The Wishlist


An Interview with Alex de Rijke

Alex de Rijke, London Design FestivalWhat would you expect of the architect who pioneered the use of CLT (cross laminated timber) and then CLT tulipwood on the Endless Stair to have on his wishlist? Yes, a table made of tulipwood CLT. Alex de Rijke, one of the founders of dRMM Architects, who designed the wonderful creation that stood outside Tate Modern last summer, said ‘I have always wanted to make a laminated table. It’s a large dining table, and as we know everything takes place there – the best decisions are made, work is done, drinks are drunk.’

He wanted his table to be round because ‘It’s more democratic. No one is the head of the table, children have as much say as adults.‘ And he wanted to work with tulipwood again, both because he likes the way it looks and because of what it stands for. ‘I like the variation in colour,’ he said, ‘the liveliness of the grain because it has grown in different microclimates. It is strong and light.’ And, equally important for de Rijke, it is abundant. ‘I don’t want to work with precious hardwoods,’ he said. ‘Tulipwood is very fast growing and America has an abundance of it. ‘It is generally regarded as of low quality. I wanted to transform it into the most beautiful, furniture-grade timber, where it is often used in applications where it is painted.’

Alex de Rijke, London Design FestivalOffered the list of designers with whom he could collaborate, de Rijke chose Rob Barnby and Lewis Day of Barnby and Day, designer/makers based in Hay in Wales. ‘I chose them because I wanted to work with somebody I hadn’t worked with before, and I wanted to be with people who actually make stuff,’ de Rijke explained. ‘They had their own workshop and I liked their attitude. They are young and I thought it would be nice to work with people who would benefit from the London Design Festival exposure. They aren’t RCA graduates [the Royal College of Art, where de Rijke is Dean of the school of architecture], who get a big show at the end of their studies. They have set up their own business outside London. It would be great to work with that degree of enthusiasm and making ability and get them into the limelight.’

The table is built up from rings of tulipwood CLT (cross-laminated timber is made from sandwiches of wood, in this case three layers thick, with the grain running in alternating directions to increase stability) with the largest circle on the top having a diameter of 2m. The circle at the base is about half the diameter of the top and then it narrows to a curved pedestal. ‘There is not only the obvious reference to a tree,’ said de Rijke, ‘but it is a way of making something that is hollow that looks as if it is solid.‘ One of Barnby and Day’s suggestions, which de Rijke accepted, was to create a hollow in the centre which can be used either as a fruit bowl or a wine cooler. Carved into some additional laminations, it increases the illusion of solidity. ‘It makes you think that the whole thing has been carved from a single laminated tree,’ de Rijke said. He added, ‘Barnby and Day are quick, imaginative and open-minded. You can’t ask for more than that.’