Which wood materials can be extracted from the whole tree stem?
In the age of better use of resources, this creative duo explores the potential of four different wood materials — including sawdust — aiming to bring it to market.
27 May 2024

How to transform the discourse of design for equal synergies between human, nature, and space? Copenhagen-based Natural Material Studio is proposing a new design typology and terminology based on systemic methodologies, centered around their own, biobased materials. Last year, the studio was awarded for their large-scale installation HUMAN NATURE at Copenhagen Contemporary during 3daysofdesign. Now, founder Bonnie Hvillum and her team have joined forces with Kim Lenschow, architect and founder of Office Kim Lenschow, who shares the same special interest in materials and materiality. Together, they’ve created the architectural installation Smuld in family-owned design and production company Dinesen’s showroom in central Copenhagen.

— We’re using our newly developed wood materials, following ongoing research in collaboration with Office Kim Lenschow, utilising leftover wood from Dinesen’s sawmill in Jels in Southern Denmark. The exhibition is based on four different wood materials, all designed and produced with natural wood binders, such as cellulose and lignin. It builds on the vision of utilising the whole tree stem, and results in new material categories and experiences that can push our understanding of wood. The installation is designed with four interactive ‘portals’, each using the four different wood materials. 

You have also ensured that the material binder can dissolve without the use of chemicals. How?

— The binders we have used are based on biopolymers origin from the tree itself. Lignin and cellulose are strong tissue cells in the tree’s own structure and can be subtracted to function as part of a human-made material composition. The molecule length of the wood polymers is not as long as we see with synthetic polymers, and it is the length of the molecule that dictates how long time the material takes to break down naturally and degrade.

What challenges and opportunities do the work with sawdust offer?

— We have experienced both technical and aesthetic challenges. The sawdust fibres are not that long, and some of the residues are literately saw flour, which doesn’t act reinforcing at all. This is also partly the reason why we started looking into other manufacturing methods than fibre reinforcement. Instead, we have been working both with fluid casting in moulds, pressure forming with heat and pressure combined, and we also developed a spartel to be spread directly onto other building materials. So the challenges we have experienced have very much so led the process and showed us new directions we could work with wood. This is what can be called a material-driven process, letting the material possibilities drive the direction, Hvillum explains. She adds:

— We were also very conscious of the aesthetics of working with sawdust and tried in the processes to ’manipulate’ the sawdust in different ways to transform it, both in appeal, texture and colour tone. 

”Wood has so many opportunities with its complex biological build-up”

Better matterial use is on the rise. What’s important to consider if you aim to use the entire tree trunk?

— That is a really good question! I can only speak from working with Dinesen and their ambitions for the brand, which has been very inspiring to experience. It’s a no-brainer that it makes sense to utilise the whole tree and to build value into the residue so that we stop thinking about what is the premium wood and the discarded. Of course, regenerative foresting is the starting point, and from there on, it’s really about designing systems for all parts of the raw tree, even from bark to the core planks. Wood has so many opportunities with its complex biological build-up.

You mentioned the ongoing research project. How will you continue to work with sawdust?

— Kim Lenschow and I started the journey nearly two years ago, first with an initial and more open-ended research project funded by the Danish Architectural foundation Dreyers Fond, and was exhibited last year at Copenhagen Contemporary as part of the architectural exhibition Reset Materials. From here we narrowed in on the most promising materials and continued the research of them, including learning how to produce the materials in demonstration quantity. This is what we exhibit now at the SMULD exhibition. Next for us is to gain more technical data, such as fire tests and technical tests for strength, as well as investigating manufacturing setups that the materials could feed into. So the journey is forming towards bringing the materials to market.

3daysofdesign coming up. What will you show?

— We are working hard at the moment on two exhibitions both to be installed there. One is our own solo installation called WHITE UTOPIA working with our biomaterials in a domestic setting exploring our relation to the home and commodities through experimental design in a spatial installation. The other is called FLUIDITY and is part of a new exhibition at the Danish Architecture Center investigating the teenage room, also in the domestic setting. We are bringing new biomaterials closer and closer to the domestic space in several ways, which is a very exciting journey!

SMULD at Dinesen in Copenhagen.