Plywood has for some time now been considered a less than desirable material for elevated design. However, it is a superior material by nature. Its strong, adaptive and flexible nature has always kept it at the forefront of explorative design - constantly being reinvented and re-marketed as a building material.
Initially, plywood gained recognition for its flexibility - it can be bent, shaped, curved and formed - unlike solid wood. It is also stronger than solid wood due to its construction. Several layers of wood veneer are compressed with their wood grains facing in opposing and alternating directions providing the utmost strength in construction. Not to mention it is inexpensive. This led to plywood being at the forefront of modern technology and mid-century modernism.
Plywood gave us some of the most iconic furniture pieces of the 20th century, including Charles and Ray Eames’ Lounge chair and Alvar Aalto Paimio Chair. Plywood’s pragmatic appeal brought us products for the home and beyond. This includes advancements in most forms of transportation such as boats, airplanes, cars, and by the end of the 20th century endless consumer products.
Still ubiquitously used today, plywood has taken over a great deal of furniture manufacturing. Lately, we have specified plywood for tech firms with subtle detail throughout the space. Above you can see how we applied a birch plywood edge to individual conference tables and credenzas. We would like to believe the tech firms are an appropriate place for such a technology inspiring material that helped drive the progress of modern world.
Below are some of the most iconic designers known for designing with plywood:
Heavily influential when designing with plywood, Aalto designed a chair specifically for tuberculosis patients at Paimio Sanatorium that tested the limits of plywood by tightly bending the sheets into scroll like shapes, thus giving us the Paimio Chair. This chair was meant to help patients sit in a way that would allow them to breath easier. This chair remains archived at MoMA in New York City, but is currently not on display.
This iconic husband-wife duo experimented rigorously with plywood. They were inspired by the introduction of a new and exciting material, incorporating it into their designs since before WWII. They were inspired greatly by Alvar Aalto and spearheaded modernism’s use of plywood.
Frank Gehry stands apart from most architects, known as a household name for over 50 years. He is known for his postmodernist designs that incorporate wave-like lines, unique material applications, and use of technology. He was known for being able to make unique forms from contrasting materials and for that reason it is no surprise he gravitated towards plywood.