Materials, their sensations and how they affect your well-being.
The article (below in English) examines the sensations created from the materials we use to build our homes.
A la porte de la maison qui viendra frapper ?
Une porte ouverte on entre
Une porte fermée un antre
Le monde bat de l’autre côté de ma porte.
(At the door of the house who will come knocking?
An open door, we enter
A closed door, a den
The world pulse beats beyond my door.)
-Pierre Albert Birot1
The house is a place of protection, a place we can retreat to. The philosopher Gaston Bachelard declared that the importance of a house lies in its ability to protect and shelter our daydreaming. It “allows one to dream in peace.”2
But what is it about the house that stimulates the imagination? What inspires the daydreams?
Le marché du soleil est entré dans la chambre
Et la chambre dans la tête bourdonnante.
(The market of the sun has come into my room
And the room into my buzzing head)
– Tristan Tzara3
When nature enters our home, it affects us in ways that are surprising and crucial to our well-being. Sunlight striking the walls creates a play of shadows and mystery which can exhilarate. Views of natural scenes never get old and even on the darkest, rainiest days can be spellbinding.
There is also no place like home to experience the sense of touch. Whether walking barefoot across a stone floor or sitting down at a natural wood table, it is the place we come into the most visceral contact with our surroundings.
The temperatures and textures of the materials in our home have a profound effect on how we feel. When it is cold outside, the warmth of a stone surface that has been baking in the sunlight is irresistible. But that same stone can also give us relief from the heat by storing cooler temperatures from the night.
It is because of the transformative nature of stone that many anthropologists believe it was used as a sacred material in ancient cultures. The texture of the stone changes with weathering and abrasion. A rough stone with sharp edges can be polished into a smooth, round form after being tumbled for years in a river. The complex crystal structure also changes color and visual form as the light striking it moves and changes.
Le château est sa coquille
(The manor is its shell)
– Bernard Palissy4
Shells are the essence of protection, and their various forms intrigue us. The shell of the ammonite has especially been a source of fascination and mystery throughout human history. Mathematicians have studied its complex geometrical patterns since the time of ancient Greece, but it wasn’t until 1982 that these patterns were defined by Benoit Mandelbrot in his paper, “The Fractal Geometry of Nature”.5
Fractals are not just found in spiraling shells, but throughout natural formation and growth. They reoccur in progressively smaller scales down to the microscopic level. As powerful as the sense of touch is, our visual connection to fractal patterns can alter our state of mind instantly and profoundly.
Researchers have noted even a few seconds of visually encountering a natural pattern “has quantifiable health benefits, including reduced stress, improved cognitive functioning, enhanced creativity and problem solving, heightened appreciation for nature and positive emotions.”6
Wood has an especially pronounced influence on us. When we see it, our blood pressure lowers and at the same time, our pulse quickens.7 It’s why writers and artists retreat to their timber cabins on the hillsides. Finish spas certainly would not have the same effect on us were they to be made of another material.
La cellule de moi-même emplit d’étonnement
La muraille peinte à la chaux de mon secret
– Pierre-Jean Jouve8
Although the complete absence of natural materials and elements in our surroundings can cause despondency, it is also important to have a sense of balance and control. Think of an art museum with its minimalist, white-washed walls. Were they to be full of color, patterns and complexity, the artwork with its inspiration and secrets would be lost.
As it is with music, it is the arrangement that makes the difference. Peter Zumthor refers to this in his book, Atmospheres, “There’s a critical proximity between materials, depending on the type of material and its weight. You can combine different materials in a building, and there’s a certain point where you’ll find they’re too far away from each other to react, and there’s a point where they’re too close together, and that kills them.”9
For Zumthor, it is the composition as a whole that generates a meaningful situation for the materials and allows them to “assume a poetic quality”10. There needs to be a clear structure, an ordered, harmonic simplicity, that allows us to not be overwhelmed by nature and creates a place for us within it.
We need to control when the door is open and when it is closed.
1, 2, 3, 4, 8 The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, 1964 The Orion Press, Inc.
5, 6. Working with Fractals, Rita Trombin, 2020 Terrapin Bright Green LLC
7. Viewing Nature Scenes Positively Affects Recovery of Autonomic Function Following Acute-Mental Stress, Brown, Barton & Gladwell, PubMed 2013
9. Atmospheres, Peter Zumthor, 2006 Birkhauser
10. Thinking Architecture, Peter Zumthor, 2010 Birkhauser
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