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Why are textures like concrete, rusty steel, and other rigid industrial materials, beyond structure, accepted in design?

I once walked into this dry concrete building, on a corner at the beginning of Kiyamachi Street in Kyoto. It lay next to a small shallow stream that sort of balanced the building’s seemingly cold demeanor. While slowly stepping down its stairs of steel rails, I couldn’t hold myself from wondering: Why are textures like concrete, rusty steel, and other rigid industrial materials, beyond structure, accepted in design?

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A big scratch on a white wall might signal authenticity and honesty - Image: No attribution required

Is it because the beauty of “the raw” lies, not in the aesthetic aspect, but in the psychological aspects of honesty, authenticity, and nostalgia, or is it because the raw, in its naked confidence, symbolizes strength and dominance?

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Does “the raw” symbolize strength and dominance in its naked confidence? - Image: No attribution required

Perhaps every texture can fulfill a certain emotional requirement that people may be seeking. One might turn to furry cushions, for instance, to shelter themselves with texture, not only when they’re cold, but when they’re insecure, in need of some emotional reassurance from an uncritical inanimate companion.

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The emotional reassurance of furry cushions in interiors, sheltering people with their cozy texture - Image: No attribution required

Opposed to my rather cold entrance to that building at Kiyamachi, my arrival at a residence just nearby was relatively warm. Opposed to rough concrete, a row of bamboo plants overshadowing a cluster of vertically aligned wooden planks greeted me. They seemed to have tarnished over time. I felt, outlandishly speaking, as if I could trust that wall. Was it the natural element that made me trust that lifeless object, or was it the taint that exhibited a sentimental element giving it a kind of wisdom that my grandparents sort of had?

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Bamboo and the beauty of its natural texture - Image: No attribution required

Haptics has a central role in sentimental perception. Touch is intimate and people crave tactility, which they extensively use in their social communications in most cultures (Pat on the shoulder, hug, kiss…) to express love, gratitude, support, or in some cases, even dominance.

To be hugged by a cozy pillow within four healing walls could be akin to being embraced by a person to a certain degree, and to be surrounded by four harsh walls that elucidate strength and power may have a similar effect to a cheering audience. Therefore, we might equally reinforce our minds with materiality, by putting out rough and rugged textures, like stone or hardwood.

In that way, the textures of the surfaces in our built environment might be mirroring the surfaces of our minds. Our seeking of various textures is almost like a constant renovation of our “mind’s surface walls.” We even feel the textures with our minds before we touch them, for their psychological impact seems to surpass distance.

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Don’t you feel the warmth of wood just by looking at it? - Image: No attribution required

With the rising deprivation of touch as a result of the furthering online amenities, which have dispensed human attention to a small screen, people can begin to realize the significance of bringing thoughtful tactile elements into their personal spaces. The significance of real architecture, as opposed to “online architecture,” is texture. The internet is abundant with texture-less 2D imageries, shades of color that are devoid of materiality, and a sense of direct and intimate engagement. Architecture is thus real and personal because of the materiality that it certifies.

Being aware of people’s aesthetic perception of textures is imperative in decoration, product design, and architectural design. Designers usually and merely emphasize the visual aspect of architecture, the form, and subdue other sensory realms, which their lack, might be causing destitution in the built environment, diminishing the space’s ability to inspire.

Texture delivers information that generates emotional qualities and projections. A wet marble might be seen as dangerous, and a field of grass could trigger safety. Silk, fur, and wood may elicit the emotion of happiness, a tile or a mat with hard-appealing spikes may elicit the emotion of fear, clay may cause disgust, sandpaper may elicit anger, granite could provoke sadness, and rubber can prompt surprise.

Different textures nudge different surfaces of the brain, thus the surfaces on our walls may trigger the surfaces in our minds.

Concrete is daring and authorizing, suggests focus and monotony, the same monotony that discipline requires to finish arduous work. Consequently, concrete may suit offices and work environments most, a place, supposedly, with minimal distractions. Stone is confident and natural, seating hints of nature inside. Wood, with all its diverse species, and tones, brings in friendliness and comfort. On the other hand, inferior architecture can imperceptibly endorse stress and stimulate fatigue.

It is within an architect’s commitment to select a balance of materials that pacifies, invigorates, and gives a spirit to the place.

Sichuan Agricultural University, in a 2017 study, suggested that observing bamboo can compose a tense mind and enhance its concentration. Hence, creating an interior space using bamboo contributes to producing a serene space.

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Bamboo brought to a desk - Image: No attribution required

A professor from North Kyushu University studied the physiological functions of Igusa (藺草), commonly used in the Tatami mats of traditional Japanese interiors, and discovered that it contributes to children’s concentration during studying by producing an aromatherapy effect, a fresh grassy smell which causes people to feel relaxed.

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Igusa (藺草), commonly used in Tatami mats in traditional Japanese interiors - Image: No attribution required

Ancient wisdom reveals that people were historically aware of the benefits of natural materials in architecture and its interiors. Though, it seems like human seeking is no longer owned by delight, but by profit, which has been progressively possessing people’s daily pursuits.

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Japanese Machiya Townhouses were constructed mostly using natural materials. Even paper prevailed in its shoji screens, lanterns, and other daily life elements - Image: No attribution required

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A Courtyard in Barcelona, Spain - Image: No attribution required

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A garden in Suzhou, China - Image: No attribution required

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A private courtyard in Manduria, Province of Taranto, Italy - Image: No attribution required

Architects ought to be artisans of texture, to support and aid a more comfortable life with an awareness of textural arrangement and its influence on psychology. People don’t only follow architecture to seek shelter, but architecture follows them as well, with its inevitable textures, to seek their minds.

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People don’t only follow architecture to seek shelter, but architecture follows them as well, with its inevitable textures, to seek their minds - Image: No attribution required


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