Notebook:

Experiencing the Home: The Materials of Time

08/03/17

The patina of wear. Source: wellscathedral.org.uk.

The last century has seen the rapid development and availability of man-made construction products. Considered alongside the long-established list of natural materials in construction and decoration, the abundance of material choice used in the home is staggering. Whilst generally a positive observation, such an array of choice demands of us the bewildering responsibility of decision. It is therefore important that such decisions are well considered and our motives honest. Yet, with cost and aesthetics arguably the biggest decision-driver within our society, our homes are at risk of losing their integrity due to lack of other considerations, namely the effect and impact a chosen material has on the spaces we live in.

Consider natural materials such as brick, stone and wood. Such materials express their age and invite question as to their origins and their history of human use clearly visible in their scarred surfaces. They invite the habitant to draw close, with their natural, varied grain and profile encouraging the eye to touch, ready for the haptic sense to confirm what the eye assumed; their touch connects the habitant with former generations. This brings to mind the visible patina of wear on an historical stone staircase. As feet connect with each step, one is immediately connected to the people of history through the shared experience of touch.

Contrast this with the materials of the recent modernist movement and its dominant use of structural steel, glass sheets and enamelled metals. Such materials are smooth, hard and cold to the touch, free from corrosion and weathering. Its architecture is arguably timeless, with no trace of material age. Their clean lines and lack of decoration encourage forward-thinking, paying reference only to the future with no trace of a time gone by.

Materials have a story to tell, whether of fact (history) or fiction (future). They can promote peace or inflict drama. They can provide a warm welcome or a cold shoulder, encourage movement or invite interaction. They can summon rest or demand effort. Material choices play a very important role when designing architecture and the home. Each brings with it its own narrative, its own experience, ready to be told or rewritten.

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