Traces of life
For many years, objects had to be flawless to be considered desirable. Perhaps the time has come to rethink.

A contribution from design journalist and author Gerrit Terstiege
Every architect is aware when designing a building that he or she is creating something of permanence: The aim of architecture is to chart a new course in design and aesthetic terms for the coming decades. But however much a building attempts to formulate an architectural vision, the more this vision will be subjected to change once it has been made reality. Time leaves indelible traces: In this way, the home reflects the touch of its owner and the effects of the sun, wind and rain. We can either fight against these marks, i.e. the patina – or, which is probably a wiser course, include the process of material ageing in the very choice of the materials used. What about choosing a material with patina capacities right from the start, secure in the knowledge of how it will age – and using this process aesthetically? In Addition to certain natural stone and wood types, it is copper and brass which age in this way, saving up the signs of use attractively and over the years resulting in an ambient symbiosis with the other materials used.
The Italian architect Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978) is also well known for his sensitive use of patinated materials. Many designs of the Venetian-born architect are today among the most celebrated of Venice's architectural jewels. His legendary works include the Olivetti showroom and his masterful touches bridging past and present in the historic Fondazione Querini Stampalia building. This type of building is a perfect example of how the natural traces of ageing bring about an improvement in the materials.

Architects often refer to a material's intrinsic honesty. The genuine nature of a material is rated a valuable asset in the world of architecture. And a patina which evolves not as the result of neglect but through years of nurturing and matter-of-fact use has garnered increased respect over recent years – particularly with gathering realization of the environmental benefits of long-term use over the throw-away culture of ever shorter life cycles.
Top: Lettering created by Carlo Scarpa adorning the Markusplatz showroom. The sea air contributes towards creating the deliberate oxidation effect of the brass.
Above: The handrail on the staircase to the Fondazione Querini Stampalia. Scarpa frequently made use of classic materials such as brass and wood.
Left: Buttons of a Steel door station in burnished brass after a number of years of use in an exposed outdoor location.
About the author
Gerrit Terstiege studied at the Cologne International School of Design, was Editor-in-Chief of the design magazine form in Basel and today is guest professor at the State University of Design in Karlsruhe. Terstiege has published three successful textbooks on the theory and practice of design and regularly writes for the magazines Art, Domus, Frame, Hochparterre and Monopol.
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