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Colour & Materials
Published: 21 Jul 2017

New Exhibition Celebrates History of Plywood

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Plywood: Material of the Modern World

The latest exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is solely dedicated to plywood.

Following its progression through time, Plywood: Material of the Modern World reveals how this versatile, often overlooked material helped shape the 21st century.

Starting in the 1850s, the exhibition traces the evolutionary applications of this industrially produced material – in furniture, architecture and transport.

It is divided into three sections marking specific developments in the evolution of the material: the invention of rotary veneer cutting, moulding and CNC cutting. A car with a cut-out section reveals the use of moulded plywood, and a single-sheet moulded armchair by London designer Gerald Summers demonstrates how designers have exploited plywood’s qualities over the years.

Plywood is renowned for being relatively cheap and easy to produce. Layers of thin, cross-grained wood sheets known as ‘plies’ are glued together, making it strong and stress-bearing. Often a prejudiced material, it was regarded as a cheaper alternative to cast metals, and mainly used structurally or disguised as solid wood.

The exhibition also illustrates its recent resurgence in popularity, with computer-controlled machine cutting offering a world of product possibilities.

Plywood is particularly good for CNC cutting owing to its strength, stability and worldwide standardisation, meaning a design can be cut reliably anywhere.

Designers are also placing emphasis on natural and relatable materials, seeking understated luxury through beautiful raw surfaces. See Enduring Luxe: Materials for more on shifts in the perception of luxury.

The exhibition runs until November 12. 

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