the need to touch it

Yeah, we’re talking about buildings and materials here people. Jeez. 😛

Since I was a kid I’ve always had this “thing” for texture, the way a material feels and how people react to that feeling. Sometimes it can be nothing more than a glance at a particular color used, other times there’s almost a sense of awe in the use of a material like a great expanse of metal panels, smooth, sleek with just a slight satin reflection.

My wife thinks I’m nuts because anytime we visit a new city, it’s not just the sights that I’m obsessed with, but also the colors, materials and textures of buildings. Yes, I do walk up to buildings and hug them. So what? That’s normal…..right?

So I’m wondering, as architects and designers, what is your favorite material to work with? Is there a building material, color, texture that, for whatever reason, is just a joy for you to use in a building design? Is there a particular material that just rubs you the wrong way and makes your face hurt?

Speaking personally, the materials that I enjoy the most, the ones that I’ve found to be the most versatile to design with and, quite frankly, a joy to detail are some often cliche “modernist” materials. But I don’t design with them because they are “en vogue” or “catchy” or “popular” or “in”. I enjoy designing and detailing them because when they are used properly, for me, they are simple, beautiful and lasting in their qualities. And here they are:

Concrete (block and poured/reinforced): Yes, I said it. I think concrete block masonry, CMU, whatever you call it, when used and detailed properly is beautiful. I like to touch it, run my hands over it, whisper to it….wait, I mean….uh…nevermind. Moving on. 🙂 Same goes for poured concrete.

Metal Panels (insulated/non-insulated): Any self respecting architect should get an “archi-chubby” when in the presence of well installed metal panel wall systems. When the joints are tight and straight, the powder coated colors shimmering in the sunlight. Oh, it’s just a joy to see.

Gypsum board walls: Now, if we’re talking about the one element that just brings a smile to my face I gotta go with gypsum board walls. BUT, it has to be a straight, flat, plum, WHITE gypsum board wall. No base, no crown, with a simple 1/4″-1/2″ reveal at top and bottom. Oh, I swoon. 😉

And it’s not really so much the look and feel of it (though it is part of it), but it’s mostly about the detailing that went in to that wall as well as the patience and skill it takes to fabricate it properly. While drywall mud is a forgiving material to work with, you’ve still got to know how to properly apply and use it in order to get the desired effect. If the mud is too dry it will clump up and won’t smooth out; if it’s too wet it goes on too thin and takes too long to dry and you could get running dips or pulling of the tape. It’s gotta be right. This is also the material that most makes my face hurt when I see a sloppily made wall. You know the one, we’ve all seen them on COUNTLESS jobs. There are bubbles, voids, tape missing, lines that run and weren’t sanded properly, walls that were sanded too much and have paper showing through. OH the list goes on. Gypsum board walls can easily be either the most beautiful addition to a project or the most hideous eye-sore to behold.

But what intrigues me most about these three materials is the effect and the contrast that they make when used together. And there are very different details that have to be considered when joining these materials in different combinations.

For instance, when detailing the joint of a poured concrete wall and a gypsum board wall there is a very different coefficient of expansion that has to be taken into account, so typically you will have some sort of broken joint – either a true expansion joint or some kind of control joint. This joint creates a visual bridge between concrete that is rough and heavy and just….BUTCH, for lack of a better term. Even when ground and polished it LOOKS like it should be rough. While gypsum board (again when done properly) is very smooth and light in appearance. Ethereal even. The two together create a stark contrast that is very beautiful.

I could keep going on and on about my favorite materials, but I want to hear about your favorite materials. What are they and why?

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