Since its foundations in the 1930s, much of Artek‘s furniture has been crafted from carefully selected birch wood felled in central Finland. In adherence to aesthetic expectations, logs free of irregular markings have been preferred to give a clean look.
But with growing awareness around the effects of industrialzation on forests, the Finnish company recognised it was time to reassess its own processes.
To do so, Artek brought on board Formafantasma - a Rotterdam-based studio known for using design to question systems and propose new methods of working. “We agreed to give them full access to our supply chain,” says Marianne Goebl, managing director at Artek. “They then spoke to everyone – from politicians to eco warriors to scientists to learn about the Finnish forest.”
The studio then came back to Artek with a set of recommendations for improving their “union with the forest”, including making use of more of the tree within its products. “Overall, we came to the conclusion that we need a new aesthetic of sustainability [when it comes to wood],” Goebl adds.
These recommendations have manifested in a new type of wood that will be introduced across Artek’s furniture ranges – Wild Birch. As the name implies, Wild Birch embraces the stains and knots, and tracks left by insects which are becoming increasingly prevalent in Finnish timbers. “This new selection celebrates the quality of imperfection, in which natural marks are proudly shown, making every product unique,” Artek says in its release.
Wild Birch makes its debut this year, and will be used across five variations of Alvar Aalto’s Stool 60. Titled Villi – meaning wild in Finnish – the edition will become a permanent product in Artek’s range from 2024. In addition, there are four limited editions of Stool 60 designed with Formafantasma – Bark, Core, Knot, and Trail, each highlighting the wood feature after which it is named.
On the underneath of each stool is a descriptive label that acts as a product passport. It provides more information on the highlighted feature of the wood, and gives access to educational material compiled by Formafantasma. Limited to 90 pieces each, they are only available at Artek stores in Helsinki and Tokyo, and at the Stool 60 online store.
“This is where innovation sits in furniture right now, Goebl adds. “Our bodily functions in terms of sitting or standing are pretty much the same as they have been for a long time, but in materials – there’s a lot that’s still to happen, because resources are limited.”