The Wish List: 2 days down, 3 to go
The sun was shining, and the workshop a calm, but concentrated, hive of activity. In the garden outside the workshop, over breakfast of toast and homemade quince jam, we got the low down on progress so far.
Sean Sutcliffe and our project partner David Venables, European Director of AHEC, talked us through how The Wish List had developed from an ambitious idea to a fully blown project. Their initial conversation took place over lunch at Terence’s house with John Sorrell, co-founder of the London Design Festival. If you don’t ask you don’t get, but the team were still delighted and amazed that ‘The Wish List’ said yes. What a line up.
A significant part of the project is focused on environmental issues, the Life Cycle Assessment but also educating designers to choose wisely from the great diversity of woods available. Norman Foster embraced this principle and was interested in the paradox of using the cheapest American hardwood tulipwood for his pencil sharpener with Norie Matsumoto. It’s grain and colour variation can create a marble like quality, which clearly appealed to Foster.
By encouraging designers to think more laterally will in turn affect consumer desire and demand. Tulipwood is normally always painted. A widely available resource, it makes up 9% of American forest. What is more, it’s light, strong and it grows everywhere, without being dependent on regionally specific terrain. To use this intelligently could have significant environmental impact.
Technically, Sean and his master craftsmen were braced for the challenges of producing ten completely different designs. However, for Zaha Hadid’s tableware with Gareth Neal, Sean saw the sketches and thought ‘heck – this is unmakeable’. Thinking of calling on friends in the aerospace industry, he then pulled himself up, thought again and then applied additional machinery. Sean commented ‘I was relieved to know that Gareth is a master of combining the computer with hands-on making. He knows how far to push it and crucially when to stop.’
The second challenge was the Ab & Richard Rogers ladder with Xenia Moseley. Sean marveled at the improbability of it standing up. Rogers team were adamant it would. And it did. The solution was the stabilization with friction devices on the wall and floor.
The level of personal engagement of mentors to the project was very strong. It was enlightening to see their engagement and allowing their mentees to take their time in making a decision rather then imposing on them.
Touring the workshops, we saw Paul Smith’s shed with Nathalie de Leval start to take shape. Using thermally modified timber (TMT) ash, a relatively new process, the wood can last outdoors for about 30 years as opposed to the normal 4/5 years. This can replace the use of tropical timbers and of course avoids chemical treatment.
For Alison Brooks‘ stool with Felix de Pass, we saw steam bending in action. During the workshop trials we found out how far we could push it, as we discovered with a thick piece of cherry. As USA exported wood has to be kiln-dried, this demanded further steaming time, from an approximate 45 minutes to session of 4/5 hours. Once again, we made up some new tools, this time rather cheaper, requiring elaborate clamping devices. Following Alison’s brief of the stool sweeping up from the ground, three legs were employed. It is an efficient production method as steam bending avoids material waste.
We rounded off the day with ale from our local brewery The Two Cocks, swiftly followed by a large plate of comfort food. After dinner we headed to the river to catch the sun going down, and with the crystal clear water providing too irresistible for some, they stripped off and jumped in.