Shaping extremely strong wood from easily grown species rather than destroying tropical or equatorial forests: a dream which is coming true.

At the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), a team of scientists led by Parviz Navi has devoted over 10 years of research to this challenge. In the early 2000s, their lab successfully produced 4cm samples of densified wood through a complex treatment combining pressure, temperature and steam to eliminate porosity. Even better, this processing gives the object a stable shape, without any resin or other additive – the piece remains pure wood.

In 2010, the EPFL+ECAL Lab took over the machine and research results to take the project to the next level by increasing object size and highlighting the diversity of possible textures and shapes. In cooperation with the machine’s designer Fred Girardet and the Laboratory for Timber Constructions (IBOIS-EPFL), the EPFL+ECAL Lab was able to offer three groups of designers the opportunity to explore the material’s potential and to devise specific functions and a formal language.

BIG-GAME (Switzerland) with its trio made up of Grégoire Jeanmonod, Elric Petit and Augustin Scott de Martinville, the founders of Normal Studio Jean-François Dingjian and Eloi Chafaï in Paris, as well as young French designer Léa Longis, took up the challenge. Their initial series of objects is the subject of the exhibition.



BIG-GAME confront users with the quality of densified wood to its touch as well as its strength. They explore the potential of differencial densification rate: maximum near the door to refine the shape and match the mechanical requirements, reduced under the hand to keep a soft and more bulky feeling. They also use toughness and plasticity of the process to obtain an object from a single piece of wood to illustrate the material’s properties in pure lines.


BOXES, Léa Longis

Léa Longis, as she was graduating at ENSCI-Les Ateliers (Paris), had already largely contributed to pioneering initial shaping strategies for the material. She thus continued her research on the theme of boxes so as to turn densified wood into a noble material, using the codes of iconic precious materials such as cut crystal and its facets to apply them to wood. The result is a series of boxes with a lid in densified wood, reminiscent of those which adorned 19th century sitting rooms. Her interpretation, however, is radically contemporary.


HEADPHONES, Normal Studio

Normal Studio boldly pushes the limits of densification to renew our relationship to headphones. The texture, contours and volume evolution of the wood offer a unique experience giving both the material and the object a radically innovative status.


PRESSURE POINT, Paul Cocksedge for Wallpaper* Handmade

The collaboration with famous London designer Paul Cocksedge focuses on how to express the strength and fineness resulting from the densification process. Called Pressure Point, this shoe boasts a spruce high heel whose densification varies dramatically from the base to the tip. This difference in structure is shown not only by the shape of the heel itself, but also in the shoe’s leather: the amazing organic pattern is given by the microscope image of the wood structure, produced by Dr Tauno Jalanti – Microscan Service SA. This project was performed at the request of London-based magazine Wallpaper for its Handmade exhibition to be held in Milan in the framework of the world’s greatest design event.


Sous Pression, le bois densifié: March 27 to September 14, 2014
At la galerie d’actualité, 5e étage du musée des Arts décoratifs, 107 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris

Pressure point in Milan: 9 to April 13 2013
Wallpaper* Handmade at Leclettico, Via San Gregorio 39, Milano


DesignMuseum Helsinki