Slow: A project by American Hardwood Export Council

“RE;Collection” by Hansil Heo, displayed during American Hardwood Export Council’s Slow exhibition

Berlin’s Museum of Decorative Arts, Kunstgewerbemuseum, has opened its permanent collection for an intervention from 26 Nov 2021 to 20 Feb 2022, showcasing and celebrating emerging design talent and the sustainability and versatility of wood as a design material.

Initiated by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), Slow consists of nine projects from emerging designers working with American red oak, cherry and hard and soft maple. Woven among the museum’s existing exhibits, these contemporary designs represent design voices that articulate new ways of thinking about sustainability and accountability in terms of design, materiality and production process.­­

From one or more of four hardwoods – American red oak, cherry, and hard and soft maple – each designer has created an object that reflects their approach towards the theme ‘slow design for fast change’. The result is a range of products, including bowls, chairs, benches, shelving systems, tables and modular furniture elements. This variety reflects the voices and ideas that define the design industry today, united by an emphasis on sustainability, longevity and a focus on quality.

Nine young designers were hand-picked by a selection panel comprising their university tutors, the project’s manufacturing partner, German workshop Holzfreude, three professional mentors – Hanne Willmann, Sebastian Herkner and Garth Roberts – and the AHEC team.

The designers are: Maximilian Beck, Clémence Buytaert, Simon Gehring, Hansil Heo, Sarah Hossli and Lorenz Noelle, Anna Koppmann, Haus Otto (Nils Körner and Patrick Henry Nagel), Theo Luvisotto, and Maximilian Rohregger.

According to AHEC, the concept of “slow” – as understood in terms of slow fashion or slow food – is a response to the lifestyle changes borne from COVID-19. Products that keep materials in circulation for as long as possible are increasingly appealing. All over the world, once-hectic routines have been forced to slow down drastically, making people even more aware of what and how they consume.

As such, the concept of “slow” has come to entail a holistic approach to creative thinking, processes and products. AHEC said that it entails an expanded state of awareness to accountability for daily actions, and to the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities.

Among some of the pieces designed, and will be displayed in Kunstgewerbemuseum include: “Leftover Synthesis” by Simon Gehring, which explores better use of wood scraps from furniture production, combined with computational design methods, using American cherry, maple and red oak; “Rocking Chair” by Clémence Buytaert, a rocking chair made using American red oak; “RE;Collection” by Hansil Heo, a sculptural storage system inspired by historic Korean culture, and made using American cherry, maple and red oak; and others.

“Strong, tactile and visually appealing, wood is essential in an era of plastics, over-consumption and climate change, because of its low impact on the environment and the fact that it can be easily recycled,” commented David Venables, European director of AHEC. “As well as being a material for making, it is also a low-impact fuel and a carbon store. This project presents four underused timbers and questions the assumption that the most well-known varieties of wood are always the only ‘right’ woods to use.”