Plywood: Material of the Modern World

Plywood: Material of the Modern WorldImage courtesy of V&A


Plywood: Material of the Modern World

V&A Museum, London
15 July – 12 November 2017

 

Light, strong, affordable and versatile, plywood is the unlikely material behind an eclectic array of groundbreaking designs to be celebrated in a world-first exhibition at the V&A this summer. From the fastest and highest-flying aeroplane of WWII, the de Havilland Mosquito, to the downloadable selfassembly WikiHouse, more than 120 objects will be brought together in an exploration of how the often-overlooked product has helped create the modern world.

 

Plywood: Material of the Modern WorldImage courtesy of V&A

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Fragments of layered board have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, but it was the advent of mass production in the nineteenth century that saw plywood’s adaptability and potential fully exploited. Used to construct everything from a tube to house an experimental elevated railway in 1867 New York to hatboxes, tea chests, surfboards and skateboards, plywood has been embraced by designers, architects and engineers; each successive generation finding ever-more innovative ways to shape, mould, cut and fix it.

 

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Opening this July, Plywood explores the near-ubiquitous material’s global impact and history from the 1850s to the present day. The exhibition brings together significant new research with new acquisitions and objects that have never before been on public display. It will take visitors through plywood‘s many reputational transformations; from a cheap product that was often hidden or maligned for its inferiority to solid timber, to the material prized by midcentury modernists and by today’s flourishing maker movement.

 

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Coupling objects drawn from the V&A‘s world class furniture, design and architecture collections with significant loans from across the globe, highlights include early experiments in plywood, such as a 1908 book printed during Ernest Shackleton‘s Nimrod expedition to Antarctica and bound with plywood covers; celebrated pieces by modernist designers such as Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Grete Jalk, Robin Day and Charles and Ray Eames; and striking examples of transport design such as 1917 moulded canoe, a 1960s British racing car with plywood chassis, and some of the first ever surf and skate boards.

 

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Interspersed throughout the displays are three ‘process’ moments that mark important milestones in the evolution of plywood manufacture: the invention of the rotary veneer cutter in the early 19th century; the advent of moulding techniques that inspired the groundbreaking forms of 1930s modernism; and plywood’s recent dominance as a material for CNCcutting and digital manufacture.

 

more. www.vam.ac

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