Waves of American red oak
LONDON (UK) - From many angles, Timber Wave, the installation designed by AL_A to mark the V&A's hosting of the London Design Festival 2011, danced effortlessly and beautifully up the entrance steps to the museum on Cromwell Road. The 12.5-metre-high latticework structure picked up Aston Webb's Romanesque entrance (1899–1909) of layered shallow arches supported by columns and drew the opening out, down the steps and into the middle of the pavement, alerting passers-by to the festival and generating a walk-through experience for museum visitors. From other viewpoints, however, as was only to be expected when a walking three-dimensional spiral meets a rounded arched doorway, the encounter was not quite so seamless and the curves were slightly, but noticeably, out of kilter.
In many ways, this is a secondary issue, as the Timber Wave demonstrated what can be achieved when architecture, furniture design and timber engineering come together to, as AL_A's director Amanda Levete put it, 'push the boundaries of design and production'. This was a self-supporting, ornamental structure made up of over 500 elements of curved, glued laminated American red oak and stainless steel joints and as tall as a three-storey building. It is the first time American red oak has been used structurally on such a large scale and it fared exceptionally well, with comparative tests revealing it to be two times stronger than anticipated and its pink hue popular with visitors.
And so the project can be deemed a success for its sponsors who believe 'now is the time for red oak' which is an abundant, under-used and environmentally sustainable material, even with transportation factored in.
Timber Wave's delicate but complex geometry is both exciting and ambitious and deserves to embed American red oak in the European consciousness and architectural scene. (Isabelle Priest)