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American Hardwood Collaboration with Benedetta Tagliabue of EMBT & Benchmark for Interni’s Material Immaterial Exhibition

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13 Apr 2017

Too Good to Waste - an interactive installation designed by Benedetta Tagliabue of EMBT, crafted by furniture makers, Benchmark and initiated by the American Hardwood Export Council for Interni’s Material Immaterial exhibition was opened on April 3, 2017 at the Università degli Studi di Milano. On display until April 15 as part of Salone del Mobile Milano 2017, the bold timber installation comprises four individual and unique pieces, wrapped around the statuesque pillars of the entrance to the Aula Magna auditorium, transforming at the hand of visitors to reveal hidden pieces of fine furniture.

American Hardwood Collaboration with Benedetta Tagliabue of EMBT & Benchmark for Interni’s Material Immaterial Exhibition

“I feel very privileged to be designing an installation with American hardwoods and Benchmark’s craftsmanship in wood, which is presented in Milan, the city where I was born and raised,” said Benedetta Tagliabue, founder of EMBT. “We wanted to re-create this concept in a playful and modern way by creating a wall full of surprises, where the people who inhabit the wall will be real. We hope that visitors, surprised by this installation, will want to interact with it, and that they will discover and use the pieces of furniture it hides: seats, tables, mirror. We hope that their curiosity will make this piece very animated.”

Made from American red oak, soft maple, cherry and tulipwood, Too Good to Waste seeks to question the validity of the current relationship between wood consumption and fashion. Contrary to popular perception, not all forests are disappearing. In fact, the vast American hardwood forest is a quickly expanding resource and the volume of its standing timber has more than doubled in the last 50 years. However, due to fashion and color trends, demand is too often focused on just a few species, while many others are underused or left in the forest, which is a lost opportunity for both design and carbon storage.

According to AHEC, Too Good to Waste is an invitation to reflect on the responsible use of these forests and to discover species and grades of American hardwoods rarely found in homes or furniture stores in Europe, but that need to be considered if we want to contribute to a balanced and sustainable use of the forest. The physical form of the installation shows the transformation of hardwood from its rawest form into the fine finish of cabinetry, expressing how furniture ultimately comes from the forest.

In the words of Sean Sutcliffe, who co-founded Benchmark with British design legend Terence Conran, “Too Good to Waste is about using the forest to its effective maximum. We are using species that are not getting the value they should and we are using them to show that they are beautiful, versatile and useful woods for craftsmen. The second thing we are addressing is the grading issue; we, as picky cabinet-makers, have always been very fussy about using the best bits and that needs to change if we are to move to a more sustainable way of living. We are now using knots, sapwood and all sorts of character that 10 years ago would have been unthinkable in high end furniture. So here we are showing the grades of hardwood, that wouldn’t be used normally in joinery or furniture, and we are expressing it in a way that says This is beautiful, look, it is too good to waste!”

Given that many wood products currently available are limited to certain colors and hardwood species, it is depriving consumers and designers the freedom and excitement to experience what comes from using much more of the material that is available. Through this project, AHEC is tapping into an important concept that’s very relevant in today’s society: how to make more use of materials that may not be our first choice in order to be more sustainable? This project aims to open a dialogue on these topics.

This project is not only a celebration of all the variety of species and grades of hardwood that the forest naturally produces and regenerates, but also an invitation to discover the piece in the most literal sense: users are encouraged to touch and inhabit this piece, to interact and play with it, opening its different components by pushing, pulling, swiveling and discovering new configurations. Too Good to Waste reimagines the historic architecture of the Cortile d’Onore (the courtyard from the Renaissance period by the famous architect Filarete where the piece is located), which features many decorative elements and human figures coming out of the walls.

“We have built a woodland from rough sawn vertical planks of American tulipwood, cherry, red oak and maple and out of this woodland we are drawing finished pieces of furniture. We have kept the vertical stripes of the forest and extended them into the furniture, transforming them from the raw state of the tree trunks into the polished finish of the cabinet maker. Particularly interesting is how this installation elegantly expresses that furniture comes from the woods, a direct relationship that people don’t always make,” adds Sutcliffe.

“Imperfection can make a piece completely beautiful and unique and I hope this project will convey the message that you can work with materials that are considered imperfect and with skills, intelligence and curiosity you can transform them into something beautiful, unique and beloved,” concludes Tagliabue.

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