Met Oliver Lowenstein at Hooke this week who told me this story of when he met Richard Leplastrier in Finland (his words):

“The second time I travelled to Finland was on a Finnish Forests’ journalists’ junket, to be shown some of the country’s most recent timber industry and architecture developments, and as it happened, to attend that years’ Timber Engineering Congress. The day before that, we were taken up to UPM’s flagship factory and given the guided tour. The factory was really extraordinary; hi-tech, and automated stretching, seemingly, for miles. Wood in different stages of deconstruction and reconstruction whizzed and trundled past on various conveyer belts. The number of workers seemed minimal. Accompanying us on the tour was a tall man, with a craggy avian countenance, in chic but crafty clothing. He didn’t speak a word. Afterwards we were ushered into UPM’s media room. Once seated the head of distribution gave a short talk about their new product range, before proceeding to ask his audience if there were ways that we, the journo’s, could help develop these. A few muttered suggestions, and then the tall, craggy man began to talk. My neighbour whispered that he was Richard LePlastrier, an Australian architect, who was winner of that year’s ‘Spirit of Wood’ prize, and was to be honoured at the Congress within twenty-four hours. LePlastrier began, praising ‘the wonder of plywood’, for its strength and ability to be moulded into many, curving shapes. As someone who has promoted engineered wood to the rafters I began to think he was here to congratulate the company. But then he continued, pointing out how little interaction the workforce had with the material, how the skills traditionally associated with woodworking were completely redundant in the age of hi-tech wood production, before finally asking, why wood production couldn’t be more holistic, giving more to the workforce in both involvement and fulfilment?

The UPM people looked on, momentarily stunned into silence at such a blunt ‘off message’ from their very special guest. Now, bring this all back to Britain. If you think that LePlastrier has a point, it’s part of any aspirational engineered wood culture, home grown or otherwise, to square these circles. How can ply and traditional woodworking co-exist, without the former replacing the latter?”

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