In over two decades of designing homes, I have come across only one homeowner that did not like stone as a building material. Stone is as close to a universal preference if any such thing exists. It is no surprise, as it has been used as a building material ever since humans started building.
Architects think about materials in many different ways. Their structural qualities, durability over time, thermal capacity to moderate temperature, porous nature to absorb and filter water, not to mention the aesthetic beauty of materials visually, tactilely, and acoustically. An architect must consider characteristics like these in the construction of a house, however I believe it is the emotional aspect of a material that is at the heart of architecture.
All of the qualities of a material converge together into a perception of that material, subconsciously. This perception is simply a feeling we have, that takes into account all of its physical characteristics like texture, color, warmth, but also metaphorical references such as a romantic ideal or past memory. For example, the stone steps in a backyard might remind of stepping stones in a secret garden from one’s childhood home, creating a sense of playful magic and mystery in their current home. All of this happens in an instant – the materials that define the spaces we inhabit, create emotional impressions influencing what we think and feel.
These impressions are the key to designing meaningful spaces, rooms with a desired feel, a sense of comfort or shelter. I use these to craft an intimacy into a home. Like the fit of a tailored suit, inspiring confidence simply by how it feels. Most architects don’t get this, they think of building materials only mechanically or aesthetically. However, it is the emotional resonance of a space that defines architecture, the intangibles that are not so easy to put a finger on, but have the greatest influence over how a house becomes a home.
Exploring the human condition is the true medium of an architect, crafting an experience, layering meaning. Building materials are simply the toolset, the physical things we manipulate to shape these sensations. If an architect does not understand the nuance of these things, the true nature of a stone for example, they can not realize the full potential of a home – to be memorable, to create architecture.