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Relationship Between Textiles and Architecture

The Reconciliation of Craft in Architecture as Facilitated by Textiles


This dissertation analyses the enduring relationship between architecture and textiles. Using textiles as a facilitator, the wider relationship between craft and architecture will be explored. The link between architecture and textiles harkens back to an age when woven fibers provided the primitive dwelling of man, developed in various forms throughout history. The significance of this relationship will be examined in particular through the views of nineteenth century architect Gottfried Semper and twentieth century textile artist Anni Albers.

With technological advancement in the age of industrialisation, the apparent discourse and perceptions of textile use within the realm of architecture is explored. The distinction between textile use in art and architecture leads to the discussion of surface and structure within the built environment. The question as to what extent tactile and textile based materials allow us to humanise our built environment will be examined.

It could be argued that the development of indigenous design has now caught up with the pace of the twenty-first century’s needs and desire for communication and manufacturing. Architecture has reached a point where the contradiction between structure and ornament is no longer apparent. Ornamentation has now become an option, not just an unnecessary expense. A critical re-examination in attitude to that of the twentieth century ‘ornament is a crime’, aided by digitalisation is reviving textiles from its confines in the interior to a more multifunctional and overall structural state. It is arguable that this re-examination in attitude can lead to a reconciliation of craft within architecture. In examining the definition of craft within architecture, this dissertation will explore historical and contemporary aspects of designing and making in the process of creating buildings.

The future of textiles in architecture is being pioneered in contemporary design. Particular focus is given to the concepts, forms, patterns, materials, processes, technologies and practices that are being produced with the collaboration of textile architecture. While there is wide recognition for the visual aspect of textile in architecture, new aspects of tactile tectonics, sensuous and soft constructivism are growing acclaim. There is much evidence to suggest that the preoccupation of textile in contemporary design challenges traditional perception and the very structure of architecture itself.

The conclusion will argue that by applying the traditional idea of craftsmanship in the knowledge of designing and making as one holistic activity to new developments within textile inspired procedures, craft can be reconciled within architecture, as Seamus Heaney speaks of, ‘two orders of knowledge, the practical and the poetic’.[1] This can in turn transform contemporary building processes at a level suitable for today’s challenges in society and culture. This raises possibilities of how the concepts of the avant-garde designs of many of today’s more innovative architecture can be used and realised in the present state and future of architecture and the city.

Key words: textiles, humanise, visual, tactile, conceptual, hybrid, digital augmented-processes, making, craftsmanship

History, origin and relationship between textiles and architecture

The relationship between textiles and architecture starts with corresponding beginning. Their vast history starts from the role of providing shelter, shade and protection in the building envelope, the ‘skin’, originating from crudely stitched animal skins. The history, form and expression of physical woven construction and the use of membranes exist from the light tent structures of human habitation. The significance of the connection between the two disciplines allows and carries ‘complex imprints of geographical, cultural, social and personal influences.'[2]

Textiles are a powerful medium, rich with symbolic meaning and aesthetic significance. They remain ‘sources of communication and manifestations of power’, fibrous forms consisting in present day ‘fashions, vehicles, interior textiles, communication technologies and cutting-edge architecture'[3]. As people became more settled, and with the erection of more solid dwellings, textile use in architecture became somewhat neglected and confined to the interiors. There is the question of the practicality as to what extent textiles could continue to be used for weather and visual protection after the development of mechanisms and insulation within the built environment. Some traditional textile materials and structure have continued to be used to present day in some parts of the world; examples including coverings over markets and stalls and basic protection such as an umbrella in Nepal as shown below:

A review of the work of the nineteenth century German architect and theoretician Gottfried Semper (1803-1879) points to the significance of textiles and architecture. Semper remains certain that the ‘beginning of buildings coincides with the beginning of textiles’.[4] Throughout his work, Semper gave emphasis to textiles, offering a western perspective on his interpretations of the origin of architecture. He maintained that textile processes were the principal element, from which the ‘earliest basic structural artefact was that of the knot'[5]. Semper goes as far as to state that architecture originated from the primordial need to distinguish interior and exterior spaces with dividers, ‘fencing made of branches, for example, or hanging tapestries of woven grasses.'[6] Semper showed a high level of understanding of textile arts, its adaptability, transformable state and functional elements, seeking to:

“Transform raw materials with the appropriate properties into products, whose common features are great pliancy and considerable absolute strength, sometimes serving in threaded and banded forms as bindings and fastenings, sometimes used as pliant surfaces to cover, to hold, to dress, to enclose, and so forth”[7]

There is much evidence to suggest that textiles share an indissoluble links with architecture, dress and the ‘fabric of society.'[8] Sempers theory’s on fabric encompasses his principle of ‘bekelidungsprinzip’ (dressing), that rather than an abstract skin, the fabric and façade of an architectural space is a functional part of the structure, ‘a tectonic figuration conceived according to the purpose and convenience of the use expected from a building.'[9] His ideas of the relationship between the architectural façade as a dressing and skin refer to how cloth could be used to transform the human figure. However, Semper understood a ‘buildings aesthetic, symbolic and even spiritual significance to reside in its decorative surface.'[10] He believed that over time, memory informed building types, retaining the ‘symbolic forms of their earliest architectural predecessors’. He believed the geometric patterns of brick and stone walls were ‘an active memory of the ancient weavings from which they were derived’. [11] This leads us to the perception of tactile and textile qualities within the built environment.

Attitudes and perceptions towards tactile and textile use in the built environment

The previous chapter emphasises the importance of textile as a structure, distinguisher between the interior and exterior and establishing a sense of place. While he is adamant about the relevance of textiles within architecture, it is arguable that for centuries the value of textiles as a material was reduced to little significance. Furthermore, textiles can be seen to have been largely excluded from use in a majority of architecture theory and production. It could be argued that one aspect of textiles being somewhat dismissed within the realm of architecture is a result of architecture being portrayed as exclusive and elitist. The separation between textiles and architecture can be seen as dating form the Renaissance. There existed prejudicial distinctions between the importance of ‘minor’ arts such as craft and textiles, and the ‘major’ arts of architecture. Distinctions as the art critic Barbara Rose states in New York Magazine, 1972, ‘imposed at the end of the Middle Ages when the guilds disappeared to be replaced by the Renaissance academies.'[12]

While movements such as Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts pointed towards architecture that had a direct relationship with arts, the discourse between crafts could be seen to be at its highest point during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the event of industrialisation and modernism. The modernist purist concept lay in the emphasis on purism and functionalism of the architecture itself. It can be argued that the architectural focus on rationalism began to isolate and neglect the spiritual and humanising qualities of a building.

The conflicting aspects between the modern movement and a lack of humanistic architecture can be seen through various sources. Adolf Loos twentieth century manifesto stating the removal of ornamentation is synonymous with ‘the evolution of culture'[13], had a large impact on the development of our built environment. Some feel that this restricted us from:

“A language in which visual thoughts, worldly ideas, communal ethos, and memories may be directly deposited and communicated within the substance of material objects.”[14]

While architects such as Le Corbusier clearly expressed their rejection of ornament, believing in that ‘form follows function’, contradictions can be clearly seen with his passion and participation in the tapestry revival. Tapestries have proved an impacting force in the discussion of textiles and architecture. While it is arguable that the high period of tapestry of art can be acknowledged to be the medieval era, new developments in the late 1920s, ‘instead of a woven picture on a wall, tapestry became a wall'[15]. He considered them a ‘mural-nomad’ – a portable mural.

The addition of hanging woven reliefs after the modernist era can be seen as an attempt to “humanise the ‘brutalist architecture’ of the 70s.” [16] A leading figure in avant-garde tapestry is maker Tadek Beutlich, originally from Poland. His work below, ‘Archangel’ is eight-foot wide, feathers made out of sisal and other fibres, portraying his mastered technique of weaving, braiding, wrapping, plaiting, ravelling and unravelling. His display of enormous weavings and fiber based installations of such scale and tactile nature, bringing into question the industry versus the hand.

Some textile arts can be seen as architectural by encompassing the surface they are attached to with such scale and magnitude. Sheila Hick’s wall hanging shows how thread begins to take form of a structure, manipulated and composed like a ‘single brick transformed through structural multiplication into a wall'[17]. The French philosopher Claude Levi Strauss goes as far as to comment on Hick’s work that:

“Nothing better than this art could provide altogether the adornment and the antidote for the functional, utilitarian architecture in which we are sentenced to dwell.”

The Bauhaus school, renowned for its promotion of a new architectural style, was actually founded for the arts and crafts. However emphasis passed to materials and construction in order to meet the social and technological requirements of the twentieth-century architecture and industrial design. Anni Albers is an example of a weaver at the Bauhaus whose tapestries reflect the chance and spirit of the time. It is arguable that as the ‘ethical and intellectual commitments were made and new materials and processes embraced, visceral and emotional aspects diminished.’ However the Bauhaus remains an important influence in the expression of materials and structure, rediscovering the ‘importance of expressing texture, structure, and broken colour and in finding new aspects of pattern with the vertical-horizontal format of woven cloth'[18].

Through an investigation between the similarities that exist between the art of weaving and the realisation of architecture, it is clear that the concepts overlap. Both of the nineteenth and twentieth century theorists Semper and Anni Albers, expressed how the similarities between architects and weavers go beyond surface appearance. Textiles within a space can affect the atmosphere, light, climate, acoustics and spatial arrangements. It is recognised that quality can be achieved by relating the physical properties of their work with aesthetic implications and the inherent and underlying aspect of structure. Anni Albers reinforces the architects and weavers common interests:

“Surface quality of material, that is matière, being mainly a quality of appearance, is an aesthetic quality and therefore a medium of the artist; while quality of inner structure is, above all, a matter of function and therefore the concern of the scientist and engineer. Sometimes material surface together with material structure are the main components of a work; in textile works for instance, specifically in weavings or, on another scale, in works of architecture”[19] (really interesting but itsn’t is also an indictment that we don’t accept that surface also requires inherent structure)

Albers reinforces the importance of textiles within the future of architecture, stating that “similarities between structural principles of weaving and those of architecture “textiles, so often no more than an after thought in planning, might take a place again as a contributing thought” [20].

Textile revival

For the last several decades, expanded by recent technological advances in textiles, the craft of using textiles conceptually and visually has been gaining recognition, reframing its domestic connotations and the confines of the interior. The next generation of textiles is ‘heralded by technological interfaces, programmable surfaces and architectonic capabilities.'[21]

A rejection of European modernism and ideas of universality, textiles as a craft is covering new conceptual ground. Textiles is forging an ever closer relationship with architecture, the two disciplines merging with surface and structure. New sources of sustainable materials are providing another aspect into how the human body is experiences and the urban environment built. Computer technology is inviting new relationships between craft and architecture:

“By exploiting the singular meanings of textile forms, structure, and processes, these textile artists are sometimes placed outside the general art discourse.”[22]

Textiles can be described as a medium “without clear, self-defining boundaries or limitations.”[23] Architects and artists from the 1990’s have shown increased vigour in unravelling the essential nature of textiles. Having recaptured with the historical importance of textiles, their attention turned to infusing the same level of emphasis into textiles within the built environment. Some have commented on the flexibility and adaptability of the medium, acting “as a vacuum sucking up new materials, techniques, and modes of expression. It has changed its form, size, psychology, and philosophical stance.”[24]

What unifies designers and artists as a driving force in the creative field of surface design is their enthusiasm for the dimensional possibilities inherent in cloth. There is a fascination by some about the idea of cloth holding the memory of action performed on it; “It is for each generation to expand the vocabulary of approaches to cloth.”[25] This aspect of working with fabric is directed towards the history and memory of fabric, focusing on expressionism; an emotional connection to objects and a tactile spatial awareness. It is arguable that the uniqueness of the craft of textiles in relation to design and architecture lays in the personal input from the individual maker. Critics and scholars have “long recognised that the quality of art lies in concept and quality of insight, not in materials and tools”.

(state diff textile design +art, textile designers that design +someone else manufactures-how fit into argument ? )

Matthew Koumis highlights how the establishment of textiles applied in a space can differ according to Western and Japanese environments. Koumis points out that in the West a basic element in the hanging of tapestries was to decorate walls of brick or stone, modifying and softening the space. However,

These walls didn’t exist in traditional Japanese homes where structures were supported by wooden beams. Some argue that the ‘’fasuma’ and shoj’ (made from wood and paper) exhibit ‘textile’ characteristics and they can take on ‘textile’ functions, ‘representing a further development of traditional textile membrane materials’.[26] While Japanese houses do not have designated purposes, textiles or tactile surfaces can be used to designate the function of the space:

“Their contents, and especially their design elements, vary according to the use of the room at any one time. Cloth is often involved in bringing about such changes.” [27]


Decoration has been used throughout time to apply meaning and a sense of belonging in shelters. It could be argued that textiles as a form of decoration play’s a vital role in establishing a building’s identity. It can describe the function, visually define the spaces and offer up claims as to a sense of the owner or users personality. While cost factor and lack of funding in public arts can be seen as one element, artistic adornment has now reached a stage, aided by digitalisation, that can now be seen as a viable option and not just an unnecessary expense. There is a hope that this can again restore people’s pride in their environment and a representation of their culture.

There is much argument to suggest that the diminished financial support for public art and corporate collections has led to:

“the convergence of industrial and digital production techniques in textiles capture the essence of labor-intensive hand-craft that is lost or cannot be achieved due to economic conditions and symbolize a contemporary design spirit.” [28]

A reversal in attitude towards Adolf Loos ‘Ornament is a Crime’ is taking place. As such, the work of artists, designers and architects are using technological advances that revive ornament and placing them at the forefront of design. Can you give evidence? And refs on this Designers such as Tord Boontje are reviving a new style of ornament taking the intention of pre-modern design and making it ‘new’. His investigation into the relationship between materials, structures, and surfaces, fleshing out the relationship between craft, design and technology.[29]

Boontje sees ‘design as a way of shaping the future of our world’,[30] combining nature and culture, the oldest and latest materials and technologies, forms, functions and colour combinations, and the (most importantly) Be clear about why you are using him as a ref aesthetic of ornament. The computer programmer Andrew Allenson who has collaborated with Boontje, sees a relationship between craft and technology, “Architects and designers can get bogged down in professional management and policy. Tord shows you can be more concerned with process and integrity and self-belief. I’ve always thought there is a similarity between craft and software.” [31] Again be sure what is improatnt about quote and why you need to use it – this starts on one track and only comes to the track you want at the end

Boontje has taken a new manifestation of function, understanding elements of design from a new point of view and rejoicing in the freedom it has engendered him. Engendered him to what? Like the architect and philospher….Morris (William?), Boontje looks at history and acknowledges a wish for social engagement and the beauty of use based on a response to nature, but Boontje has, as … says (date) “extended Morris’s legacy by achieving globalised industrial production and embracing the latest technology.” [32]

Fabric is used throughout Boontje’s work with technical innovation, laser-cutting and digital printing. Due to the unpredictable nature of fabric with its elasticity and deformational properties, Boontje realises the difficulty in working with fabric. This unpredictability can also be turned to advantage, collaborating with Swiss and Japanese manufacturers to create a clear expression. Textile and paper are filtered throughout his work, multiple layers being manipulated to create soft definitions of space with nature acting as a dominant influence. Boontje emphasises the importance of textiles and it’s relationship to ourselves and the wider society;

“For cloth, like the body, is a mediating surface through which we encounter the world.” [33]

Boontje is also crossing the discipline between textiles into architecture, experimenting in ‘fabric room’, as shown below. He states his fascination by ‘the way a draped fabric folds itself in very organic shapes’, and realises the insulating properties of the cloth, providing ‘warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer’. [34]

Explain the relevance of this – draw out the argument… and does this sit under title digital ornamentation

The possibility of craft within textile architecture

Link textile + craft. Say textiles craft wider issues of how craft enhance environment. Applicable to textiles – craftsmanship. End pt – clear argument

This dissertation will begin to examine the possibility of craft within textile architecture, first beginning with the definition of craftsmanship within architecture, to theories in relation to making with the hand and how the issue of craft resides with new technological advancement. Finally, I will come to a conclusion as to how the craft of textiles raises new possibilities towards a reconciliation of the traditional meaning of craftsmanship, combined with new methods and material matter through use of digital visualisation and technological manufacturing process. Henry van de Velde, the Belgian architect insisted that ‘crafts were the great creative reservoir for the future’. [35]

The definition and theories of craftsmanship

Historically in the creation of architecture, each form of knowledge was in the making and designing as one holistic activity. The definition of an architect stems from its origins as a chief builder:

“Etymologically derived from the Latin architectus, itself derived from the Greek arkhitekton (arkhi-, chief + tekton, builder)”[36]

The skilled craftsmanship of the builder came from the stonemason craft, “an imaginative and creative designer on one hand, who was comprehensively and intimately familiar, at the same time, with the means by which his design could be brought to realisation in actual stone and morter.”[37]

Using tools as extensions of the hand, the chief builder with a high degree of knowledge and skill ensured a synthesis between tool, material, structure and form. Malcolm McCullough (who is he?) defines a tool (When?) as ‘a moving entity whose use is initiated and actively guided by a human being, for whom it acts as an extension, towards a specific purpose.’ However, he clarifies what influences perceptions of craft in work as the ‘degree of personal participation, more than any degree of independence from machine technology’.[38]

Craft involves a union of the hand, tool and mind; craftsmanship arising from manual skill, training and experience. Juhani Pallasmaa argues that the skilled practice of a craft involves imagination of the hand. This skilled practice is at its highest art when it is working from existing knowledge, a ‘continuous meeting and joining of the hands of successive generations’. This generational knowledge, of knowing how to apply craft, has came from relaying on the traditional cultures daily spheres of work and life were an ‘endless passing of the hand skills and their product on to others’. [39] key point here is also succession – at its highest art when it is working from existing knowledge – generational knowledge/ experience /- better still ‘know how’ – but is that applicable to ‘new craft’? ummmmm interesting

Show acknowledge pt new craft doesn’t have same involvement, good desiner still basic knowledge cloth. May lose out, stil managing

There are various viewpoints about the interaction of the bodily action of the hand and the imagination. Pallasmaa argues that:

“The craftsman needs to develop specific relationships between thought and making, idea and execution, action and matter, learning and performance, self-identity and work, pride and humility. The craftsman need to embody the tool or instrument, internalize the nature of the material and eventually turn him/herself into his/her own product, either material or immaterial.” [40]

In examining the value of craft inherent in artisanal work and design, it is arguable that a joint effort of manual work and technology can produce a high standard of results. From my travels in India and Nepal it wasn’t uncommon to find manual work that is not merely artisanal but in fact comes very close to industrial work. Eg?-

Tadao Ando reflects on how the digital age has modified his design process, feeling the brain and hands work together, the hand an ‘extension of the thinking process’, however you ‘cannot ignore the creativity that computer technology can bring’. While acknowledging the new kind of creativity, he realises the important in being ‘able to move between those different worlds’.[41] Issey Miyake is under the opinion that the ‘joint power of technology and manual work enables us to revive the warmth of the human hand.’ While never forgetting the importance of tradition, Miyake’s concept of ‘Making Things’ involves creating things that make ‘life more agreeable in today’s v interestingsociety and less burdensome in tomorrows.’ He concludes that technology is not the most important thing:

‘it is always our brains, our thoughts, out hands, our bodies which express the most essential things, the foundation of all expression and the emotion they can provide.”[42] Indent left 1.27cm

It is arguable that a discourse in craft and design can only lead to ultimate failure within architecture and its wider implications. !! – in architecture or where? Richard Sennett’s ‘the Craftsman’ shows how historical divisions between craftsman and artist, maker and user, technique and expression, practice and theory leads to a disadvantage for the individual and society as a whole. Sennett realises that a consideration of the past lives of crafts and craftsmen show us ways of working, using tools, acquiring skills and thinking about materials. However he argues for more value to craftsmanship than a mere technical ability, raising ethical questions about the craftsman’s stance. This raises the question Does the designing and making in the spirit of the craftsman entail the skilled application of contemporary as well as functional tools? Is this your question or his? Not clear here While Ando uses architecture to reconcile the logic and spirit of new technologies, he realises ‘that people always relate to the spirit of the place, or the spirit of the time.’ We are reminded that our cities themselves are more important than individual reputations and accomplishments. This is emphasized with Aldo Rossi’s claim that “places are stronger than people.”[43] – legends, rituals and and genetics outlive any building – silly Rossi – but of course when you are a fascist power/ful structures are naturally more important than human life.- what do you believe in this- will see in conclusion

Some have set forward the argument that is the architect’s role to unite construction, purpose and place. John Tuomey sets a clear demonstration of his desire for:

getting feeling that drifting into PLACE may be dissipating argument of dissertation – this section is called The possibility of craft within textile architecture- need to stay focused

think comment about ‘strategy’ in Tuomey’s quote is useful since it’s a shift from craft as ‘manual grafting’ to craft as ‘strategic thinking’- very interesting – the crafting occurs then within both the process and the product – think I might bring this into my next paper- will reference you ORLA for inspiration !

“a way of thinking which would provide an integration between construction and the site, a re-casting of the redundant craft condition which by tradition would exploit local materials and harness indigenous skills…embedding an initial sense of strategy which could remain evident in the eventual experience of an actual building.”[44]

Architecture needs mechanisms that allow it to become connected to culture. Tuomey’s greatest insight is to declare “we are agents in the continuity of architectural culture”. He uses professional knowledge and experience to realise the choices architects face are not “the reaction of an individual moment, but the exercise of an established craft in the continuity of time”. I agree only 50% with this since I think Architecture has been exclusive and elitist and needs to deconstruct its genealogy at times- again very interesting

Architecture can be viewed rationally and historically, its composite nature in structure, function and physical state combined with cultural, political and temporal aspects. Is this a sentence Architecture develops through new innovations connecting these forces, manifesting itself in new aesthetic compositions and affects. The most successful of which provide expressions that are contemporary, yet whose effects are resilient in time. Well said The question remains, will new effects of innovative detailing, experimental use of materials overcome the modernist failure to “visually soften or improve with age.”[45] As remarked by Alvar Aalto; “it is not what a building looks like on the day it is opened but what it is like thirty years later that matters.”[46]

It is clear that craftsmanship is viewed in its preoccupation of the present, yet depends, as commented by Tony Fretton, on “relations between innovation and past events, between individual and collective activity.” [47] Architecture has had to adapt to the change caused by the industry and manufacturing, the individual genius, politics and the rhetoric at some level. It could be said in every historical age it is the people who aid change; they develop the analysis and ideal to what architecture should be. This can result in a tyranny as stated by William Curtis(date); “Detractors resorted to monolithic caricatures, blaming the mythical ‘modernism’ for everything from mindless materialism, to the destruction of national identity, to the construction of unbelievable housing schemes.”[48] This view is enforced by Alvar Aalto; “The architecture revolution, like all revolutions, begins with enthusiasm and ends in some form of Dictatorship.”[49] However it is individuals who can also move us on to create statements about the way the world should be, through forms, light, space and material. Think you need to rehease whay you were saying in this section and why – as a reader I can get each statement but not the overall argument – perhaps some mini conclusion at end of sections – or re-statement of argument

This again points out, emphasises

Review of the development of Contemporary Textile Designs through Architecture Case Studies

By the mid-twentieth century, largely influenced by the work of Frei Otto, a pioneer in the creation of tensile fabric structures, new developments began in the area of self-supporting membrane structures. Textile construction began ‘taking on a permanence, as an alternative to classical architecture, which it had never seen before’.[50] His design for the Munich Olympic Stadium, set “new standards of material performance and aesthetic in textile architecture with tent, net, pneumatic and suspended constructions.[51] Through the use of technological advancement, pneumatic structure

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