Wood, matter in every aspect
After years spent chasing essential lines, minimal structures and luminous transparencies, form and matter seem to be making a comeback in most contemporary design, driven by an increased environmental awareness and a different aesthetic sensibility.
This was also true for office furniture systems and partition walls, where the design approach, which seemed to turn in the direction of an increasingly rigorous, futuristic style, strongly influenced by IT innovations and hyper-connectivity, then turned towards a more natural philosophy, re-evaluating the tactile, olfactory and visual essence of materials
There is no need to bother with complex and somewhat trendy concepts such as synesthesia when it comes to explaining the sensory stimulation that wood can offer, directly or indirectly engaging all five senses. An element having the power to evocate warmth at the mere sight, liveliness and well-being at touch for that dry, seductive scent that smells of life and nature.
After all, nihil sub sole novum, as Vasily Kandisky wrote in 1926 in his celebrated work ‘Point, Line, Surface’: ‘Listen to the form, enter the work, become active in it and experience its pulsation with all your senses’. This is kind of the gist of it. The full activation of sensory receptors is still an invigorating stimulus for the individual, even more so in these days when people are highly accustomed and inured to technology and progress.
In this context, the realm of office partitions, which is the main subject of our investigation, also changes radically from aluminium and steel structures to those made entirely of wood;
from minimalist shapes and reduced cross-sections to the more generous ones of veneered glulam. The absolute transparency, so much pursued and desired, gives way to a ‘light’ that is punctuated by clearly visible and easily appreciable structural elements. “As a partition designer, I can say that I have spent the last twenty years reducing the sections of glazing beads to a structural minimum, thanks to the production and structural possibilities of extruded aluminium,” Architect Paolo Pampanoni admits – “Recently I have witnessed a stylistic ‘counter-reform’, a sort of materic and dimensional characterization abandoning the small footprints to achieve the invisibility of structures. Now customers want to sense the materials again, perceive their temperature, their smell. They want to touch and experience their true essence, having hitherto dealt with materials that pretend to be something else, such as melamine, and stoneware. […] I vividly remember when I first came across the ‘visual solidity’ of Ritmica Wood by Etoile. It was almost a shock, I felt that something unexpected was happening in our business.” – And then adds an important cultural suggestion to interpret new trends – “It is also important to clear the field of the false myth of recyclability and eco-sustainability. The rise of wooden partitions is not part of an ecological trend. Aluminum has a thousand and one lives and can be classified as a perfect material for recycling operations. It is a totally different aesthetic and tactile sensibility. If we used to appreciate walls through their transparency, thus through the eyes, today we do so by their materic value, thus through touch or smell […] An office set up with wooden walls smells good and true!” It is clear that the return to wood is not related to nostalgic references to craftsmanship, but rather animated by criteria of modernity and attention to quality. Craftsmanship is still a reference to be drawn on, handing down attention to materials and their peculiarities, but in the latest generation of wooden partitions, ancient ebonistic techniques have given way to technology. Glulam panels have replaced solid wood, improving the mechanical performance of each element. The wood essence is now enhanced through designers’ original and innovative interpretations. This meticulous research profoundly changes the design approach, bringing architecture and industrial design back to substance with authentic sensations and inputs inspired by the true nature of materials. We could say without reservation that today the knowledge journey through the partition world, is primarily carried out by means of our hands, which follow the entire life cycle of the product. The laborious ones of the builder, who selects each single component, shaping and assembling them. The quality manager’s careful hands, touching materials to check their robustness, quality of finish and precision. Finally, the customer’s hands, daily ‘sensing’ the walls by constantly touching their surface while opening and closing doors And it is this very approach that characterizes Etoile’s Ritmica Wood project in which glass, while remaining an element of continuity with the previous philosophy, is no longer the absolute leading player but leaves room for ‘matter’. In every sense…