Walnut from Georgia: Traces of Vernacular Design

Artist: Suzanne Harris-Brandts 


This tile represents Georgia’s architectural styles and history through its pattern, material, and technique. The pattern carved into the walnut mimics precast concrete panel motifs found throughout the former Soviet Union in the late 20th century. The walnut wood, sourced from the Imereti Region in the Republic of Georgia, symbolizes Georgia’s culture. Walnut trees grow throughout the region, and the nuts are integral to local cuisine. The wood serves many purposes, including architecture, furniture, toys, and cutting boards. Finally, the technique is a reminder of carving techniques used in early 20th-century Georgian vernacular wood architecture. 


A piece of walnut wood was cut and planed to the specified dimensions. Then, a simple, raised-relief pattern was hand-carved into the walnut with a chisel. Finally, the walnut was finished with mineral oil and beeswax to highlight the wood’s natural colour and longitudinal grain.


The tile is designed to embody ideas of synthesis and comparison across architecture, urbanism, conservation, and sustainability. In circumstances when design typologies span large regions like the former USSR, studying local anomalies, contingencies, and distinctive expressions is equally as important as the more universal similarities.  


The tensions between the local and universal inform our understanding of how architectural knowledge and processes of making both transfer and evolve. This notion is represented in the tile juxtaposed with early 20th-century wood vernacular techniques and late 20th-century prefabricated concrete motifs. The tile’s content proposes a wide range of possibilities for how we think about materiality and making in architecture.  


The tile’s materiality and contextual significance reflect Assistant Professor Suzanne Harris-Brandts’ research at the Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism.