A fundamental love of the material

Editorials by Mathias Fridholm

This year, I took over as the new Director of Swedish Wood. I have spent the past 20 years selling and marketing wood as a raw material to the wood processing industry. The job has been exciting and taken me all over the world. The time that made the strongest mark on myself and my career was the 12 years that I lived in China. It was fantastic to live and work in a country undergoing such major change.

China has a long tradition of using wood in its buildings. Countless old temples and palaces have been constructed using posts and beams that are joined using traditional techniques. The buildings are often magnificent and I am amazed at how they could be built without modern tools.

We are all familiar with there being four elements, but did you know that wood is actually one of the five elements in Chinese philosophy? The others are fire, earth, metal and water. The elements are sometimes called the five phases, which are all interdependent. Wood feeds fire, fire creates earth (volcanoes, etc.), the earth contains metal, metal channels water (pipes) and water nourishes wood. But they are not just mutually dependent – they also control each other. Wood separates earth (tree roots), earth absorbs water, water extinguishes fire, fire melts metal and metal splits wood. Isn’t that a poetic idea!

During the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of recent decades, however, wood construction has rather taken a back seat in China. The huge influx of people into the cities prompted a need to build tall and fast, which led to a focus on other materials. But I am pleased to report that the Chinese authorities are expressing rapidly growing interest in a return to building in wood. The modern, industrial wood construction that has developed in Europe, not least in Sweden, should also be easy to adapt to the Chinese construction market. Swedish Wood works actively, via the organisation European Wood, on delivering knowledge and inspiration to China. It remains to be seen how long it takes for more widespread wood construction in China, but one thing we can be sure about: the fundamental love of wood as a beautiful and natural material is firmly rooted in the huge nation to the East.

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