09 Sep 2022

Dr. Demet Arslan Dinçay
ITU Interior Design Department

The choosing of materials when designing an interior takes place as soon as the designer’s pen first strikes the paper. During this initial phase, it is imperative that they be able to draw from their wealth of knowledge and experience alongside their mastery over the breadth of materials before them in order to ensure visual and functional harmony throughout the entire space. A material’s ability to establish an interior’s atmosphere, including how it behaves, where it is used, what its possibilities and limits are, and how it finds balance with its physical surroundings, is just as important as its technical properties. Referencing Vitruvus’s treaties on architecture, Henry Wooton, in his book “The Elements of Architecture”, elaborates upon the notions of “durability (firmatis), utility (utilitas), and beauty (venustatis)” as criteria for material selection (Edwards, 2011). An objective criterion, the durability of a material can, in essence, be defined as whether or not that material can be used in a given space. Utility and beauty, on the other hand, speak on more subjective terms.When it comes to choosing which materials to use when designing an interior, we ought to mention another, more rationalist approach based on analysis and synthesis, that is on par with inspiration, drawing from previous experience, and adaptation. Finding a material that precisely meets a particular need begins by one carefully inspecting the material’s technical qualities, and then moving forth within the framework of the budget at hand. It is only when the designer comes to the synthesis stage that, then, their experience enters the picture, and they are able to find a balance between the needs of the space and what they envision for it (Edwards, 2011). Hence, we can interpret Vitruvius’s three principles of good architecture as optimally meeting a design’s functional, technical, and aesthetic expectations. In that context, the decisions that the designer must make when choosing a material depend on a multitude of factors, spanning function and design criteria to the user factor and budget. However, being utilitarian and beautiful both can allude to a much grander concept that goes beyond satisfaction in the aesthetic sense. Therefore, in addition to pondering the necessary functional relationship between the material and the space, we must also consider the meaning that a material brings a space as a fundamental factor as well.

Searching Meaning in a Space, and the Relationship Between Material and Meaning
As we carry on our journey of exploring what elements give a space meaning and even define its atmosphere, we cross paths with Heidegger, who suggests that we can appreciate a space using our bodies, our senses, our emotions, and our instincts (Sharr, 2010). In other words, a space is to be experienced and felt. One important criterion when it comes to the notion of feeling a space in particular is the quality of the material encircling the person. Juhani Pallasmaa similarly puts forth the idea that architecture serves as a multi-sensory experience that interacts and melds with the senses rather than that merely to the eye in the classic sense. Quoting the writer Adrian Stokes, “I should like to eat up this Verona touch by touch,” Pallasmaa provides us with an example of the sensitive overlap between tactile and gustative experience (Pallasmaa, 2014). He uses this line to underscore the dramatic, multi-sensory impact that marble has over shaping the atmosphere of an entire city. To him, all senses are integrated with touch (Pallasmaa, 2014). As we pause and think about the direct connection that exists between touch and the materials that line a space’s surface and accessories, we see, once again, just how critical material selection is. When we experience a space or an atmosphere, the very nature of the materials that enclose around us awaken all of our senses at once, and then symbolically etch itself into our minds. The term symbolic, in this context, might mean “the message that carries from the past into present, and then directly picked up by the user.” In like manner, Günther Fischer, upon commenting on the creative process that an architect goes through, states that, “throughout history, architecture has utilized cyphers to create meaning.” He takes the position that the architect ultimately contemplates about how and where to encode meaning into building by plugging a set of values into an entry Wheel of sorts, pondering whether or not the observer will be able to discern that. They then introduce a second set of values encoded in the building’s location, size, material, form, and layout, that allow the user to decode that encrypted message according to a set of rules (Fisher, 2015). The selection of the materials to be used in that structure constitutes one of these rules. The more difficult the material is to access, the more important its place is among that set of values. Fisher denotes that marble has been utilized this way for centuries, arguing that it has always held immense value. We can turn to science in order to unveil the direct message that natural stone gives the user within a given space. Materials and objects are used to shape the atmosphere of a space, and individually serve as signs. The postmodern theorist Jean Baudillard holds the opinion that a material does not harbor an individual meaning, but instead serves as a cultural symbol only when it is part of an integrated system (Baudrillard, 1996). When we mull over this notion, we come to understand that meaning gains importance within the framework of a unified context. Reflecting upon wood, Baudrillard highlights not only the material’s naturality, but also comments on how time is encapsulated within its very fibers (Baudrillard, 1996). What he, in short, is implying, is that such physical properties both add dimension to a space, as well as have the power to dominate its atmosphere. Searching for Natural Stone’s Meaning in Historical Structures and Interiors Using Baurdrillard’s approach, we first should discuss the physical nature of natural stone before we elaborate upon the meaning that it carries with it. Marble is one natural material that results from metamorphism, whereby various minerals grains beneath the surface of the earth compose an interlocking mosaic of carbonate crystals. Marble is permanent, durable, and viable. Moreover, the color, texture, and hardness of each type of marble therefore reflect their mineral composition. When we reflect upon these various qualities as a broader whole, we can therefore define marble as a seasoned material that very much carries its own presence, all the while remaining uninfluenced by its surroundings. Such concepts thus stem from the material’s physical properties, and define the very character of numerous structures in a way that renders them timeless. Since antiquity, architects have been integrating marble into the exteriors and interiors of religious and civil structures. The use of natural stone in structures, for example, had reached its peak during the time of the ancient Greeks-who built theaters, stadiums, temples, and public baths out of this most fundamental of materials, out of an appetite for surfaces and figures that represented perfection and durability. Anatolian examples of this include the city of Ephesus and Sardis-Kybele (Mutlu, 2001). This period also saw the use of adobe and wood in place of stone in the architecture of dwellings, as well. The Romans, too, had continued to use marble when in the facades of buildings, on the surfaces of walls, and in flooring, albeit they were known more for their use of a new, and equally as strong material: concrete (Mutlu, 2011). Given the technology of the period, we also see marble being utilized in places and the homes of the elite. This is namely due to the fact that it was both expensive and that it could be used as a thicker, “second” wall lining material. Plagued by civil unrest, destruction, sprawling urbanization, and plummeting economics, the period following the fall of the Roman Empire led much of Western civilization to abandon marble and seek refuge in wood. In contrast, we see that Byzantine architecture in the East continued to embrace marble as the lining material of choice throughout key public spaces. Other types of natural stone, moreover, complimented that through interior mosaics to the point that both materials dissolved the interior’s magnitude (Mutlu, 2012). The Medieval period, too, is etched in our minds as a period that embraced natural stone and masonry in religious and civil structures like cathedrals and government buildings. Natural stone and marble, it seems, continue to coexist across different geographies, being molded into different with different techniques. In European Gothic architecture, dynamic, vertical lines that create an omnipresent atmosphere define stone. Across Anatolia, however, stone engravings and décor give religious structures a graceful and humanistic sense of permanence and omnipotence. The Renaissance marked the rediscovery of antiquity and imitation of ancient Greek architecture. Marble work adorned not only the surfaces of interiors but reappeared, as it were, in sculpture as well (Pevsner, 1977). Marble moreover had draped palaces, which doubled as homes, namely through intricate carvings and statues (Mutlu, 2012). Humanism placed the sacredness of living on a pedestal during this period. Life in buildings was to be found in marble. Power was to be found in one’s personal space. The Baroque and Rococo periods had maintained a similar approach in their use of marble. In contrast, stylistic concerns were at the forefront during this era. This thus granted masons the freedom to push and to carve marble beyond its natural limits. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, of example, in sculpting the seventeenth century Santa Maria della Vittoria was brave enough to use multi-coloured marble tile work in such a way that the illumination within the space continuously changes and causes one’s perception the space to change with it (Pevsner, 1977). Here, marble, together with lighting, defines the space’s atmosphere. On a grander scale, wesee marble’s dominant omnipresence in public or common structure no matter where in the world we visit. Here in Turkey, religious and military structures erected in the eighteenth century, in particular, illustrate very similar examples of marble’s extensive use and the impact on establishing a certain atmosphere. The sense of power and permanence that natural stone gives structures is universal, even if facades subtly change in terms of their form. In Özer’s own words, stone’s appearance in façade ornamentation has, throughout the course of history, evolved at the hands not only of its architectures, but also of the qualities of its contemporary cultural context as well. Within this framework, we can infer that stone has the potential to both adorn a building as well as stylistically define various architectural periods. As the aforementioned examples demonstrate, the goal of public spaces has historically been to create an atmosphere of domineering power and respect. To accomplish this as well as to establish timelessness and placelessness, they had been built, shaped. and ornamented from and with marble-which, at the same time, fundamentally brings that same heavy presence into interiors as well. In the twentieth century, the architectural cognizance that we sought through rationalism again was (and still remains) inseparable from naturality and natural stone.

Natural Stone and its Meaning in Modern Interiors

We are able to observe the use of natural stone in rationalist architecture through Miles Van der Rohe’s German Pavilion. Here, the wall as a structural element melds with natural stone in both the abstract and concrete sense. Marble now exists within the scheme of a free-range plan. It diverges from its classical role as a primary surface material, only to instead re-emerge solely as a focal point. We observe it being used as a wall in its most raw of forms, without being shaped or refined in any way. Travertine and water merge together around the building’s exterior, while marble slabs of four textures and colors unify the interior. Marble signifies permanence and rootedness against the permeable and impermanent background that is this structure, which seems to almost orbit around the slabs. The power and naturality of this material answers back to the space’s ultra simplicity. Its color and texture, moreover, carries its ubiquitous identity into the atmosphere. Additionally, the range of construction possibilities now available at our disposal means that natural stone’s role as structural material has subsided, instead appearing almost exclusively in lining. In this sense, we are able to deduce that the notions of monumentality, power, and status rooted within the very fabric of natural stone have shifted down a more economic path. Peter Zumthor’s Hotel Therme Vals complex in Vals, Switzerland is another contemporary example that illustrates to us how meaning can be reflected through stone. Zumthor had set out to design a structure that focused on evoking one’s emotions (Sharr, 2010). With this in mind, we can interpret the design’s message reflected upon the atmosphere as being the user’s own emotional journey whilst within the space. He had wanted there to be an organic connection between the material and the atmosphere: “When I began working on the project, the first thing that I had to consider was which materials I was going to use. I feel that that architecture is more tied to this than it is to either paper or style. The space and the material are what’s important” (Gagg, 2013). Function was the dominant factor in his choosing the materials water and marble. For Zumthor, both surpass being individually being materials and phenomena-instead serving as intellectual concepts (Sharr, 2010). Upon deciphering the material through the meaning it carries, the designer makes it clear that the marble’s corporealness not only forces one into relationship with the world, but moreover takes that person psychologically on an experiential journey (Sharr, 2010). From this angle, we can think of the material as a portal that enables us to experience the current moment as well as all that comes before it within the context of the space’s atmosphere. Marble defines the modern interior by bringing with all of its stories from history’s past.

Using Natural Stone in Modern Residential Interiors
As we have seen so far, public interiors have generally been dressed with natural stone. By contrast, marble generally appears in the residential interiors of only the very wealthy. Of course, the value and weight of certain materials has, in fact, shifted depending on its historical context. For example, wood’s position in the Ottoman Empire had shifted from being extensively used in palace architecture, to being symbolic of abject poverty. Likewise, concrete’s position as the fütürist material of the 1950’s had tapered off in succeeding decades (Fisher, 2015). Diverging from this point, we might infer that the residence has-beyond modern the era-generally been associated with the notion of temporariness, rather than with permanence and power. It is only in more recent history that we see the use of natural stone throughout residents become more widespread and even preferred. Influencing this spread are advances in extraction, construction, and manufacturing technology-all of which increase stone’s profile and diversity as the focal point of the residential interior. Despite this, it remains inaccessible to many, meaning that we still have to conceptualize within its historical context. Natural stone’s place in public interiors throughout the ages now holds true for residential interiors, whereby it has begun to make a public atmosphere out of a private space, and bring its meaning with it as well. The atmosphere of the contemporary residential interior, however, differs from its historical ancestor in that it now no longer represents temporariness, but rather permanence: the modern interior now searches for status and power. Natural stone has proven to be architecture’s single most important defining material, owing both to its physical characteristics and its application throughout history-most notably in its omnipresent use in religious and civil architecture both as a structural and as a lining material. Naturally, this has resulted not only in its being etched into the minds of generation after generation, but also in its acquiring semantic and sentimental value. When we reflect back on marble’s role historically, we equivocate its function and form with authority, status, power, and permanence. Albeit now, its place has shifted from the public into the private domain, whereby it appears on surfaces and in objects, and re-purposes its own former meaning within the atmosphere of the personal interior. To conclude, the spread of marble into the residential interior has brought with it the material’s semantic omnipotence for the user to experience. In simpler terms, the modern interior wishes to establish a sense of permanence and status all on its own. A dwelling is no longer temporary: natural stone plays a key role in representing and underscoring that.