The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) partnered with architects Kolman Boye and furniture-makers Benchmark to showcase a towering structure of food plates in a commission for Wallpaper* Handmade 2015 called the ‘Rotunda Serotina’.
The Danish/Swedish architects Kolman Boye were invited by Wallpaper* magazine to design a candy-store concept for serving free savory biscuits from local bistro T’a Milano. Wallpaper* teamed up the designers with Benchmark to build the structure in collaboration with AHEC, the international trade association for the American hardwood industry. The project was constructed entirely of American cherry (Prunus serotina).
The tall columns of shelves were arranged in a cylindrical shape so that a single ladder could slide around inside the structure to scale every shelf. Each shelf in the Rotunda held rows of cherry wood snack trays that visitors could take home as limited edition samples from the exhibit.
At over 3.7m in diameter and the same in height, this was not really a piece of furniture but a substantial yet lightweight structure. With this in mind, AHEC turned to engineers Arup, central to a number of previous AHEC projects, including the ‘Timber Wave’ and ‘Endless Stair’, to carry out a structural appraisal and prototype tests, in order to inform the construction.
“In total we made 3,084 separate pieces connected by 1,008 joints to make up the ‘skeleton’ of the Rotunda together with 528 trays for the surface layer, all assembled without the use of nails, screws or glue. It is a wonderful piece of cabinet making and a tribute to the skills of our craftsmen who have used their fine techniques on such a grand scale,” explains Sean Sutcliffe, co-founder of Benchmark.
“Cherry wood, from a craftsman’s point of view, works beautifully and finishes to a gorgeous silky texture. As a fruit wood, it has been prized through history and should be prized now. It has become a victim of fashion, which the forestry industry can ill afford given its 100-year planting and cropping plan. Rotunda Serotina continues our work on Life Cycle Assessment, which we hope will be taken on widely in the furniture making industry.”
The architects, who in this particular project found inspiration in skeletal structures, were further influenced by the old-fashioned general store. For the installation, they took apothecary shelving to extreme heights.
“Something really strong was needed for the huge venue,” says Victor Boye Julebäk, who leads the architecture practice with Erik Kolman Janouch. “Maybe we went a little over the top.”
The architects liken the structure to a set of “bones” and the serving trays as “skin”.
“We liked the idea of giving away the skin so only the bone remains. It’s very beautiful, almost choreographical, the way pieces of the cherry are taken away by the public so you can see the structure slowly disintegrate. Like those huge gas holders that slowly empty.”
“For visitors not used to seeing the striking pale-pinkish red timber in their surroundings, the emergence of Prunus serotina was a revelation. Gone were the traditional reddish, highly lacquered connotations of cherry. The contemporary porous appearance of the wood fit in beautifully with the current vogue for raw, rugged timber,” said Roderick Wiles, AHEC director for Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Oceania.
“American black cherry is one of the world’s fastest growing temperate hardwoods, regenerating naturally and aging to a striking, rich reddish-brown color, yet it is still being vastly underutilized. Cherry’s sustainability means it will likely always be available to bespoke and industrial furniture makers. Our focus on cherry at Milan’s Salone del Mobile marks a turning point and a fresh chapter for this important hardwood.”
Rotunda Serotina is one of a number of AHEC projects in 2015 that will celebrate cherry. According to Wiles, establishing a balance between market demand and the dynamic of the forest is essential to achieve true sustainability. There are already indications that furniture designers are looking at cherry wood again as a material of choice, which hopefully will lead to it becoming architecturally fashionable in the near future. Given that cherry turns well on a lathe and also steam-bends with ease, Wiles is positive that this sustainable and versatile wood will make a comeback.
All of the cherry for the project was facilitated by Morgan Timber and NHG Timber and donated by AHEC members including Wheeland Lumber Company; Bingaman & Son Lumber; Cersosimo Lumber Co; Allegheny Wood Products; Blue Ridge Lumber; and J & J Log and Lumber.
The Rotunda Serotina has its own full Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) created by consultants thinkstep (formerly PE international) using data from AHEC’s groundbreaking LCA study of U.S. sawn hardwood and data collected by Benchmark during the manufacturing process.
The dominance of American cherry in the Rotunda and limited use of other more energy-intensive materials contributes to a very strong environmental profile. Highly desirable and readily available in the U.S. forest but underutilized in recent years, it takes less than a minute for new growth in the U.S. forest to replace the cherry logs harvested to manufacture the Rotunda. As such, the Rotunda is carbon neutral on a cradle-to-grave basis. In addition, around a tonne of CO2 equivalent is sequestered in the main structure of the Rotunda and a further 295kg in the trays.