Go with the grain

17th March 2006 at 00:00
ARCHITECTURE IN WOOD: A world History. By Will Pryce. Thames and Hudson. Pounds 39.95. www.thameshudson.co.uk

Bill Richmond praises a book on wooden architecture

Some books are so beautifully produced and contain such superb images that even before one starts reading they have an entrancing quality that makes ownership essential.

For anyone interested in design, architecture, cultures or travel, Will Pryce's book, Architecture in Wood: A World History, is just such a volume. The introduction reminds readers that wooden structures predominated until the beginning of the 19th century and that climate dictates the zones in which suitable timber for building grows.

Additionally, the nature of the timber used has defined styles: regular trunks of conifers facilitating horizontally laid, blockwork techniques while hardwood timber, with its greater strength, has helped the development of framed structures.

Superb photographs inspire and illustrate chapters on the Far East, northern, western and eastern Europe, America, South-East Asia and Australia, exploring the way in which buildings have been constructed, and placing them in the context of the type of forests and woodlands found bysettlers or indigenous populations.

Chapters are further subdivided with, for example, the American section covering the clapboard styles developed by the colonists in New England.

These were brought by 17th-century settlers and continued to be used a century later in the Eastern states. These styles developed differently as a result, for instance, of the accessibility of materials such as lime for mortar, readily available in England but less so in America. Where it was replaced by board infilling of wooden-framed buildings, now so recognisable in New England and Massachusetts.

The Georgian-styled Newport and Rhode Island buildings are intriguingly attributed by Pryce to the arrival during the 18th century of carpentry books and literature popularising Palladian classicism. This imported fashion was grafted onto the existing heavy wooden-framed structures in the style of the region, which was at one time occupied by the British and then besieged by American forces, with the resulting loss of many buildings as a need for firewood became the highest priority.

The architecture of the areas focused on in the other chapters is also placed in the context of cultural influences, availability of resources and historical influences, with Bali, Thailand and Japan providing further fascinating insights into the subject.

The final chapters explore the future for wood and conclude that, with Japanese Buddhist temples surviving for more than 1,000 years, there should be a growing appreciation of the durable qualities of wooden structures as architects strive to produce aesthetically pleasing constructions.

Architecture always subtly reflects the experiences, art, fashions and tastes of the communities in which its structures are developed, and this review can barely begin to reveal the depth and fascination of the book.

Pryce's own captivating photographs superbly illuminate the text, whether picturing bare trees silhouetted against New England buildings lit by mellow late afternoon sunlight, bright elevated verandas viewed across extensive lawns under clear blue Brisbane skies, or isolated Russian chapels, onion-domed and capped with vast numbers of silvered aspen shingles.

Bill Richmond is an advanced skills DT teacher at Winton School, Bournemouth

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