'CITY's Bench', a 4.68m outdoor bench made from thermally-modified American Ash and designed by respected Emirati designer Khalid Shafar, has attracted significant attention and interest at Dubai's 'Meet d3'.

The project was a collaboration between Khalid Shafar, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) – the leading international trade association for the American hardwood industry – and Dubai Design District (d3), a purpose-built community dedicated to promoting and nurturing emerging local talent. A total of four benches, which were produced from thermally-modified American Ash (Cambia Ash) donated by Northland Forest Products, were on display for the duration of the three-day festival.

Britton Timbers is a member of the American Hardwood Export Council and works closely with Northland Forest Products. Dominic McNeil of Britton Timbers International says American Ash-based Cambia has found a strong market in Australia.

"Cambia Ash's attractive appearance and extraordinary ability to withstand extreme weather has made it ideal for Australia's challenging climate. We import a large range of American hardwoods and Cambia Ash is a popular choice for Architects, designers and developers."

According to Roderick Wiles, AHEC’s Regional Director, thermal modification is a carefully controlled heating process, which when applied to a select few American hardwood species, turns non-durable interior timber in to a material that can be used outside and even in high moisture environments. Shafar’s decision to produce a bench for external use has not only showcased this beautiful timber to the general public but will also test the durability of the material against the UAE’s harsh climate.

From form to function, there is a place for every individual on Shafar’s bench, regardless of his or her age, size, or ability. The outer frame of the bench is made from the thermally-modified Cambia Ash, while the inner part is filled with building blocks to reflect the location of d3 and the construction surrounding it. “This gives the interior of the bench an industrial look which is in contradiction to the clean, neat outer wooden frame.” said Khalid Shafar.

Shafar designed the large-scale bench to stand out amongst the other pieces on display and serve in a public setting by allowing more people to share the space and connect and appreciate the raw, textures, patterns and dark colour of the Cambia Ash. By showcasing the bench at ‘Meet d3’, AHEC demonstrated the increased dimensional stability and decay resistance of Cambia which significantly extends the service life and reduces the maintenance requirements of the bench.

According to AHEC’s Roderick Wiles, technology is a key part of the future for using wood externally.

"The market is growing and designers and architects want to use wood, but it has to perform well, look good, and last, or it just won't compete. Thermal-modification uses no chemicals, improves stability and has a very low environmental impact relative to other material solutions. By processing wood produced from America's well‐managed hardwood forests, thermally-modification provides a high quality, environmentally-friendly and sustainable alternative to some imported tropical hardwood species."