a wide range of applications, from fine furniture to structural panels on an industrial scale.
The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is the leading international trade association for the US hardwood industry. It oversees a worldwide program to promote the full range of American hardwoods in over fifty export markets. AHEC Europe is well known for its ambitious collaborations with international architects and designers that explore the potential of American hardwood and stimulate use of this sustainable material.
In this article, we’re looking at six videos commissioned by AHEC Europe to promote the same number of important creative projects carried out over recent years. Each video sets out to not only present the results of each project, but also, and in particular, to provide background to the creative process involved by examining the development of these exciting designs and interviewing the architects, designers, and builders involved.
The Designposts project was one of the most important new additions to the London Design Festival (LDF) 2021. It brought a series of wooden sculptures to the streets of London, each one capturing the spirit of one of the festival’s ten design districts.
Organized in collaboration with LDF and three leading British furniture makers – Benchmark Furniture (West Berkshire), Sebastian Cox (South East London), and Jan Hendzel Studio (South East London) – Designposts paid tribute to the diverse history and creative culture of London’s boroughs, while simultaneously giving emerging designers a platform to show off their talent. This inspiring – and free – outdoor exhibition of art and design was also an opportunity to introduce festivalgoers to the potential of American red oak, an underused and highly sustainable material.
Discovered was an international project in which designers were invited to reflect freely on their experience of isolation during lockdown, and then create a piece representing the functional and emotional connections we have to everyday objects. Participants were offered a selection of three hardwoods that are as sustainable as they are underused. Discovered therefore offered a series of personal reflections on the pandemic experience, providing a platform for emerging creatives after a year in which the usual channels of visibility were mainly inaccessible. Held at the London Design Museum and now available online, the exhibition was a great opportunity for young designers to present their work to both the public and the industry.
Nine international designers – Ini Archibong, Maria Bruun, Jaime Hayon, Heatherwick Studio, Sebastian Herkner, Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska, Sabine Marcelis, Studiopepe, Studio Swine – were issued a challenge by AHEC: create a table and seating that represent how the pandemic has changed their way of working and creating. Each designer had a choice of three American hardwoods – cherry, maple, and red oak – and interacted remotely from their improvised home offices with other professionals, including craftspeople and builders, to develop their designs.
Legacy was conceived as an exploration of the growing conversation about sustainability and our current throwaway consumer culture. Created by AHEC in collaboration with Benchmark Furniture and the London Design Festival, the project showcased ten unique objects that, thanks to the fusion of intelligent design, natural materials, and exceptional artisanship, can last for generations to come.
MultiPly was a collaboration between AHEC, Waugh Thistleton Architects, and Arup for the 2018 London Design Festival that focused on the way we build our cities. By combining sustainable American tulipwood with innovative modular wood construction methods, MultiPly addressed two of the biggest challenges of today: the pressing need for housing and the urgency of combating climate change.
American red oak is the most common species in American hardwood forests. It’s characterized by its porous structure and occasional pinkish tones. Despite its many qualities, American red oak is often wrongly viewed in Europe as a lesser version of American white oak and European oak. In this project, and the related video, the craftsmen from Benchmark Furniture explore and highlight the great aesthetic and performative qualities of this wood. Seeing is believing!
Discover all the videos by AHEC Europe on www.americanhardwood.org
Cover Photo by Petr Krejci, courtesy AHEC Europe