Accepted paper:

Ruskin and Beyond: Vital Surfaces and the Making of Architecture


Anuradha Chatterjee (University of New South Wales)

Paper short abstract:

The paper provides a compelling premise to the debate of architectural surfaces by revealing John Ruskin’s theory of the adorned wall veil. A historical and theoretical survey of the architectural surface reveals four figurations of surface (in addition to the representational one sanctioned by Ruskin).

Paper long abstract:

Surface in architecture almost always hovers indeterminately between meaningfulness and meaninglessness. Despite the overexposed status of surface, it occupies the interstice or the space of the unconscious in architectural discourse, from where it defends its legitimacy as architecturally valuable, as opposed to merely visually pleasurable. The paper opens by revealing John Ruskin's theory of the adorned "wall veil", which highlights the concomitance of the visual and the built by locating the disciplinary identity of architecture in surface, not space, structure, or function. Ruskin relied upon Thomas Carlyle's philosophy of clothes and the notion of spiritual life to argue that the 'architectural clothing' would reveal the inner life or the moral health of the society that produced it. Besides the representational mode advocated by Ruskin, the paper goes on to uncover four additional ways of understanding surfaces evidenced in architectural practice - the urban/liminal, structural/spatial, optical, and the formal/methodological in architecture, discussed through Australian and international examples. Borrowing Kurt Forster's argument about the pervasiveness of surfaces and Andrew Benjamin's argument about the productive 'function' of surfaces, the paper offers these five lenses as the critical moment that dismantles as well as re-assembles the architectural object.

panel WMW12
Surfaces: contesting boundaries between materials, mind and body