Plywood exhibition at the V&A Museum

Plywood exhibition at the V&A Museum

Plywood is one of the most ubiquitous and sustainable materials used in construction and for furniture. Its history dates back to the mid 1800s and the V&A is hosting an exhibition dedicated to it called Plywood: Material of the Modern World

Alvar Aalto armchair, Finland 1930. Photograph: V&A Museum London

Plywood: Material of the Modern World runs at London's V&A Museum until 12 November. You might think it's a 20th century invention but plywood dates back to the 1800s. It's made from thin layers of wood bonded together with adhesive and it became possible to make it in large sheets after Swedish engineer Immanuel Nobel (1801-1872) invented the rotary lathe. Plywood is used in construction and most of us will have furniture and lighting at home made from it. Pictured above: 1930 armchair by Finnish designer Alvar Aalto. Photograph from the V&A.

It's a commonplace material, one you may not really notice, but plywood really is good stuff. It's from a sustainable material, it's cross-layered structure makes it very strong but it's also flexible,  it's got the beauty of wood and it's hugely long lasting. European mid-century modern designers were much taken with it - Alvar Aalto, Charles & Ray Eames, Hans Wegner - and today's designers are equally ardent fans.

And plywood has a much longer history than many of us think and this exhibition at the V&A explores its origins and takes us through the many fascinating products that have been made using it, from Singer sewing machine boxes and WW2 combat airplanes to buildings and armchairs.

Patkau Architects made these ice skating shelters in Winnipeg from plywood
British de Havilland Mosquito, 1941, was made almost entirely from wood. 7,781 were built
Singer sewing machine with plywood box, 1888. V&A image
Edie Stool, birch ply, by David & Joni Steiner for Open Desk 2013
The temporary structures Trylon and Perisphere were built for the World's Fair in New York 1939-40. They contained plywood. Image from The New York Public Library
DCM chair by Charles & Ray Eames 1947

The exhibition also explores how geography, economics, politics and social context influenced the adoption of particular materials and few materials have proved as lastingly appealing to designers as plywood.

Workman in 1912 carrying a complete Deperdussin monocoque fuselage at the Deperdussin factory in Paris
Plywood Butterfly stool by Sori Yanagi, 1954. Manufactured by Tendo Mokko in Japan in the 1950s
Demo house 1937 - full scale cross section showing prefabricated construction using plywood panels
Drawing of Alvar Aalto's Finnish Pavilion at the World's Fair in New York 1939-40

Plywood: Material of the Modern World is sponsored by