This summer, GOOD and the BMW Guggenheim Lab launched a worldwide, online call for ideas, inviting the public to respond to the question, “How would you transform a public space?” Curator Maria Nicanor recently selected five top ideas from the one hundred twenty submissions. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been presenting profiles of the people whose ideas were selected. You can read about their innovative projects here on the Lab | Log. Today’s profile of Rodrigo Caula is the last in our series on the five finalists.
Cities around the world have been looking for ways to remember their industrial past: riverfront parks now sit on the sites of old manufacturing plants, and warehouses and factories in some cities have been redesigned as museums, housing, or schools. Artist and editor Rodrigo Caula decided that Vancouver’s first major industry—lumber and woodworking—would be best recalled by its source, that is, the wood itself. Working with the city, he gained access to a 205-year-old Douglas-fir that had to be felled when it became sick. From the vertically grained tree, Caula fashioned a segmented bench that shows off the extraordinary beauty of the wood and, with its steel supports, symbolizes the encounter between the man-made and the natural. Caula says, “This project was an attempt to reach out to the public and engage them in a manner where they could have a better understanding of the roots of their surrounding environments.”
Lumber acted as the economic engine for much of Vancouver’s development. The tree used by Caula once stood in Stanley Park, one of Vancouver’s last old-growth forests that also happens to be near the city’s early ports for lumber export. Caula wants people to reflect on the way wood shaped the local economy: “As consumers and designers, we often lack an appreciation for the materials we work with and how we consume them.”
Caula, an industrial designer and an editor of Designboom who currently lives in Milan, likes to experiment with materials. He is also interested in innovative support systems, a concept he played with in his 2012 design for a dining-room-set-cum-jungle-gym: four posts extend from the table to a frame from which the chairs are suspended. For his Vancouver bench, Caula wanted the tree branch to stand with as little support as possible. To achieve this, he designed half-inch steel plates that were bent using five tons of pressure to sit at either 12.5 or 13.5 degrees, based on the desired seating height. The wood itself was quartered to show most of its 205 rings. Two sections of the bench intersect the other three at an angle meant to imply both a fallen tree and an arc or bridge between nature and city.
Appropriately enough, the bench is currently on display on Granville Island, a former manufacturing zone that has been redeveloped as a neighborhood filled with artists’ studios, a public market, parks, and sports facilities. The bench project, Caula says, illustrates “how time can manipulate form”—a fact that goes as much for neighborhoods as trees.
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Photos: courtesy Rodrigo Caula