Now on display at Matadero Madrid, as part of Madrid Design Festival 2023, the exhibition focuses on three sustainable American hardwoods
Photography by Uxio da Vila featuring La Manada Perdida by Studio Inma Bermúdez
Words by Clare Dowdy
A century ago, Madrid’s municipal architect Luis Bellido was putting the finishing touches to the Spanish capital’s new 165 sq m slaughterhouse and livestock market. Now, this stately, sprawling brick complex houses a herd of a different kind.
In the entrance stand five elongated “beasts” with horns (or handles?) and saddles (or seats?). But they’re not here to be butchered or sold off. Instead, visitors are encouraged to climb on them, lean against them, even pet them.
Titled The Lost Herd, they’re the work of Studio Inma Bermúdez, the high-profile design duo best known for their work for IKEA. This is their response to a brief from the American Hardwood Export Council to do something fun with wood for its exhibition Natural Connections – part of Madrid Design Festival 2023.
Photography by Uxio da Vila featuring Wrap by Jorge Penadés
Because in 2006, the slaughterhouse reinvented itself as an arts centre, The Lost Herd is not so out of place. Nor are Natural Connections’ other two exhibits: some bleacher seating and a low shelving unit called Wrap by Jorge Penadés (who is also working with Majorca-based shoe brand Camper to redesign their stores); and a hammock-like suspended Cloud, by Álvaro Catalán de Ocón, best known for his PET Lamp shades made of woven recycled plastic.
All three go some way to show that wood is versatile and engaging, and that innovation is possible in the right hands. Penadés pushes the boat out, by taking cherry veneer of just 0.7mm thick, sticking two pieces together, rolling them into tubes strong enough to form a whole structure, via a series of ball joints made of cherry. That’s Natural Connections taken literally.
Meanwhile, Catalán de Ocón’s net-like cloud lights up above the Matadero’s utilitarian reception desk. Small balls and cylinders made of red oak, cherry and maple are strung together to comprise an electrified mesh that filters the light. By electing to create a piece with small components, he was able to work with planet-saving off-cuts.
Photography by Uxio da Vila featuring Nube by Alvaro Catalán de Ocón
Unsurprisingly, the anthropomorphic herd gained the most attention at the show’s launch. Helped, surely, by the fact that the four designers perched on one of the “animals” throughout the press conference. And perhaps it best fulfilled AHEC’s brief to connect ‘material and people in a playful, conscious and nature-focused way’.
But to make a sturdy structure from mere veneer demonstrates thinking outside the box. And perhaps Wrap fulfilled AHEC’s broader ambition the most convincingly. For as the hardwood trade association for North America, AHEC’s mission is to highlight the delights of the many sustainable American hardwoods – red oak, maple, cherry et al – and thereby wean designers, architects and consumers off their over-used default choices.
And this being a project to promote sustainability, rather than ditching the designs after the festival, Natural Connections will linger in the Matadero for a year. Another good reason for art lovers and others to hang out at Bellido’s abattoir. And while lounging against one of the herd, they might make the “natural connection” with Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 science fiction-infused anti-war novel.
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