It goes without saying that wood is not only beautiful and pleasant to look at and touch, but that it has recently also become, again, a very sought-after building material, with which it is possible to build almost anything. Whereas in the recent past it was mainly used for roof constructions and partly for wooden façades, it is now, with the availability of new glued laminated construction timber, shifting the limits to the sky. Combined with concrete, we can realise higher and increasingly complex architectural designs, all with one important advantage: wood is a sustainable material that grows again in the natural environment. It is renewable, easy to recycle and has a low carbon footprint… in short, wood has many advantages that speak in its favour as a construction and façade-cladding material. In interior design, the use of wood has always been boundless. If wood is exposed to weather conditions, it must be appropriately treated and protected, as rational use can greatly extend its life-span.
It is therefore not surprising that, at least in countries where wood is available in abundance and has been used as a basic building material for centuries, a new science of the use of wood in modern architecture has developed. Here we are not only referring to Scandinavian and alpine countries; recent developments show that wood is appearing in the least expected areas.
That is why part of the present issue of Piranesi features articles on the use of wood in architecture. We thus present three wooden projects in which the common denominator is not only the use of wood, but also the way they have been positioned in the natural landscape. The first project is a school pavilion located in a city park in Austria; the second is a tree observatory in the treetops, designed by Saša Ostan, who has managed to bring together the playful character of tree houses with a public exhibition programme in the City Forest of Celje; and the third is the renovation of the Škocjan Inlet in Koper, where wood is truly used in a sustainable manner: the construction wood is visible, while the interior of the objects and the façades are clad in wood that will with time obtain its patina and merge with the surrounding reeds.
Architect Milan Mihelič did not use wood as a primary building material, as he mainly designed projects for urban centres, but he was undoubtedly a master of conceptual design, concrete-cast details and façade details. Even forty years after its execution, his department store in Novi Sad is still ahead of its time in terms of urban and architectural planning, which is why it deserves a detailed presentation under the title theme.
In an interview with Croatian architect Branko Silađin, we learn about his life and how, since he was a teenager, it has always been marked by architecture and by his attitude towards design and the culture of living. The story of his life also brings us to the Piran Days of Architecture, as he was one of the founders of this manifestation, one result of which is, after all, the present magazine.
Not wishing to speak only about large-scale projects and the use of wood, we present two smaller yet interesting projects: a small stone house on the Adriatic coast in Croatia, where traditional stone construction is merged with a contemporary design language, and the not yet entirely completed Salesian pastoral centre in Maribor by Dans Arhitekti, who have managed to combine the principle of a contemporary sacral space with the organic nature of the ground plan within a rectangular allotment, while also succeeding in creating a playful reminiscence of Plečnik’s church in Vinohrady in Prague.
Returning to the topic of wood, we are reminded of the TV commercial: “Wood is beautiful! Let’s make sure it stays that way…”. This is a commercial that aired a few years ago for a factory producing colourful, water-based varnish for wood, its point being that with a touch of colour one can make wood more attractive, while at the same time preventing its natural greying. Most investors – except perhaps some from Vorarlberg in Austria – do not want to witness this effect, and would rather preserve the red colour of the wood espoused in the aforementioned commercial; of course, without having to repaint it every year, if possible. In contemporary contextual architecture, however, this is something that is in fact desirable, as natural greyness shows the natural ageing of the material over a period of time.