Plywood is light but strong; is easily cut and shaped using traditional wood-work tools and can be used with large-scale, production-line factory methods for manufacture … so, in other words, it does not require a cabinet maker at a work bench. Plywood can be stained and varnished or painted so it is relatively robust and in theory can be sanded down, edges smoothed, and a new finish applied so, all in all, for half a century it was seen as an ideal material for school furniture.
Of course for several decades the bright colours, wipe-clean surfaces and the fun shapes that are possible, with smooth corners and no splinters, has made moulded plastic furniture a popular choice for nursery-school furniture and mdf is now ubiquitous for table tops but presumably plywood could become popular again as it is seen as having the added benefit of being a natural and sustainable material.
The metal-framed desk and chair were designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1955 for Munkegård School. The desk top with its distinct fold under shape to create a lower shelf for spare books, bags and lunch, has a top surface that is laminated with linoleum. The chair is a scaled down version of the Series 7 design.
The wooden desk with two chairs dates from 1962 and was designed for a school in Mols by Børge Mogensen for Munch Møbler. The desk and chair frames are in beech and the desk top in blockboard - stronger but heavier than plywood - but the chair seat is shaped plywood. Note the fantastic photograph that shows how different sizes of chair and desk could provide furniture for children through their whole time at a school.
Both sets of school furniture are in the current exhibition - Century of the Child - at Designmuseum Danmark. The exhibition continues until 30 August 2015.