Engineered Lumber #2: Plywood

Although plywood has been around for a while it has rarely been used for its aesthetic qualities until recently.  Unlike OSB, plywood has a higher level of strength and durability due to the level of control in the orientation of the thin ply sheets.  This not only gives it a high level of strength in many directions, but also allows it to be bendable and flexible in situations where OSB would crack and break.  Charles and Ray Eames began experimenting with plywood in the 1940s but most of their products were more like furniture than architecture.  Otherwise, plywood is generally used in the construction industry to sheet the floor or the exterior of a building only to be covered by a secondary material leaving little room for innovation or creativity.

One example of an interesting use of plywood is in the Winnipeg Skating Shelters by Patkau Architects.  These temporary shelters act as a refuge to skaters in the middle of a frozen river in Winnipeg, Canada.  These simple structures use a light timber frame sandwiched between two layers of thin and flexible plywood.  Each shelter, with its triangular base twists and bends to an opening toward the sky.  Stress points from bending the plywood are relieved by either scoring or perforating the wood.  This also creates another level of interest within the structures.

The Nishimura Restaurant Interior by CL3 Architects is another cool use of plywood.  This restaurant uses several hundred sheets of plywood to generate masses and voids to create interesting spaces within the building.  The sheets are cutout in series and glued together to generate circular and elliptical voids or bump-outs.  The plywood gives these masses an interesting grain that is similar to real wood but at this scale could never be found using a single piece of timber.


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