The shin­gle life

Rose Martin picks up a copy of Wil­liam Hall’s lat­est block buster, which frames the build­ing ma­te­ri­als that make up our world. This time he con­cen­trates on tim­ber

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - In The Garden -

Even the cover of this stun­ning, cof­fee table book has the tex­ture of wood, the ma­te­rial that is the sub­ject of the lat­est vol­ume from Wil­liam Hill, and fol­lows on his suc­cess­ful over­view of other ba­sic con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als in Con­crete and Brick. And in the first para­graph of an in­tro­duc­tion by Richard Mabey, (broad­caster and jour­nal­ist who cov­ers the con­junc­tion be­tween na­ture and cul­ture), the essence is en­cap­su­lated in the story of an freak event some years ago when a 200-year beech was blown over onto a 400-year old tim­ber­framed farm­house in Mabey’s vil­lage.

“No one was hurt, but the whole build­ing was skewed side­ways and looked as if it had been im­paled by the tree. The scene be­came a brief source of won­der in the dis­trict, a rare case of beech trump­ing oak.”

And there might have ended the long life of a ver­nac­u­lar and his­toric oak build­ing un­til the beech was sawn up and winched off the farm­house:

“...within a mat­ter of hours, the house had sprung back to its pre­vi­ous shape. Some of the rafters had split, but the beams in the main tim­ber frame had sim­ple flexed at their joints and had re­sumed their bal­anced pos­ture once the pres­sure was re­lieved.”

This is the essence of wood, main­tains, Mabey, it’s jack-inthe box flex­i­bil­ity that sets it above all other man-made ma­te­ri­als. And in his own in­tro­duc­tion, Wil­liam Hall cites Le Cor­bus­ier’s de­ci­sion to re­treat to a lit­tle cabin at Roque- brune-cap-martin, (the same lo­ca­tion where he had pre­vi­ously daubed all over Eileen Gray’s house), and sug­gests the fa­ther of Mod­ernism and Bru­tal­ism found some­thing lack­ing and in the end, was drawn to wood — that most har­mo­nious of ma­te­ri­als.

Words are slight in this hefty tome, Hall in­stead al­lows the build­ings to speak from its pages. Struc­tures like wooden Vik­ing churches in Nor­way with their in­tri­cate carv­ings, to a mod­ern, but­ter­fly-grace­ful bam­boo lodge in Bali to the stun­ning Spanish pav­il­ion for the Shang­hai Expo in wicker.

This is a per­sonal and won­der­fully il­lus­trated col­lec­tion of im­ages of build­ings and struc­tures from all over the world, with just one thing in com­mon — a nat­u­ral, cel­lu­lar ma­te­ri­al­ity. This is the kind of book that the car­pen­ter will love, the ar­chi­tect will pe­ruse and the gen­eral reader will be in­spired by — it’s an eye-open­ing in­tro­duc­tion to the most pow­er­ful, most flex­i­ble and most sus­tain­able of all con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als. It was the very first ma­te­rial we used as a species, (ear­li­est ex­am­ples of wooden floors are found as far back as 8,500 BC, says Hall), and we are still work­ing with this springly, warm ma­te­rial today.

Wood is a vis­ually stun­ning cel­e­bra­tion of some of the world’s best tim­ber ar­chi­tec­ture over the last 1,000 years, high­light­ing the beauty of a ma­te­rial that en­riches our ev­ery­day lives. Span­ning the globe, the projects en­com­pass churches, mon­u­ments, cul­tural spa­ces and more — from Renzo Pi­ano’s oth­er­worldly Jean-marie Ti­jbaou Cul­tural Cen­tre, (above)to Hop­kin’s Ar­chi­tects’ London Olympics’ Velo­drome, (wit­tily re­named The Pringle), to FAO’S sprawl­ing tim­ber land­scape for Yoko­hama port ter­mi­nal, Ja­pan, to Le Cor­bus­ier’s hum­ble cabin.

Every luxe im­age in­cludes key in­for­ma­tion — text is tight and in­stead, the read­ers is al­lowed to lux­u­ri­ate in the qual­ity of the pho­tog­ra­phy, the sheer tech­ni­cal bril­liance of some projects and the sooth­ing, warm fa­mil­iar­ity of an­cient wooden build­ings, from the Hansel and Gre­tel houses of Ger­many, to the quirky tree church of France and the clear span roof pro­file of West­min­ster Hall, all haunted by his­tory.

The projects are the­mat­i­cally grouped in chap­ters such as Tex­ture, Jux­ta­po­si­tion, Land­scape and Light, and graphic de­signer Wil­liam Hall brings his art to a pack­age that is not just beau­ti­fully-made and beau­ti­fully-col­lated, but is ac­ces­si­ble, easy and demo­cratic. This is a won­der­ful book for the av­er­age reader— and any­one with an in­ter­est in home, or space, or life or sus­tain­abil­ity, will be taken by its con­tent.

Well worth the €35 or so — and a won­der­ful and thought­ful present for any­one who ap­pre­ci­ates, art, craft, en­vi­ron­ment, ar­chi­tec­ture and in­te­ri­ors.

■ Wood By Wil­liam Hall Pub­lished by Phaidon on sale now at €35 (£29.95)

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