imitation, dissimulation, material, architecture, skeuomorphism, mutation
Besides giving objects a physical form, material qualities contribute to and codify the way we understand architecture. From the pictorial aesthetics of the picturesque and the sublime expressed in Henry Hobson Richardson’s rusticated stone, to the purity of whiteness declared by Le Corbusier in “The Law of Ripolin”, to the brutalist roughness expressed in Alison & Peter Smithson’s raw concrete surfaces; materiality is delivered through imitation or dissimulation in the semantic field of architecture. Beginning in the late 18th century, Carlo Lodoli’s doctrine of truth in materials launched a rebellion against imitated materiality and decorated wallpaper. While this polemic sough to return architecture to fundamentals, it undermined Vitruvian notions of the timber origins of decorated details. In the mid-19th century, the cultural and formal implications of material transformation were revisited by Gottfried Semper in his theory of style. This phenomenon of transformation is also prominent in the early modern movement; when material such as iron, steel, and concrete were first introduced into architecture, they were assembled with methods derived from stone and timber construction. Alongside the imitation of material qualities, surfacing techniques which dissimulate load-bearing forces were also a popular modernist operation. The surface manifests the architect’s ideology by rendering the desired image, even though a different material supporting the weight remains invisible. Although the doctrine of truth in materials and the phenomena of imitation and dissimulation seem contrary, they share fundamental similarity which aligns materials with preconceived qualities. Today, materiality often arises as a simulacrum, due to economic and manufacturing logics. The durability once symbolized by stone has been abandoned in favor of its image transmitted through thin façade cladding, whereas the nostalgia for wood’s organic warmth is now communicated as image or texture on a layer of plastic. Expanding on this irony, this thesis challenges the connection between materiality and its corresponding mental concept, undermines moral approaches to material semantics, and sidesteps outdated oppositions between real and fake, authentic and simulated.
Lin, Weiqiao, "The Treachery of Architectural Matter" (2019). Architecture Senior Theses. 433.
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