UNDER PRESSURE – Designing Densified Wood
by EPFL+ECAL Lab, with the support of swissnex Boston

Soft to the touch, yet as hard and dense as precious tree species from the tropical rainforest, this wood surprisingly stems from fast growing spruce, easy to cultivate in our countries. The EPFL+ECAL Lab, an award winning swiss laboratory exploring the potential of emerging technologies through design, is back in New York to present how the amazing scientific performance of densified wood can be turn into real objects. The exhibition at WantedDesign Brooklyn/ Industry city from May 9-19, involves works from Paul Cocksedge, Chris Kabel, Normal Studio, Big-Game and Lea Longis.


Shaping extremely strong wood from easily grown species rather than destroying tropical or equatorial forests: a dream which is coming true. At the EPFL, one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technologies, a team of scientists led by Parviz Navi has devoted over 10 years of research to this challenge. In the early 2000s, their lab successfully produced small samples of densified wood through a complex treatment combining pressure, temperature and steam to eliminate porosity. Even better, this processing gives the object a stable shape, without any additive – the piece remains pure wood. In 2010, the EPFL+ECAL Lab took over the machine and research results to take the project to the next level by increasing object size and highlighting the diversity of possible textures and shapes. In cooperation with the machine’s designer Fred Girardet and the Laboratory for Timber Constructions (IBOIS-EPFL), the EPFL+ECAL Lab involved five design studios to explore the material’s potential and to devise specific functions and a formal language. BIG-GAME (Switzerland) with its trio made up of Grégoire Jeanmonod, Elric Petit and Augustin Scott de Martinville, the founders of Normal Studio Jean-François Dingjian and Eloi Chafaï in Paris, the young French designer Léa Longis, Paul Cocksedge in London and Chris Kabel in Rotterdam took up the challenge. Their initial series of objects is the subject of the exhibition, conceived in 2014 in collaboration with the Musee des arts décoratifs of Paris.


The exhibition also displays several lab samples to illustrate the forces at play and the complexity of the material and process. The journey takes visitors deep inside the material with original electron microscope pictures taken by Finnish-born physicist Tauno Jalanti the founder of Microscan Service S.A.


All the objects shown at WantedDesign have been produced at the EPFL+ECAL Lab on the original scientific apparatus. They make up a unique collection illustrating a holistic research spanning from materials science to the initial objects, and highlights the cooperation needed between engineers and designers to open up unprecedented creative avenues.