Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Plywood: Material of the Modern World at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 15th July to 12th November 2017

Exhibition Review – Plywood: Material of the Modern World at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 15th July to 12th November 2017


The Victoria and Albert Museum explores the many qualities of Plywood in a ground breaking exhibition entitled Plywood: Material of the Modern World. Known for being light, strong, affordable and versatile, plywood is the unlikely material behind an eclectic array of ground breaking designs celebrated in the exhibition.

Over 120 objects are brought together to illustrate how the often-overlooked product has helped create the modern world. The material has been used for diverse purposes including the fastest and highest-flying aeroplane of WWII, the de Havilland Mosquito and the downloadable self-assembly WikiHouse.

It was in the nineteenth century that plywood’s adaptability and potential was fully exploited. However, although many manufacturers used plywood in a number of ways, it gained a reputation for being inferiority to solid timber.

Gradually the adaptability of plywood began to overcome the doubters with a bewildering range of objects produced from the material. The exhibition includes objects from the V&A’s world class furniture, design and architecture collections with significant loans from across the globe.

Some of the highlights include early experiments in plywood, such as a 1908 book printed during Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition to Antarctica and bound with plywood covers; celebrated pieces by modernist designers such as Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Grete Jalk, Robin Day, Charles and Ray Eames; and striking examples of transport design such as 1917 moulded canoe, a 1960s British racing car with plywood chassis, and some of the first ever surf and skate boards.

The exhibition also provides multimedia displays that explore the three ‘process’ moments that mark important milestones in the evolution of plywood manufacture. The three processes featured are the invention of the rotary veneer cutter in the early 19th century; the advent of moulding techniques that inspired the remarkable forms of 1930s modernism; and plywood’s recent dominance as a material for CNC cutting and digital manufacture.

In the John Madejski Garden, a cluster of ice skating shelters designed by Patkau Architects are display throughout the exhibition. Visitors can sit in the structures which are made by bending flexible plywood sheets and attaching them to a timber frame to create sculptural forms. The shelters were originally designed to sit on a frozen river in Winnipeg, Canada.

This fascinating and unusual free exhibition brings the often unheralded Plywood into the spotlight. Since the Victorian times, Plywood has been one of the most popular and versatile materials used in manufacturing and has been used in many innovative ways by designers and architects. This exhibition allows visitors the opportunity to consider the many qualities of Plywood and its importance in the creation of the modern world.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Video review available here

For more information , visit the V & A website here

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