Inspired by Gaudi
The December issue of Australian Wood Review will contain a feature on Treecycle 2016. This was an exhibition of work made from timber salvaged from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. (See related pre-exhibition coverage here.)
Treecycle was curated by Leon and Ginny Sadubin who selected forty-five makers to make a body of work that amounted to over 450 pieces. As a lead-up to the magazine article we will feature a few of the makers and the pieces they made.
David Upfill-Brown was one of the selected makers and wrote about some of the factors that influenced the design and making of his Guell Stools, shown in the photo above taken by Jon Harris.
‘The design for the Guell Stools was inspired by the work of Antoni Gaudi, specifically the oak chairs and benches that he designed for Casa Calvet, Casa Batllo and the Guell Palace.
‘I was interested in how the solid oak frame, and frame and panel seats and backs, test the limits of wood movement. The long mitres show signs of separation but hold. I note that the oak is quartersawn, presumably to limit movement. I think this may be a consideration of the maker, whoever that may have been. I guess that movement might be a prime concern in the climate of Barcelona.
‘Movement is certainly a prime concern for mitres in Australia, especially for speculative pieces that could end up in climates as varied as Darwin or Broken Hill. Alan Wale, the founder of Sturt's School for Wood (and sadly recently deceased), went so far as to say that mitres were “irresponsible” in Australia.
‘So for the Guell Stools I decided to separate the three parts of the seat by 12mm and join them with stainless steel bars 75mm wide hoping to reduce the movement, and, at the same time, add an exciting visual separation. I also canted the three planes at about 2.5 degrees to each other which created an ergonomic factor to the seat as well as helping to splay the legs a little more.
‘I also wanted to use the catenary arch that makes some of Gaudi's interiors so elegant. Especially in the College de les Teresianes and the Sagrada Familia. I was enthralled on my only visit to Barcelona to find an architectural model of Gaudi’s, in the attic I think, of Casa Batllo.
‘He had rigged up the inverse of the equivalent of the arches of a chapter house using suspended ropes and manipulating the resultant catenary arches by fixing weights in different places along the ropes. All of this was reflected the right way up because the floor was mirrored! So I used catenary curves to the insides of the legs.
‘For the material I was lucky to select some brown barrel (Eucalyptus fastigata) from the Royal Botanic Garden (Treecycle) stockpile. And lucky again because it had been so carefully quartersawn – less movement. Being air dried it worked beautifully – easy to shape and I noticed that it stained my hands. This suggested a high tannin content so I tested some, fuming it in 25% ammonia. In three days I had something looking more like black bean – far more interesting than the Tassie oak colour I'd been working with.
David Upfill-Brown is an internationally renowned studio furniture maker and woodwork educator who teaches regularly at Sturt School for Wood in Mittagong, NSW. Next year David will also teach at the Centre for Fine Woodworking in Nelson, New Zealand. David appeared on the cover of issue 82 of Australian Wood Review and was profiled in that issue by Richard Raffan. Learn more about David Upfill-Brown at www.davidupfillbrown.com