Truth to Materials
‘Truth to materials’ is a principle of modern architecture that states that the nature of any material should not be hidden but, rather, celebrated for what it is, and that the qualities of each material should dictate the way in which it is used. The concept was advocated by AWN Pugin and developed by John Ruskin, in writings such as his extended essay ‘The Seven Lamps of Architecture’, in which he spoke of an ‘honest and unpretending’ architecture.
Arts & Crafts
These principles had a strong influence on William Morris and became a central tenet of the Arts & Crafts movement. Born out of a reaction against the industrial revolution and the arrival of mass production, the movement believed in protecting and drawing attention to the natural qualities of materials, using them with simple honesty and integrity rather than concealing them, changing them or making them look like other (perhaps more expensive) materials; to do this would be visual deception and a betrayal of the original material.
Furniture, for example, would be solid wood rather than veneer, with dovetail joints left exposed and even chisel marks visible; some pieces were left unfinished to create a deliberately rustic look. Hammer marks could clearly be seen on copper and silverware, making it obvious to all that the object was handmade by a craftsman, using traditional techniques, and not mass-produced in a factory.
The Arts & Crafts belief in truth to materials went on to influence other movements and designers, among them 1920s Bauhaus, the lives and work of Charles and Ray Eames, and the Béton Brut (‘raw concrete’) architecture of the 1960s and 70s.
In 1508’s award-winning Project Elizabeth, the natural qualities of concrete and steel are used to their full potential. The huge sheets of weathered steel will be allowed to age naturally and beautifully over time, and the innate strength and imposing nature of concrete is in plain sight, for all to see. It is the simplicity and rawness of the materials that shape and define the nature of the space.
Truth to materials in 21st century
Certain aspects of the Arts & Crafts movement’s principles – truth to materials, honesty in construction and the revival of craftsmanship – stand true today at the luxury end of the market, and are central to 1508 London’s own ethos. Now, as in the late 19th century, we’re seeing a renewed interest in traditional craftsmanship – a backlash against the homogenous mass production and cheap materials that are made to look like something they’re not. People are increasingly rejecting our ‘throwaway culture’ and are instead looking to invest in well-crafted, timeless pieces made by independent makers.
1508 London’s 21st century take on ‘truth to materials’ centres around quality, craftsmanship and uniqueness; it’s about sustainable materials that will stand the test of time; and it’s about creating simple, elegant and beautiful spaces. In the same way that 1508 believes in respecting and celebrating the heritage and architecture of the buildings we transform, so we also strive to stay true to the materials we work with.
In Project Pearl, a recent 1508 project in Belgravia, marble’s natural pattern is celebrated in all its beautiful abstract glory; the natural grain of wood becomes a recurring feature; and real leather is used to inlay the wardrobe door panels, where its beautifully soft texture and scent can be enjoyed.
‘Authenticity’ has become one of the buzzwords in the luxury market today. All materials have their pros and cons but, while it might have been more straightforward, cost effective and even, in some cases, practical to use oak veneer, marble-effect porcelain tiles or faux-leather inserts, this would an untruth; it would be creating an illusion of luxury.
Championing craftsmanship – Project Esra
In Project Esra, a modern private residence in Bebek, Istanbul, we focused on locally sourced materials and craftsmanship. The resulting modern, light and airy space takes inspiration from its surroundings, with frameless windows that allow uninterrupted views of the Bosphorus, emphasising the link between inside and out. Unique features include Turkish stone flooring throughout; a silver staircase panel that features ornate fretwork that is a modern interpretation of an ancient Selçuk pattern; and a kitchen island made from locally sourced blue onyx whose swirling, rippling pattern echoes the watery outlook.
Linking a design to its environment by way of the materials we use is not only a sustainable and ethical approach; it can also be a form of vernacular architecture that was once the norm. Again, we are seeing a growing tendency to return to the values of the past. Luxury doesn’t have to mean sourcing materials from the other side of the world – as Louise Wicksteed, Creative Director and Partner at 1508, says: ‘Context and provenance are so important – spaces that respond to their natural setting are always very powerful for me. Sourcing and working with local materials and craftsmanship creates context, which always grounds a design.’