Wood-art has been an integral part of Indian history. Sutradhar community, according to legend, are the carpenters (also known as ‘badhaee’) descended from Maya, the son of Vishwakarma(the divine engineer). In the Rigveda(1700–1100 BCE), two more words ‘Taksan’ and ‘Tvastr’ are used for a carpenter. Till date, Vishwakarma day is celebrated in India; and as customary the craftsmen worship their tools and refrain from using them.
All references from chariot building to trade-carts and utensils-making, show that the carpenter’s craft had well-developed in the Vedic period(1500 B.C.- 600 B.C.) In Satapatha Brahmana, the role of the carpenter is also expanded to shipbuilding. But it was between 600 B.C. – 300 A.D., when the process of specialization had penetrated all the important Arts. The craftsmen were organized in guilds so the son learned the technique of the craft from his father and apprentices from the master craftsmen by living as members of their families. It is interesting to observe that every family, religion, and region has its own style, generating nuclear as well as a regional tradition in wood-art.
But traditions cannot outlive time. As the law of nature suggests: the ones that don’t adapt perish, illiberal traditions are no exceptions, and are eventually disowned by the majority; the ones that do bend continue to thrive. Indian civilization has retained its traditions, owing to its generations that were flexible enough to the tide of time. How these traditions have been suited to the ‘vernacular present’ dictates how long they will survive.
In past semi-centennial, governments initiative against deforestation, increase in the cost of wood and labour-intenseness of the craft, pushed communities carving a path for plywood as a cheaper alternative to wood. But is plywood doomed to be replaced by alternative products? Will a dialogue that has existed since the Vedic period perish if not adaptively strengthened? These questions raised alarming concerns for a declining ply-industry and the entropic spiral of the related art, to recent innovations.
Expressing other physiognomy, from ventured planar profile to an object that appears to be carved out in space, re-shaped at its very origin and bent to come a step closer to natural curves, the design explored conventional limitations of the material sold by the client, veneers and plywood, and its protagonist role in a conversation.
‘Timber Rhyme’ occupies the first storey of a retail shop in a market complex, Chandigarh. The challenge was to invite a walk through the existing 71′ by 18′ linear block, as one enters from the rear end.
Ode to the tide of time and engineering, the dialogue between a carpenter and a product has perished further limiting his social engagement with the end-user. The key idea is a by-product of this concern, an elemental ribbon that can be the subject of a conversation while being a facilitator of the same, a conversi.
In design, a single-window that frames outside triggering an innate attraction to prospect and, a sitting space that plays on one’s inclination to take refuge. Both placed opposite to ingress initiates a desire to walk. Represented through the ribbon that pours itself into space, ‘variety in a unified continuum’ nourishes our concepts.
The site was converted into a spatial matrix, as the ribbon gets developed, by selecting a series of spatial coordinates joined together to formulate doubly curved solids. This facilitates segmentation of the space, where the eye meets varying focal points each at a different elevation than previous. The observer’s speed is dictated by his surroundings as the form makes its presence felt, carving a new perspective with each viewpoint.
The ribbon is envisioned to blur the boundaries between the static, the movable and the art in-and-on these components of the built space. Role of static elements like partition screens is obfuscated with that of movable furniture. Propounding as a functional art space, a series of ‘wooden ribbons’ twist and turn to form the display shelves, sitting spaces, meeting table and other design elements each flowing into the other. This transcends the interior into an Art-landscape.
These ‘elastic geometries’ were realized to be almost self-supporting, threaded from the ceiling using black metal bars. For additional support, translucent acrylic supports were given where the heavy load would be subjected on the ribbon.
The ribbon is manifested as a framework of plywood ribs that were digitally fabricated with the help of a definition developed in Grasshopper. To interpolate the doubly curved geometries, these were subdivided into a network of plywood ribs in x and y directions, interlocking at 6 inches interval. Together these formed a waffle structure, that served as the main framework giving the final shape. To form the ribbed structure, CNC milling was used to cut the individual components from a 12mm thick plywood ribs. 3mm thick Flexi-ply and 1.5 mm thick paper veneer was used, each cut and handled by the carpenter. For the ease of assembly, each rib was given a unique Alpha-numeric connotation which was etched on ply through CNC milling. They were then jig-sawed in-situ, by the carpenters, in a unidirectional arrangement to correctly align to the next segment. The resultant was a thin, workable skin of plywood 61 linear feet, ranging in width from 9 inches to 8 feet.
The end detail lies in the finishing of the ribs where carpentry skill meets technology. Each Flexi-ply joint was filled with wood filler and sanded as required. It is through this last stage of processing that the carpenter takes ownership from technology and uses his experience and ‘telltale knowledge’ for a finished structure. Lastly, he pastes, strips of paper veneer perpendicular to the curvature of the structure blurring different components of the whole. The light oak veneer was chosen for its soft grain, drawing attention to other materials while acting as background noise to put materials against each other. This evolved the other half of the name as ‘rhyme’, an uncertain noise and whispering in ears, subconsciously picked up by the soul, but almost always unaware by the mind.
This amalgamation of technology for cost, time and ease of making with an advantage of old craft, is a win-win situation for all stakeholders of the project. The retail shop becomes a setting befitting for a dialogue between the carpenter, the end-user and the retailer deepening social engagement. As plywood-carpentry meets its entropic spiral, ‘Timber rhyme’ hopes to create an opportunity to re-imagine craft of the traditional curves, as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the next generation of torchbearers of intricate carvings.