V&A Sackler Courtyard and Plywood Exhibition
September 2017
By Rosie Jones

In August we went on an Archio Summer Trip to the V& A and the Serpentine Pavilion, joined by our Teesdale Street neighbours and collaborators, Foster Structures. Forecasts of torrential summer downpours didn’t dampen spirits as we set off en masse from Bethnal Green to South Kensington.

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For Part 1 of our trip, we went to the V&A to visit AL_A’s Sackler Courtyard, a new entrance and underground gallery opened to the public in June 2017. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the vast folding white landscape we had seen in visualisations is actually made up of a series of handmade porcelain tiles, decorated with colourful geometric patterns. We particularly enjoyed the new thick aluminium gates in the Aston Webb Screen on Exhibition Road. The gates are decorated with a regular grid of circular perforations. In various places, the grid distorts subtly to mark the location of shrapnel damage caused to the screen during the Second World War. The new gallery space is not currently open to visitors, but we are looking forward to returning to see the rest of the AL_A project.

While at the V&A we also went to the Plywood exhibition in the Porter gallery. This excellent exhibition tells the story of plywood from 19thcentury prototype railways, to well-known Scandinavian bent plywood furniture, to its more recent use in open-source CNC-cut house construction. Exhibits included plywood cars, planes, trains, boats, chairs and handbags, many suspended dramatically from the ceiling of the gallery. Films of rotary lathes in action - unravelling an entire tree into metres of veneer in a matter of seconds - were particularly captivating. Plywood is formed by gluing layers of this veneer together, with the grain direction alternating in each layer to give the material its strength and stiffness. Different veneers can be applied to the outermost face of the sheet to give the plywood a broad range of different appearances.

After this brief respite from the rain inside the V&A, we headed out into Hyde Park for Part 2 of our trip.