The American Friends of the V&A are delighted to have supported Plywood: Material of the Modern World, which opened in The Porter Gallery at the V&A on July 15, 2017 and runs until November 12, 2017.

Ice-skating shelters, designed by Patkau Architects, Vancouver, in 2011, built by Isokon Plus, London, in 2017. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Light, strong, affordable and versatile, plywood is the unlikely material behind an eclectic array of ground-breaking designs, celebrated in this world-first exhibition. Plywood explores the near-ubiquitous material’s global impact and history from the 1850s to the present day.

Used to construct everything – from a tube that housed an experimental elevated railway in 1867 New York to hatboxes, tea chests, surfboards and skateboards – plywood has been embraced by designers, architects and engineers, with each successive generation finding ever-more innovative ways to shape, mould, cut and fix it.

Alvar Aalto, armchair, Finland, 1930 © Alvar Aalto Museum, Photograph Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In The John Madejski Garden the American Friends of the V&A have supported the installation of a cluster of ice skating shelters designed by Patkau Architects. Visitors are invited to take a seat in the structures which are made by bending flexible plywood sheets and attaching them to a timber frame to create sculptural forms. The shelters were originally designed to sit on a frozen river in Winnipeg, Canada, to provide shelter on the skating trails during the city’s long winter months.

Other highlights of the exhibition include a de Havilland Mosquito – the fastest and highest-flying aeroplane of WWII,  a 1937 plywood house reconstructed to full scale, the iconic Paimio chair by Alvar Aalto and a 1967 formula two racing car.

British de Havilland Mosquito, 1941 © de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The exhibition has received excellent press reviews, with The Guardian calling it an “eye-opening show” that “tells the astonishing story of this age-old yet perennially modern material”, and a detailed preview in The Spectator described it as “a gathering of bizarre, unexpected and beautiful objects and a social history, all rolled into one”.

The exhibition is supported by the American Friends of the V&A and sponsored by MADE.COM.