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Naturholz : Kulturholz -On the Mystique of Wood

The reason only God can make a tree – according to Woody Allen – is that it is so hard to figure out how to get the bark to stick to the trunk. One of the few humans who have tried is the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone, but there are also more conventional ways of protecting trees with what could be seen as artificial bark: Kulturholz covering Naturholz. Alvar Aalto echoed this technique by adding ceramic tiles to concrete pilotis in his attempt to recreate some of the qualities of Finnish forest space. In addition to such visual references to trees, Aalto experimented with actual wood in all of its forms and contemplated the specific qualities of the material. He emphasized the naturalness of wood and the direct transportation of its material qualities to traditional architectural solutions. Explaining his design for a wooden chair leg, Aalto once asked, “How did the capital of the Ionic column come into being? It originated in the pliable forms of wood and the way its fibers unravel and curve under a load.” At first, this statement may sound like a variation of the theory that the Doric temple is a stone imitation of an earlier wooden construction – or even an extension of the Vitruvian idea that the Corinthian capital imitates a basket with growing acanthus leaves. But there is a difference: In the latter two cases, architecture is understood as an image of something else, whereas in Aalto’s case, the Ionic column is taken as a tectonic representation of its own structural conditions, an exemplification of the qualities of the material.

This article is taken out of the following magazine:
DETAIL 11/2008

Timber Construction (also available as English Edition 1/2009)

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