By Petra Reinken
The Austrian Erwin Thoma is in his mid-fifties and a forester as well as an economist by trade. He owns a company that builds homes from solid wood – without any screws or glue. Thoma is also an author, and he has the following message: be like the spruce tree!
“The spruce is the least skilled tree there is”, Erwin Thoma said during an entertaining talk in Hollenstedt, which the local carpentry firm Holzbau Mojen had organised at the Weinkonzept winery in the town’s commercial district. Several hundred listeners came to learn more about the wonderful worlds of trees and solid wood construction. They also found out a little something about how they themselves could become a bit more like the spruce, the unskilled tree. “Spruce wood is flexible”, Thoma said. “The tree is rather narrow and its shallow roots leave room in the ground for others.” Still, the spruce has managed to assert itself virtually everywhere. “How is that possible?”
The answer to this question Thoma then went on to provide himself: “Everybody likes a spruce tree in the neighbourhood. It doesn’t hurt anyone, it is willing to share and it is tolerated by all. And that’s how it gets further than the competition.” It’s this willingness to cooperate that has become the creed for Thoma’s own life. Publishing his knowledge about forests, trees and solid wood construction in books, and thereby sharing it with others, has paid off in the form of many commissions, some from as far afield as Japan. „Trees don’t listen to McKinsey“, Thoma summarises – a dig at all the management consultants who propagate an elbow mentality.
In his poignant talk Thoma let his listeners experience parts of his family history, and especially the fact that he started his business together with his grandfather who always said: „You must use wood when it’s at its best – harvest it during a waning moon only.“ Thoma was sceptical – he had to be convinced to heed his grandfather’s advice. Today however, he says in his thick Austrian twang: „It’s crazy, the kind of stuff grandpa knew!“ His „moon trees“ have proven to be much more resilient against fungi and insects than trees that weren’t harvested during a waning moon. They also do not require chemical treatment, which transforms wood from a natural resource into hazardous waste.
Wood is also at its best when it is solid. Thoma has developed a method for solid wood construction that mortises individual layers and doesn’t require any screws or bolts made of metal. At the same time the material retains its outstanding properties regarding insulation, fire resistance and temperature consistency. During his career as a businessman Thoma has had to prove all these characteristics time and again in order to secure building permits. In cooperation with the medical professional Maximilian Moser he also proved that living in homes made of wood has many benefits for human health. It strengthens the immune and the nervous systems and ensures deeper sleep. The heartbeat slows down. Thoma himself seems perfect proof: At 55 years of age he is a man with boundless energy. His lecture continues to have an effect long after the evening itself has passed. It only really leaves one question unanswered: what to do with the brick house in which one lives?