V&A Plywood : A Material Story exhibition catalogue

Plywood : A Material Story

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'This staple of the building industry may not seem the most glamorous subject, but the sheer range of items from Second World War planes to Eames chairs makes for an exuberant celebration' - Architects Journal

Plywood at V&A

Produced to accompany an exhibition at the V&A, this book is the first comprehensive study of the history of plywood and a fantastic design history text.

Author Christopher Wilk's enthusiasm for his subject matter is infectious and he has uncovered a colourful tale of plywood's fluctuating fortunes.At first, its manufacture was an artisanal activity made by craftsmen. That all changed with the invention of the rotary veneer cutter in the early 19th century. With mechanised sawing, the price of veneers dropped and could now be mass-produced and applied to cheap furniture. But this practice was later discredited in a number of high-profile legal cases as a deceptive means of hiding inferior material. New moulding techniques meant that plywood bounced back from this low as it proved particularly useful in warfare with uses including pontoon bridges and splints and, in particular, aircraft. Plywood was also enthusiastically embraced by modern architects and designers including Alvar Aalto, Robin Day, Marcel Breuer and Charles and Ray Eames, who delighted in its warm, natural appearance and its ability to be moulded into experimental shapes. 

With fresh research, engaging writing and some 325 fascinating illustrations including rich colour images to obscure cartoons, Plywood a Material Story is a great addition to any design library.

  • Author: Christopher Wilk, Keeper of Furniture, Textiles, and Fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Pages: 240 pages | 325 illustrations
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 978-0500519400
  • Dimensions: 25.5 x 21.0 cm

'The story of plywood has more plot developments and sudden changes of fortune than a 19th-century novel' - Apollo Magazine

'This staple of the building industry may not seem the most glamorous subject, but the sheer range of items from Second World War planes to Eames chairs makes for an exuberant celebration' - Architects Journal

'Both the exhibition and its splendid accompanying book, turn out to be not simply about this useful, strong material. Show and book teach us about human nature - drawn to newness, yet fearful of its consequences; conscious that progress is necessary but experienced at a price; nostalgic for a lost domain, a primordial forest, which is then tamed by being sliced, glued and disciplined for our convenience.' - Spectator

'From Ancient Egyptian mummy boxes to open-source digital construction, plywood has been on quite a journey. It’s certainly proved itself to be a survivor, as shown in the V&A’s lively new exhibition Plywood: Material of the Modern World, which celebrates this humble material’s global impact from the 1850s onwards' - Riba Journal