Wood means something more to most of us than just another building material. Who can think of any other material, natural or synthetic, that is so rich in qualities as wood? It can be easily moulded and profiled. It can be equally effective as a structure or as a light-weight skin. Timber is a good insulator against the cold. Psychologically too, wood is a 'warm' material. Its surface is never monotonous as are most synthetic products. It has endless variations, but always keeps its own character. Two pieces are never quite alike and their difference can give life to a building. There is also a physical and expressional world of difference between species such as oak and pine.
We have inherited a fragmented European timber heritage because of our history and the depletion of our woods up to the beginning of the last century. Today, we in Ireland are quickly growing towards a self sufficiency in timber. We need to develop a wood culture comparable to, and complementary with, our masonry culture.
The Scandinavian countries have had an unbroken wood culture, from which we can learn. The 'new world' of North America, Australia and New Zealand has a more recent tradition worth exploring. Respect and knowledge should be understood as synonymous with the timber culture of the past and care and quality taken as a metaphor for the Irish timber culture of the future. Yet between the past and the future lies the constantly changing present which forms the only honest basis for architectural and engineering design.
Today the versatility of wood can give great scope for architectural and engineering expression. Used on its own or together with other materials, and combined with skill and imagination, timber design like all good design will rise above pure utility, beyond basic construction, to combine all that is practical and necessary
with something that is meaningful and beautiful.
A wood culture like any vibrant culture must spread new roots, sprout new ideas and have contemporary relevance, if it is not to stagnate. We have an ecologically friendly and renewable resource awaiting architectural and engineering development. This guide is to facilitate your contribution to that wood culture.
Wood has its own aesthetics. It reflects time. Its annual rings express the compressed time that is the growing process. Wood becomes patinated by the touch of light and hand. Wood weathers outside. It demands, in return for its many qualities, our care in design and detailing to ensure durability over time. Wood is simultaneously a part of our culture and a part of nature's ecology. In the primeval forest, man grew wiser and wiser until he knew how to squeeze beauty out of the rough tree trunks. From ancient shelter, to hut, to house, wood proved to be adaptable, diverse and flexible. From traditional craft to prefabrication and from veneers to laminated timber, it has shown itself to be a natural, authentic and ecological material.
The tree is a recycling factory. It endlessly transforms the same materials, water, carbon dioxide, again and again, into water and oxygen. Wood is a simple but not simplistic material. It has sensuousness and toughness. It responds to insight as well as intellect. It can be poetic and pragmatic. It has unity with diversity. But it needs knowledge and respect and an architectural and engineering culture to grow ithin.