GAM.17: Wood. Rethinking Material
Edited by Tom Kaden
Jovis, May 2021

Paperback | 9 x 11 inches | 296 pages | German/English | ISBN: 9783868596632 | 19.95€


As an organic building material, wood is held in particularly high esteem in this age of climate crisis. A component of environmentally friendly resource cycles, wood demonstrates its innovative potential when used in new technological developments and hybrid applications that are suited to complex, modern architectural tasks. We have only just started reimagining wood as a cutting-edge, versatile building material of the future.

GAM. 17 takes a new look at wood—at its multi-faceted nature and architectural possibilities— and proposes building and design concepts that fully utilize the material’s potential for a more climate-friendly construction industry. This is further complemented by a look back at the history of building with wood and the ideological entanglements that have long stood in the way of the further development of wood as a building material.

With contributions by Reyner Banham, Urs Hirschberg, Anne Isopp, Jens Ludloff, Laila Seewang, Stephan Trüby, Anselm Wagner, and others.


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Since 2004, the Faculty of Architecture of Graz University of Technology has published GAM - Graz Architecture Magazine on an annual basis. Each academic, interdisciplinary issue covers a theme, from "Tourism and Landscape" in the inaugural issue to "Nonstandard Structures" in number six, "Territorial Justice" in number fifteen, and now "Wood. Rethinking Material" in its latest issue, number 17. I only have the first issue and this most recent issue, but based on them the format is fairly consistent, even with different publishers over time (from Springer to Birkhäuser to Jovis): from the design of the covers and color-based graphic design, to the lengthy essays addressing the theme and the inclusion of news on happenings at the Faculty over the previous year. The detached cover and lay-flat binding (first spread, below) appears to be new, and is a welcome touch for such a large, lengthy academic journal.

The issue on wood is an especially timely theme, given the trend, which will no doubt continue to grow, to structure buildings in mass timber rather than steel or concrete (or at least majority wood in hybrid structures) as a means of addressing climate change. An increase in the use of wood also seems aligned with the 2018 Davos Declaration that called for a policy of "high-quality Baukultur" across Europe, since timber is overtly more traditionally craft-based in its construction than concrete or steel and is more firmly rooted in many contexts outside of cities. Good timing or not, what makes GAM.17 beneficial is the way the editors have grouped the nearly fifteen contributions — essays of both the textual and visual variety — into three categories that address the material's cultural aspects, technical considerations, and wider contexts.

The first section, "Material Culture," features four contributions on the cultural-historical relevance of timber, including Anselm Wagner's tracing (second spread) of how the material has been perceived in Central Europe over the last hundred or so years and an archival text: Reyner Banham's 1972 conference paper on synthetic woods (third spread). The second section, "Material Practices," might be the most beneficial to architects, since it includes contributions that show architects and educators not only embracing timber as a sustainable material, but also pushing it beyond its typical applications. An essays on timber pavilions fabricated with the help of robots at TU Graz and other European schools of architecture (second-to-last spread) is a highlight, as is an interview with Kai Strehlke of Blumer Lehmann, who has worked in a number of high-profile projects in wood, including Shigeru Ban's new home for Swatch (last spread).

Closing the second section is "'Cambio': Val di Fiemme," a visual essay about a project by Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin that documented what happened in the aftermath of storms that felled millions of trees in Northern Italy in 2018. The contribution makes a clear segue to the third and last section (before the faculty news and some reviews of architecture books at the back of the issue, that is), "Material Territory," which explores wood "in a broader nexus of relations among environmental protection, the timber industry, and chains of commerce," according to the editors. The third section is probably the most important part of GAM.17, because it puts timber in wider contexts that the material cannot be divorced from. Architects may specify wood as if it is a readily available resource, but the essays in "Material Territory" will help architects take the material's environmental, economic, and political dimensions into account — necessary if timber will be used more and more in the years to come.