A more perfect union: when space and materials harmonize

How does one compose beautiful architecture? What are the instruments? What are the qualities? Is it possible to define, or like most great art, does it just strike an undefinable chord?

In past ideabooks I’ve explored the importance of simplicity as a quality of successful architecture as well as the importance of completing great architecture with appropriate detailing. This ideabook will focus on what is perhaps two more obvious characteristics of successful architecture: space and materials.

One could certainly write two ideabooks, one for each of these topics. But I think the point would be missed. Space and materials make up a two-part ticket; one cannot be successful without the other. One cannot exist without the other. Materials are used to compose space; space is orchestrated by materials. They cannot be separated.


Architect Arthur Erickson once said, “Space has always been the spiritual dimension of architecture. It is not the physical statement of the structure so much as what it contains that moves us.”

Too often in our culture, a great space is equated with high volume — meaning tall ceilings make great architecture. That is not necessarily true.

This living room has a lower ceiling height. The floor-to-ceiling glass extends the height and opens the space to the extraordinary views. The interior space is uncluttered, and the room is decorated by the view.


This image makes for a nice transition to a discussion of materials and how they compose space.

The room is largely accomplished through its use of materials; the exposed wood structure and ceiling create an expectation of the space that is confirmed with the view of the exterior. Materials form a space appropriate to its context.

I have been known to tell clients that if a space is well thought out, it could be covered in chicken feathers and still be successful. Although I believe that to be true, the important question to ask is, are chicken feathers the appropriate material to use for that space?