When we were designing a new building for Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, the proposed site was waste land with a few self-sown plane trees growing on it. These had to be removed to allow development to take place, so I selected the best tree and put it to one side, with the intention of using it for a piece of furniture in the new building. More trees were planted in the school grounds to replace the ones we took down.
A small traditional timber-seasoning yard in the Cheshire countryside agreed to plank the log and air-dry it. The process took about a year, then it was gently kiln-dried to achieve the correct moisture content – about 15 per cent – for it to be worked. For many years our practice has maintained close links with skilled craftsmen, so I naturally wanted one of these to make the bench and we discussed together the best utilisation of the wood.
The plane tree belongs to the acer family. Its timber has similar characteristics to the white wood of the sycamore but is more honey coloured, turning darker when exposed to ultraviolet light. This gives it plenty of character. It is hard, close grained and has a variety of grain types including one commonly known as lace-wood, produced when the log is quarter sawn.
The bench is a sculptural piece located in the entrance hall of the school. In an abstract way it makes reference to the form and detail of musical instruments. It is much admired for its design and its reference to the site before we started.