Plywood: The underrated material that shaped our modern world

From its humble beginnings, plywood has risen to become one of the design world's favorite materials. Patkau Architects used it to create these Winnipeg ice skating shelters in 2012.

London (CNN)Christopher Wilk, curator of a new exhibition dedicated to the eclectic history of plywood at the London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is singing the material’s praises.

“It really is strong and stable,” he says, stood under a plywood airplane that hangs from the ceiling.
He layers thin cross-grained veneers of wood with the palm of his hands: “Each layer of the sandwich is in a perpendicular direction. Wood splits along the grain. This can’t split.”
From curvy chairs to Victorian sideboards, and prewar planes to prefab houses, there seems to be no limit to plywood’s versatility, flexibility and strength. This exhibition, “Plywood: Material of the Modern World,” aims to bring the underrated material to prominence once and for all — and reverse some institutionalized snobbery at the same time.
Recycling never looked so good: Luxury-quality materials made from waste

Recycling never looked so good: Luxury-quality materials made from waste
While the plywood technique goes back millennia (fragments of layered board have been found in Egyptian tombs) it was the Victorians who shaped our perceptions of the material today. Mass manufacturing and new production techniques in the mid-19th century meant plywood was ubiquitous, especially in furniture manufacturing. But with plywood’s popularity came, as you would expect of the class-obsessed Victorians, a snooty disregard for it.
Read: Why wooden skyscrapers are springing up across the world
“Because it became cheaper to make because of the rotary veneer cutter — a lathe that essentially peels away timber in rings — it started to be used on cheap furniture,” says Wilk. “(The wood) would peel off and therefore got a bad reputation.”
Soon the term “veneer” became a condescending buzzword in parts of society far beyond furniture. Charles Dickens called the nouveau riche social climbers in his final novel, “Our Mutual Friend,” Mr. and Mrs. Veneering; and, according to Wilk, the most-used phrase in The Times in the 19th century was the “veneer of civilization.”
“I soon realized this is a rich story of cultural prejudice,” the curator says of his research.
"Plywood: Material of the Modern World" at London's Victoria and Albert Museum

The word plywood was first used around 1906 and, as the 20th century came to life, perceptions of the material slowly changed. A growing number of manufacturers began to rethink the possibilities of this light, inexpensive and easily moldable material, especially in aviation.
Geoffrey de Havilland created the Mosquito plane out of plywood in the early 1940s. It was one of the fastest, highest-flying aircrafts in the Second World War.
“It was a fraction of the weight of the Lancaster bomber and was faster than a Spitfire,” says Wilk.
Transportation has done well out of plywood ever since: everything from canoes to racing cars to surfboards to skateboards.
World's top designers reinvent the classic park bench

World’s top designers reinvent the classic park bench
Plywood’s ability to be shaped obligingly is also what enticed modern furniture designers, including Marcel Breuer, Robin Day, Sori Yanagi and Charles and Ray Eames, to experiment so enthusiastically with it in the inter- and postwar periods.
Read: Inside the V&A museum’s stunning $70M revamp
While plywood became successful in the furniture industry because of its superficial nature, its unique structural qualities now mean it is most popular in the construction industry. Mid-rises everywhere from Vancouver and London use cross-laminated timber instead of steel for support, and the number of both floors and buildings the material supports is growing as technology develops.
Despite this, some of those latent Victorian concerns remain.
I was walking past a furniture shop one day and there was a sign saying, ‘100% solid, 0% veneer!'” says Wilk. “I thought, wow, it’s still going on today!”
“Plywood: Material of the Modern World” is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from July 15 to Nov. 12, 2017.

How to make laundry day a breeze with our time-saving tips

How to make laundry day a breeze with our time-saving tips

After a long week of work and play, there’s nothing more frustrating than a backlog of laundry spilling out of linen baskets and demanding attention. But with a few simple tricks you can put an organised system in place that will keep your washing tasks low and your ‘me-time’ high, no matter how hectic your household…

Create space and hone your capsule style

If you constantly find yourself with mountains of washing to do, the problem may be in the amount of clothes you own and how they are stored – clean clothes squeezed into full drawers can look dishevelled and in need of washing again before you’ve even worn them, for example. Likewise, too many towels and bed linen sets to wash can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Take a tip from Marie Kondo, author of best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying, who suggests going through your belongings one by one and only keeping those that ‘spark joy’. This in turn will make wash day a whole lot simpler.

Ensure everything has its place

Having just one dirty laundry basket to serve the whole household often isn’t enough, resulting in a mountain of clothes spilling out of the basket and leaving bedrooms with unsightly ‘floordrobes’. So invest in attractive wash baskets of all shapes and sizes that can be neatly stored in the corners of each bedroom, in the bathroom and under the hallway stairs – the latter of which is particularly useful when the kids arrive home from the park covered in mud!

Make sorting simple

Buy linen baskets with separate compartments for coloured and white clothes, and invest in smaller baskets to separate wool, dry-clean-only and hand-wash items and laundry bags storing lingerie and socks. The key to all this however, is to make sure everyone in the house knows your system and what goes where.

Care for your garments

Domestic goddess Martha Stewart suggests creating a well-equipped laundry room/area that has everything within easy reach. Include a minor sewing repair kit, stain-removal, a glass container with decanted detergent (so you can see when you’re running low), and a pot for loose change, popped buttons and whatever else you find in pockets.

Invest in a stylish and smart washing machine

Not only will it save you time and effort, but a reliable washing machine with tailored settings to suit an array of clothes including jeans, woolens and delicates, will do the hard work for you. A design such as Panasonic’s NA-140ZS1WGB washing machine, for example, features the AutoCare washing programme that will analyse each wash load and tailor the perfect wash setting for the cycle – all at the touch of a button. With an energy efficient rating of A+++ and 3D HydroActive+ technology, you’ll save energy and water on every wash too, with quick yet impressive results. And with the extra money saved you can always treat yourself to a stylish new outfit to revamp your look this season.



[Source: Panasonic]


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