Out of the Woods: Adventures of 12 Hardwood Chairs

The American Hardwood Export Council teams up with the Royal College of Art to merge design with sustainability.

Out of the Woods

The American Hardwood Export Council collaborated with product design students at the Royal College of Art in London to produce and exhibit chairs during the London Design Festival.

Under the leadership of tutors Sebastian Wrong (Established & Sons) and Harry Richardson (Committee), the use of wood as a material and its associated Life Cycle impacts have been added to the Design Products programme and the students have been set the challenge of designing a functional chair or seat in an American hardwood of their choice.

The designs were then developed into fully functional working prototypes with the help of Benchmark, internationally renowned for its design and craftsmanship in wood, and founded nearly 30 years ago by Sean Sutcliffe and Sir Terrence Conran. The students camped out on Conran’s lawn by night and descended on Benchmark’s workshops by day, where the company’s highly skilled team of craftsmen, helped them turn their ideas into reality.

“I was very impressed with the quality of the designs and the students’ enthusiasm for their projects,” says Sutcliffe. “As experts in woodworking, we saw some very strong pieces come to fruition.”

The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is well known in the international design community for its creative promotion of hardwood, having worked with the likes of David Adjaye, Established & Sons, Matteo Thun, Sou Fujimoto, Arup and Amanda Levete. But now its attention has turned to the potential stars of the future with this ground-breaking student project.

Environmental education and research provided a unique element to the project by using a brand new Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study on hardwood. AHEC has recently published an ISO-conformant report on the LCA of 19 American hardwood species. The report, which has been prepared by sustainability experts PE International, after an intensive process of data collection, analysis, and review, is the first stage of AHEC's on going LCA project. The report covers the environmental life cycle of hardwood lumber from point of harvest in the U.S. through to delivery at the importers yard in major export markets, referred to as “cradle to gate”. It provides quantitative data on Global Warming Potential, Acidification Potential, Eutrophication Potential, Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential, and Ozone Depletion Potential.  It also provides a qualitative assessment of toxicity, biodiversity, land use and land use change, and water resource impacts.  The report also includes a sensitivity analysis to show how environmental impacts vary according to key factors such as species, lumber thickness, and transport distance and mode.

The “out of the woods” experience provided AHEC with the perfect opportunity to test out the LCA data on real products. Accurate production data was collected during the manufacturing process, including quantities of all materials used and time spent on each machine. Every prototype has been environmentally profiled using an ‘i-report’ system developed for AHEC by PE International. In producing detailed Life Cycle “cradle-to-grave” impact assessments for each design this project has allowed these young designers to develop a genuine understanding of the real and very direct environmental impact of their decisions.  According to Sebastian Wrong, the project “offers a pioneering opportunity for students to create designs within the context of a stark reality.” His co-tutor Harry Richardson added, “it is not only a case of designing a chair that will survive physically far in to the future, it is also to produce a chair whose design will remain relevant far in to the future.”

David Venables, AHEC’s European Director who developed the idea for the project with Sebastian Wrong, says: “The talent amongst these students is astounding. This project has given them the opportunity to really explore hardwood as a sustainable material and the fact that they can also see and understand the full environmental impact of their design gives this collaboration extra relevance to today’s world, whilst setting it apart from many other student design initiatives.”

A technical publication, Out of the Woods:  The Creation of 12 Hardwood Chairsa is available to download online or order free of charge by visiting www.americanhardwood.org

For more information on each chair please see links below:

Notes to Editor:

Photography: Mark O’Flaherty and Petr Krejci

High resolution images are available by emailing pr@americanhardwood.org.

The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is the leading international trade association for the US hardwood industry, representing the committed exporters among US hardwood companies and all the major US hardwood production trade associations. AHEC concentrates its efforts on providing architects, designers and end-users with technical information on the range of species, products and sources of supply.

Royal College of Art: Pioneering Design and Art 1837 - 2012
Celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, the Royal College of Art is the world’s most influential postgraduate university of art and design. The RCA specialises in teaching and research, and offers the degrees of MA, MPhil and PhD across the disciplines of fine art, applied art, design, communications and humanities. There are over 1,100 masters and doctoral students and more than a hundred professionals interacting with them, including scholars, leading art and design practitioners, along with specialists, advisors and distinguished visitors.

The Design Products Master’s programme, led by Professor Tord Boontje, has a strong culture of experimentation. The two-year course is arranged in small study groups known as ‘platforms’, each run by two tutors who define the content and focus for project-based design work. Out of the Woods also includes collaboration with the RCA’s Visual Communication programme.

Press information:
Belinda Cobden-Ramsay
3 St Michael’s Alley
London EC3V 9DS
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7626 4111

Email: pr@americanhardwood.org