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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

AE16: Imitation Wood Grain Panels

When I hear the phrase "imitation wood grain panels" I immediately think of station wagons from the 1970s, particularly my family's Ford Pinto wagon, similar to the one below. The phrase connotes that time period, when plastic started to replace just about every other material, yet people still grasped for the look of "real" materials. And nothing says class like wood panels on the side of a car.

[1977 Ford Pinto station wagon | image source]

The use of wood in architecture is typically of two broad categories: solid and veneer. The former is prevalent where trees are, such as Scandinavia and countries in tropical climates. The latter requires industrial processes and is used for flooring and other applications in the United States and elsewhere. One big difference between these two is that veneer is focused solely on the surface and its appearance, since the ultra-thin wood ply is adhered to a plywood, MDF or other base. Veneer exudes the warmth of wood without the depth, cost and durability of solid woods.

[House of Sweden by Gert Wingårdh | photo by archidose]

A third variation, one in tune with the focus on surface of veneer, is imitation wood grain panels, used primarily for façades and usually in combination with other materials. The House of Sweden in Washington, D.C. by Gert Wingårdh and Tomas Hansen, completed in 2006, incorporates a number of materials on its exterior, including blond wood. But it also uses a laminated glass printed with a wood grain pattern:

[House of Sweden by Gert Wingårdh | photo by archidose]

This pattern (the middle horizontal bands in the top photo) reads as more of a wood caricature than the actual blond wood band (bottom band in same photo), with the former's strong grain contrast. The difference between the vertical face and the soffit in the photo above also illustrates this effect.

[Hudson Hill Condominium by FXFOWLE | photo by archidose]

It's been a couple years since seeing the House of Sweden in person, and I don't think I've seen a similar façade of wood panels since, until coming across FXFOWLE's Hudson Hill Condominium last week. From a distance (above) the façade looks like it is composed of aluminum panels powder-coated a brick or terra-cotta color. A closer look reveals a variation in color:

[Hudson Hill Condominium by FXFOWLE | photo by archidose]

And an even closer look reveals a wood grain:

[Hudson Hill Condominium by FXFOWLE | photo by archidose]

Looking at both the architect's and the building's websites, the exterior skin is described respectively as a "wood-paneled façade" and "a warm natural dark wood appearance." The first says, "this wood is real" while the second says the opposite. The condo web page reveals that the material is Trespa, most likely the Meteon panels, a rainscreen which "consists of thermosetting resins, homogeneously reinforced with up to 70% wood based fibers." These panels utilize wood in their make-up, but the aesthetic affect is completely artificial, given that metallics, "naturals" and plain colors are also available. It's like Pinto in building form, though more appealing in appearance.


  1. We were going to us Trespa for a residential townhome project, but the shipping and fabrication cost were more than the material itself. The material properties are very attractive, but unless you live close to a distributor, the stuff will most likely be outside most budgets.

    It's also incredibly dense and heavy...which has it's pluses and minuses.

  2. I'm more of a fan of the condo facade. Faux wood used in a faux masonry application doesn't exactly sound like a good idea on paper (to me) but in the photos I like it. One's understanding of the building changes as he/she approaches it.

    The House of Sweden on the other hand doesn't seem to work on paper or in reality.

  3. We used Trespa Meteon panels on a project that was just completed in Knoxville, Tennessee (we even used the same color). At first the idea of faux wood didn't sound like a good idea to me either, but as the project developed I really grew to like it. It allowed us to provide a unique identity for our clients building in an otherwise brick-filled commerical park. We considered a similar product called Prodema that is made with a real wood layer; but it seems that product is having problems with moisture wicking into the cut panel edges and causing delamination (we saw this on a project in Nashville). I don't know if that's was a material defect or the result of poor installation.


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