At one time, buildings were designed to fit the essentials within the available space. Whether it was a home, an apartment building, or commercial property, the function was only critical in that it met the current needs of the people it served, because the widespread change in how people use buildings didn’t change that much or that often. Then came a few revolutions. Comparing architecture to music, it can be said that materials are like notes within a melody. This inseparable relationship between architecture and material makes the concept of the project establish a constant interaction with the concept of “material culture”, which is the heritage of ideas, techniques, and customs that are transmitted through objects and their materials.
“The shape must have a content, and the content must have a connection with nature”. It was with these words that Alvaar Aalto, the father of Finnish modernism, described his idea of architecture. Aalto’s thought fits into the cultural context of post-independence Finland (1917), a period strongly characterized by the need to recover the cultural heritage of the Nordic people’s tradition. The architecture of Aalto attempts to rediscover that link between project, man, and natural habitat that industrial standardization has interrupted. Achievements such as the famous Villa Mairea highlight the wooden paneling of Finnish woods in facades, interiors, and furnishing elements, in a refined interaction between advanced technologies and traditional techniques, giving them dignity as a modern material in competition with reinforced concrete and steel.
Cut stone, marble, and brick are the building blocks for monumental religious architecture, city walls and fortifications, palaces, and great civic buildings. They provide a powerful visual link to the past. There is, however, also a strong tradition of architecture that makes use of one of the far more practical and curiously durable materials, and one which endows those same urban centers with access to a different, more intimate history. That material is wood.
For as long as one can remember, wood has been an indispensable part of architecture, throughout history. One of the earliest buildings, dating 607 AD was the impressive Horyu-Ji temple in Japan; later the world’s longest wooden bridge built in 1850 in Myanmar reassured the importance and absolute genius of the material. While newer, more evolved construction materials and methods are now in place (even 3D printing is slowly taking over architecture), the absolute charm, integrity, and versatility of wood remain unscathed. Many architects in India and abroad are known to have befriended the material, such that most of their work not only shows liberal use of wood but also showcases the material as the hero of the project.
Today, the role of wood-built urban areas is more ambivalent than ever. On one side, there are calculating real estate sharks and, on the other, heritage protection activists and suburban romantics, willing to see their homes in particularly time-designed city space and detesting newly built real estate villages because of their coldness and lack of spirit. With the busiest real estate market and the most expensive square meters in the Republic, these contradictions are manifest most acutely in Tallinn. However, the same problems haunt Pärnu and Tartu, where real estate development is lively enough. The actual significance of wood-built urban areas for the city as a whole is far more diverse than the consumption value estimated in banknotes.
Over time, an engineered wood that is considerably stronger and more stable than regular wood is also allowing architects and designers to build bigger and higher, with timber skyscrapers now a real prospect. In the light of this, we decided to take a look at some of our most loved Indian projects recently published on AD, that show wood in all its glory.