New Wood Work
by Philip Jodidio
Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,— no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,— my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,— all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," 1836
Wood is, first of all, the forest, the "plantations of God." It is in the moonlit woods that the characters of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream play out their transformative comedy; it is again in the forest that architecture itself, in disguises ranging from the simple column to the temple and the cathedral, finds much of its inspiration.
A canopy of branches, stacked trunks to provide shelter from the storm, wood is a quintessential element of the earliest built habitations, most of which returned to the earth in time.
Architecture in wood is often reputed to be ephemeral. Indeed, depending on such factors as climate and maintenance, wooden structures may not last very long. And yet, to take just one example, the five-story pagoda at Daigoji Temple, built in 951, is the oldest building in Kyoto.
And so wood, properly turned, can stand a thousand years even as the earth shakes and the generations pass. Before they are cut and formed, trees live, depending on the species, longer than any other organism on earth.
A Great Basin Bristlecone Pine aptly named Methuselah, in the White Mountains of California, is estimated to be more than 4,800 years old. Clonal trees like the so-called Pando, a Quaking Aspen located in Utah, send up shoots from a single massive root system — thought in this instance to be 80,000 years old, a tree far older than human civilization.
Trees, both figuratively and literally, are at the origin of built form, shelter and inspiration; the stuff of the earth.
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This article is excerpted from Wood Architecture Now! by Philip Jodidio, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, Taschen.
A glazed-and-wooden-shelved corridor connects the two wings of La Roca House, in the village of JosÚ Ignacio, Uruguay. The home was designed by Mathias Klotz.
Photo: Roland Halbe
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A primary structure of curved black steel ribs supports the wooden roof purlins and decking of a sheep stable in Almere, the Netherlands, designed by the firm 70F.
Photo: Luuk Kramer Fotografie
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