Respect for the material and care for the futureRespect for the material and care for the future

Timber is a material best understood through the dimension of time. Not only the time it takes for a forest to grow and the history contained within one tree but the lifetime of expertise developed by those who design and build with timber. Two fundamentals follow from this to ensure successful timber design: sustainable management of supply and understanding of the material.

Sydney-based furniture designer Tom Fereday speaks of his work being “material-driven” and the importance of “celebrating the beauty of natural material.” Each piece has its own qualities so the task of the designer becomes one of working with the material rather than over-working it.

This knowledge and appreciation for the material comes out in the way that designers such as Fereday describe “exposing” the beauty and character of timber. It is a beauty that already inheres in hardwood timbers as supplied by the American Hardwood Export Council.

As AHEC regional director Roderick Wiles explains, timber is a complicated and natural product. It requires a level of expertise that can sometimes make architects and designers apprehensive about being able to sufficiently control the material. Part of the role of responsible suppliers is to enable designers to understand timber, allowing them to work with confidence with it.

Perhaps the most important role, however, of timber suppliers is sustainable management of forests. Timber is a natural product but its sustainability is not guaranteed. Only the careful management of trees allows for natural regeneration.

AHEC supplies timber from the US where approximately three-quarters of hardwood forests are owned by private individuals rather than corporations. Wiles describes how “people understand the value of the forest and want to look after it for future generations.” It is this mode of production – focused on selective management over long periods of time – that safeguards a sustainable supply and ensures that more trees are growing back. 

With a combination environmental stewardship and understanding of the material, there is every reason for architects and designers to work with hardwood timber – to rediscover and fall in love with its timeless qualities again.

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