“We’re in this moment where we’re trying to become more tactile, we want to have more touch” -Jonathan Anderson

What role do crafts play in architecture
Digital reconstruction of the settlement in the drawing-room as it originally appeared, from William Morris and his Palace of Art ©John Tredinnick

Any concord around words such as skill or handmade quickly prompts us with the word ‘craft’. But the true definition of craft lies simply in understanding things that are in the process of making, the making of any objects, things, artifacts, cities, and understanding the true meaning behind its creation, the process, the story, the belonging of a place. Thus, the craft is the manifestation of the physical realm of design using both theory and skills. A relationship of a building to its place or context and with its constitutional elements that lies like connections to a building or space thrives internally and externally. These connections can be integrated physically, temporarily, or even spiritually. 

“All craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree. At a higher degree, the technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply about what they are doing once they do it well.” (The Craftsman by Richard Sennet) 

We are surrounded by the word craft today- whether on the packaging of food, brands, shops of arts, and galleries to hobbies at home which creates objects that incite conversations about materiality, process, form, and give an identity and value to things, places, history, and culture. Yet society seems to be losing an appreciation for craft as an idea. As making goes mainstream, the search for authenticity accelerates and can weave through crafts that contribute in many ways and provide major employment in countries like India, known for its rich heritage and history. It also helps in empowering women of small towns and villages by providing equal opportunities to work and helps in surviving the rituals, skills, and nativity of the place.

We live in a world as Jonathan Crary describes in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (2013), a world of continuous connectivity and consumerism; a throwaway culture in which our insatiable appetite for stuff is fuelled by unrepairable products outsourced to opaque global supply chains that conceal labor conditions detrimental to people and the environment; a digital world in which nearly every facet of our existence is managed through screens and keyboards, homogenizing the tactility of our existence. This prompts us to turn towards the craft. It offers hands-on engagement in a hands-off economy that has ethical associations of authenticity, and a tangible possession in uncertain times. 

Craft contains critical thinking that could unpack the current state of architecture. Let us consider for a moment architecture itself to be a craft that has intangible components of volume, form, light, surface, place, and tools of presentation. With skilled craftspeople, architects can collaborate, model materials like wood, steel, stone, and glass into their desired creations. Such an attitude might help nourish a deeper connection with the crafts and enhance the identity and character of the building. Craft is at the core of architecture, craft in architecture and craft of architecture. Thus, architects with their collaborators shall endeavor to revive, uplift, and enhance both building and craft. This is what architects from Gottfried Semper to Ettore Sottsass have recognized; the former identified architecture’s roots in acts of weaving and braiding textiles; the latter lamented the problematic relationship between architects and artisans, as well as exploiting the creative possibilities. Architectural history has vouchsafed with stories about craft, ones that shed light on both disciplines. 

According to Will Winkelman, it is the integration of this added layer of “craft”- of touch, texture, art, and detail—that adds so much to how a building lives and can be experienced. The engagement with materials adds a whole new dimension to both the disciplines. Crafts add humane revivals of traditions, originality in response to architecture.  

The two major ‘modern craft’ revivals of the 19th and 20th centuries, ‘The Arts & Crafts Movement’ and ‘Art Nouveau’, both have shaped craft today. The Arts & Crafts Movement denied industrialization and adapted to the superiority of the handmade. Contemporaries like Karl Marx, John Ruskin, and William Morris placed the medieval era’s craft guild system to position the ‘beauty and pleasure’ of a ‘fast-disappearing’ craftwork against the use of capitalist machinery and technology.

When we think about craft today, we realize that it ultimately offers ways of meaningfully thinking through how we make, and unmake, a world that is a complete creation of humans. ‘Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake’, argued the sociologist, Sennett in The Craftsman. Contemporary craft is under-literature while historically inherited morality. Craft revivals keep getting on and off, but in between these rapid changes in fashion and trend, some people choose to make and buy handmade goods, and craft continues to be at the core of all stages of creative practice, being an integral part of the process including manufacturing, innovation, and technology. 

The objective of craft in place-making, then, is to deepen the purpose of constructed environments through the type and quality of the connections those environments embody and enable. These connections can be either intrinsic or extrinsic to the place or its elements. Intrinsic connections might be literal, as in the way components are assembled; or symbolic, as when a contextual association is placed in the space. While intrinsic connections internalize those associations, extrinsic connections are projections of an object, building, or place’s character into the larger physical or cultural landscape beyond its physical boundaries. The role craft plays in our sense of identity, culture, and society directly reflects in the way our cities are shaped. A way to reconnect with the physical realm and an antidote to mass consumption of digitally shaped objects.

Author

Jinal is an architect whose goal is to create a vibrant time machine through her photography and writing for everyone to revisit some of the aspects of life. She is forever inspired by the nuances of nature and by the underpinning ideas of works of art.

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