Bent Ply The Art of Plywood Furniture
By Dung Ngo & Eric Pfeiffer

January 05, 2004 /
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Plywood is arguably the most modern design artefact: it is a material born of natural wood and formed by vigorous industrial processes that can assume the most organic of shapes through bending, laminating, and molding. plywood truly fulfills that most modern of dreams: bridging the gap between technology and nature.

Bent Ply is the first book devoted to plywood in modern design.

2.-Bent-Ply.jpgSteam-bending forms, Michael Thonet, 1856.

3.Bent-Ply.jpgPhoto courtesy Eames Office.
Herbert Matter, photo collage from MOMA's "New Furniture designed by Charles Eames" exhibition 1946.  

The book consists of two parts: the first, an illustrated history of plywood (tracing its origins to ancient Egypt, circa 2900 BC); the second, an annotated journal of the making of a piece of bent plywood furniture, from the forest to the showroom.

Examples from stages of the process:

4.Bent-Ply.jpgThe entire log can be transformed into one long sheet of veneer in about one and a half minute.

5.-Bent-Ply.jpgThe veneer is pushed into the mold.

6.-Bent-Ply.jpgThe "blanks" are put to cool and the glue to dry.

7.-Bent-Ply.jpgPhoto courtesy the Alvar Aalto Museum.
Aalto bending: Display of laminated wood at the Finnish pavilion.  

In addition the book contains numerous illustrations of the classics of bent ply design including:

8.-Bent-Ply.jpgPaimio armchair, Alvar Aalto, 1931.
Courtesy Artek.

9.-Bent-Ply.jpgBellevue chair, André Bloc, 1951.
André Bloc, France.

10.-Bent-Ply.jpgCross-Check chair, Frank Gehry, 1990.
Courtesy Knoll International.

There are also examples of its appropriation by the military: The John F. Kennedy's PT109 boat and the DeHavilland "Mosquito" were both fabricated from plywood.

11.Bent-Ply-.jpgPlywood-boat construction, 1940s.
Courtesy the Nova Scotia Archives and records management.  

12.-Bent-PLy.jpgAssembly line production of beechcraft plywood airplane fleet, Los Angeles, 1943.

Eric Pfeiffer is head designer for Offi, a home and home office furniture company specializing in bent plywood. Dung Ngo is author of American Contemporary Furniture.

As an extra detail the book covers are made of ply wood.

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Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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