Wu, J. (2015). Ruga Interior Skin (RIS): Concept, Topology, Material and Making. Proceedings of the Interior Design Educators Council Annual Meeting, Fortworth, Texas
In design history, the concept of ‘skin’ has been used to refer to the outermost tissue that encloses a physical body. Lois Weinthal writes that our skin is the first layer that we inhabit and it is the foundation of concepts that have influenced architects, designers, and decorators in creating various forms and surfaces in our interior space (Weinthal, 2013). The second layer we inhabit is sometimes said to be clothing, the third layer is furniture and objects, the fourth layer is colors and surfaces, and so on and so forth until we reach the last layer where the interior starts to merge into the exterior. According to Weinthal, interior architecture can be understood as a series of layers of enclosures where the body is placed at the center (Weinthal, 2011). If ‘second skin’ is used as a metaphor for clothing, ‘third skin,’ or ‘interior skin,’ can be used as a metaphor for all layers of interior surfaces, as found in furniture, finishes, and curtains, that brush up against architecture and the body, but do not necessarily have to mimic either(Weinthal, 2011).
The relationship between fashion, architecture, and interior design have been explored by many modernist architects, either through making and designing clothing, or through theoretical writings. For at least ten years, Frank Lloyd Wright not only designed houses, but he also sometimes designed clothing for the owners of the houses he was the architect for, aiming to achieve total unity in a built environment(Gorman, 1996). Aldof Loos, who wrote extensively on fashion, style, and architecture, argued that the cut of an Englishman’s suit could be seen as a paradigmatic model for the construction of modern architecture (Loos & Opel, 1998). In fact, the intersection between fashion, architecture, interior design, and between surface skin and structural depth, reaches back as early as the nineteenth century. In 1845, Charles Baudelaire, called the black frock coat “the outer skin of the modern hero,” thus allowing the word skin to first take on a literal role in reference to fashion (Baudelaire & Charvet, 1972). German architect Gottfried Semper, in the nineteenth century, argued that the origin of the architectural concept of skin came from the hanging of textile and cloth, and that the German word Wand (wall), had the same root and basic meaning as Gewand (garment) (Semper, 1989). For Semper, walls and interior surfaces gave shape to space as much as garments enclosed and defined the contours of the body. The form and the movement of clothing—the second skin—mimics the body through the materiality of textile and the apparel construction techniques. Similarly, interior skin, from the sheets we sleep between to the curtain we draw on the window, require active and flexible engagement from the body (Weinthal, 2013). From early modernist architecture to contemporary art, architects, designers and artists who draw the connections between fashion, interior and architecture often visibly connect and blur boundaries between the spaces wrapping around the body and the spaces formed within the rigid architecture frame. For example, the avant-garde artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, created large scale installation by wrapping architectural structures and other large structures such as bridges and fences in vinyl fabrics. By changing the bodily scale of the drapes, folds and pleats to the scale of buildings and landscapes, the artists not only created new visual forms, but also challenged the viewers to see ordinary structures in the new contexts of wrapping and dressing.
So, if the concept of ‘interior skin’ can be understood as a generator of ideas for interiors that lie in between the flexible spaces around the body and the rigid spaces within the building, what new form and context can an interior skin take? Can this interior skin be made of non-structural sheet material and be semi-rigid while fulfilling an important spatial function? Can it be configurable, and can it move and interact with its occupants at the human scale? What are some design considerations, tools, techniques, material selection for making an interior skin? And how can a new approach to developing an innovative interior skin contribute to our ongoing search for sustainable design that places the human body at its center? This paper investigates Ruga Interior Skin (RIS) in an ongoing research project that explores new approaches to these interior skins. RIS explores ways to cross the boundaries between the clothing making and interior surface making by the use of patterning, pleating or folding.