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Out of the Woods: Adventures of 12 Hardwood Chairs

The American Hardwood Export Council will showcase Out of the Woods: Adventures of 12 Hardwood Chairs at the Stockholm Furniture Fair from 5th - 9th February 2013. The project is a collaboration between Product Design students from the Royal College of Art in London, British Furniture maker Benchmark and the American Hardwood Export Council that began over 12 months ago, culminating in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum for the London Design Festival 2012.

AHEC's European Director David Venables says: "Out of the Woods was one of the top highlights of the London Design Festival last year and we are very grateful to the organisers of the Stockholm Furniture Fair who have invited us to bring this exciting show to Sweden where we are confident it will be widely seen and provoke debate about environmental design."

For over 20 years the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) has been at the forefront of wood promotion in Europe, successfully building a distinctive and creative brand for US hardwoods, researching, educating, informing and changing perceptions about hardwood sustainability and performance within design and architectural communities.

Having worked with the likes of David Adjaye, Matteo Thun, Sou Fujimoto, Arup and Amanda Levete, AHEC turned its attention to the potential stars of the future at the Royal College of Art (RCA).

The collaboration began in January 2012, under the leadership of tutors Sebastian Wrong and Harry Richardson, when designing with wood as a material and its associated Life Cycle impacts were added to the RCA Design Products programme, and the students were set the challenge of designing a functional chair or seat in an American hardwood of their choice.

The designs were developed into working prototypes with the help of Benchmark, the British furniture manufacturer internationally renowned for its craftsmanship in wood and long-standing relationship with designer Sir Terence Conran. The students camped on Conran's lawn by night and descended on Benchmark's workshops by day in early July 2012 where the company's highly skilled craftsmen, led by owner Sean Sutcliffe, helped them turn their ideas into reality. "I was very impressed with the quality of the designs and the students' enthusiasm for their projects," says Sean Sutcliffe. "As experts in woodworking, we saw some very strong pieces come to fruition."

The exhibition was first shown at the V&A during the London Design Festival in September 2012.

Using AHEC's recently published ISO-conformant report on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of rough-sawn kiln-dried hardwood lumber, the students had access to life cycle data which demonstrates, through science, the positive environmental profile US hardwoods have.

The report, which was prepared by sustainability experts PE International after an intensive process of data collection, analysis, and review, is the first stage of AHEC's LCA project. It covers the environmental life cycle of hardwood lumber from point of harvest in the US through to delivery at the importers yard in major export markets. It provides quantitative data on Global Warming Potential, Acidification Potential, Eutrophication Potential, Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential, and Ozone Depletion Potential. It also provides a qualitative assessment of toxicity, biodiversity, land use and land use change, and water resource impacts. The report includes a sensitivity analysis to show how environmental impacts vary according to key factors such as species, lumber thickness, transport distance and mode.

Using this data and data collected during the manufacturing process, including time spent on each machine and quantities of material used, each chosen prototype was environmentally profiled using an 'i-report' system developed for AHEC by PE International.

According to David Venables, AHEC's European Director, who developed the idea for the project with Sebastian Wrong: "In producing detailed life cycle 'cradle-to-grave' impact assessments for each chair we begin to develop a genuine understanding of the real and very direct environmental impacts of design and material choices, an extremely relevant subject in today's sometimes indulgent world. Being immersed in the world and language of life cycle can be very daunting but the students worked hard to absorb the information and let it influence their design decisions. To then be able to present them with a series of scientific models and say 'here is the footprint of the product you've designed', is hugely significant. What we did with this group of students was completely unique and shines a light for us on how 'green' design may evolve."

According to Sebastian Wrong, the project "offers a pioneering opportunity for students to create designs within the context of a stark reality." His co-tutor Harry Richardson adds: "it is not only a case of designing a chair that will survive physically far into the future, it is also to produce a chair whose design will remain relevant far into the future."

The Stockholm Furniture Fair sees AHEC's first participation in a Scandinavian design event for many years. David Venables adds: "We're really excited about taking Out of the Woods to Stockholm this year. We welcome the opportunity to establish new relationships and develop contacts with Swedish designers and architects and this show is the perfect platform for that."

The results of the project are available as a free iPad App on iTunes. The iPad App tells the pictorial, fictional, scientific and factual stories of the 12 chairs produced for Out of the Woods and includes:

- Species information
- Article on the American forest resource
- Detailed article on Life Cycle Assessment
- Design details for each chair produced in the Out of the Woods project
- LCA results for each chair produced in the Out of the Woods project
- Creative writing for each chair produced in the Out of the Woods project
- Short films for Leftovers Chair, Well Proven Chair and Tree Furniture

It can be downloaded free of charge from the app store: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/out-woods-creation-12-hardwood/id564542011?mt=8 or by searching 'Out of the Woods' in the App store.


18th January 2013

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