AHEC collaborates with Singaporean designer Nathan Yong on American hardwood collection

Nathan Yong is a designer based in Singapore, and was awarded the Singapore President’s Design Award: Designer of the Year, back in 2008 (Image: AHEC)

Singaporean designer Nathan Yong will be launching Lifecycles, a collaboration with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), showcasing a five-piece collection made from American cherry, hard maple and red oak.

Lifecycles will be showcased in Singapore at Grafunkt, 107 North Bridge Road, Funan, from 7-19 Jul 2023.

What is Lifecycles?

Yong has set out to be deliberately provocative with these new pieces: “[The collection] should start with a feeling of strangeness: Why is it built that way? What is the point of it? I hope our curious minds will lead us to understand and appreciate the things around us more, be they natural or man-made.”

Yong has taken his lead from the theory of constructivism which emerged in the field of education during the 20th century, with its roots traced back to the works of Jean Piaget in the 1920s and Lev Vygotsky in the 1930s.

The theory focuses on the importance of socio-cultural learning; how interactions with adults, more capable peers, and cognitive tools are internalised by learners to form mental constructs through the zone of proximal development.

Hardwoods used

American red oak, American maple and American cherry are at the heart of this collection. All grow abundantly in American hardwood forests, making up a total of 40% of the forest volume between them, but are currently underused in the design sector. Each species plays a key role in the forest ecosystem, and all contribute significantly to its diversity and sustainability.

In addition to being easily renewable and serving as a natural carbon store, the woods are also strong, tactile, versatile, and aesthetically appealing — but all have their own distinctive traits and features.

Environmentally sustainable

Lifecycles aims to investigate the scientific underpinning of claims of sustainability and environmental responsibility. The analysis of the collection’s impact on the environment is presented to emphasise the significance of considering environmental factors when choosing materials and the practice of good design.

Yong has embraced this opportunity to provoke the design community and its consumers to question environmentally responsible design:

“When people consume stuff they do not always appreciate the true value of any object, it tends to be a transaction between the cost and what it can do for them.

“I would like to re-investigate that relationship through artistic pieces that let people question the real value of objects for them, for nature, for communities and the good of the planet.”

An environmental lifecycle assessment (LCA) of this project has enabled a calculation of the carbon footprint of each of the five designs. According to AHEC, the total carbon footprint of the collection is 1,257kg of CO2 equivalent.

This is about the same as would be produced by the average Singaporean in 55 days, or the equivalent of a one-way economy flight from Singapore to Sydney.

The overall carbon footprint of this collection can be considered quite high for furniture manufactured from US hardwood, which, in themselves, are already often carbon neutral due to the low energy input required to produce the material and the large amount of carbon stored in the wood.

This project demonstrates that minimising the environmental impact of design requires commitment from policy makers, designers and manufacturers and also, importantly, the support of the consumer.

John Chan, regional director for AHEC, commented: “It is the responsibility of all of us to think about the impact of our actions on the planet and associated climate change. We are grateful to Nathan Yong and to manufacturers Fowseng for their participation in this project. It has enabled us all to learn and to be able to share that learning with the wider community of designers, specifiers and of course the consumer.

“We are proud of our ability to prove the low environmental impact of American hardwood species even when transported around the world. This is a testament to the hard work of our members from the US hardwood industry who truly value the forest resource and look after it accordingly.”