turn the old into new…at what price?


cheungvogl: boat timber installation at aesop, hong kong.

I have always been in love with materials and construction techniques and I guess that people like me learn to appreciate the processes of aging since they reflect the true nature of each material and how it reacts with other materials in a construction/assemblage.
In a time when there is so much “talk” about sustainability and “being Green” I always wonder if the first, so called “green” action, isn’t to reuse whatever is around you since, most people live in cities, and therefore, are surrounded by buildings, infrastructures, and all kinds of items/structures that are aging and/or losing their function, in need of a new eye, a new approach to it.
We are always so eager for novelty that we tend to forget what’s already here and, and consequently, the concept of the 4R’s of sustainability REUSE, REDUCE, RECYCLE, REHABILITATE. I am a true believer of this approach and of the fact that it’s hierarchy depends on each particular situation.
However, it is also a fact that in our “developed” and “safe” world there is top concern with people’s health safety which makes some of the easiest reutilizations impossible.
A few years ago, I decided to reuse wood from old rail tracks. It seemed obvious to me that there was no sense in using new wood, specially in outdoors, landscape interventions, when such amazing solid wood thick pieces were available in rail depots, rotting.
I only used it once, 2006, in the landscaping project of a house refurbishment because, the next time I was going to, it was called to my attention that the wood from rail tracks is impregnated with chemicals, absorbed by the wood for decades and thus, a threat to human health. I remember asking if the wood couldn’t not be treated or sealed in some way that could prevent health azzards but the only replies were a list of problems (instead of solutions) on how it was not possible and if so, how it would became so much more expensive, more than new wood pieces.
End of story, never used it again…In Portugal, money rules over any other project decision!

This work by cheungvogl, a practice that I truly admire, made be go back to those times. It is called “boat timber installation at aesop Hong Kong” and basically consist on the reutilization of old boats wood to construct the shop’s furniture. As I run thru the images I couldn’t understand why is this an “installation” instead of project design for the aesop shop?
The space looks so beautiful, the furniture so masterly crafted with respect to the material’s condition and limitations. It should be the store, not a temporary art expression; it’s not art, it’s craftsmen work, it’s architecture…
Is it possible that they faced the same “health safety” problem? I really can’t say but one thing I can say: this is such a beautiful, meaningful and symbolic architecture work that truly deserves to persist in time and if there is a slight risk of chemical transference to me I’m inclined to risk it.
Who knows, maybe I’ll get super powers, and become an action hero!

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