Architecture and fashion are often set in relation to one another. The comparison between building coverings and body coverings reveals obvious and surprising parallels. The often invoked commonalities, however, have been overstressed at times. Several fundamental differences exist between the design of buildings and the design of clothing.
Michael Hanak Customization is based on slow, patient, even intimate working processes. In haute couture, measurements are taken for clothing and suits and the relevant body to be clothed is precisely measured. The fashion designer answers individually to the desires and preferences of his or her customer. In architecture, or at least when it has high cultural claims, architects measure building sites and design appropriate volumes for the relevant site. The client has a significant part in co-determining function and appearance. In both disciplines, plans, models, and prototypes assist in finding the right form. With tailored clothing and custom-made buildings, affinities, even analogies in both objectives and production can be discerned.
Georges Fessy, Lyon
Buildings, like clothing
What do the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and the Prada shop in Tokyo have in common? They all play on associations to textiles. At times their façades seem thin, sometimes permeable and in motion, at times sewn or stitched. In viewing them, these buildings stir the impression of something floating, dynamic, glamorous – contrary to traditional ideas of architecture as something solid and permanent.
In Tokyo, Herzog & de Meuron covered the crystalline volume with convex and concave, mainly transparent and occasionally opaque glass. Together with the diamond shaped structure, the building shell recalls stitched or quilted material. Frank Gehry astounded in Bilbao with a gossamer skin of silver titan sheet, and surrounded the museum spaces with impetuous, pulsating forms. For the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and with almost all of his buildings ever since, Dominique Perrault used a transparent metal mesh as the outermost layer, thereby lending the façade a shimmering, poetic expression. Many further examples of architecture can be cited to illustrate borrowings from the textile field.
Architecture, like fashion
Creating spaces is the goal in both architecture and fashion. A shell surrounds and defines space. It lies between interior and exterior worlds, mediates between content and environment, as it were. Clothing conceals and presents the human body simultaneously, shows its outlines and omits other parts. We use articles of clothing as protection against the weather, for our wellbeing, and at the same time, present ourselves with it. Buildings surround us, serve particular purposes, and likewise give us protection and comfort. We retreat to our houses, live and work in them. At the same time, a building whose design we have had a say in or have influenced, demonstrates how we position ourselves in our environment and cultural context. A building’s walls like clothing’s material protect us from wind and weather, cold and heat, as well as undesired inspection. But clothing, like buildings, is also used to mediate images: Images that express a particular style and thereby the relevant self-image. Fashion, like architecture, is used to announce individuality and affiliation. We like to identify with a building or a piece of clothing and we are identified with them. Clothing, like building façades, is used for representation and self-staging. Image formation, abelling, and branding are thus widespread in fashion and architecture – at times, also with mutual support. In addition to the more or less obvious commonalities between the shells in architecture and fashion, are also quite a few differences. That applies, first of all, to the time axis: whereas one changes clothing daily, buildings exist for several years. Fashion lives from constant change. Architecture is meant to be enduring and timeless.
Fashion meets architecture
Fabric and materials
The inimitably luxurious textiles that Jakob Schlaepfer produces in Switzerland enjoy great international admiration in haute couture. Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, and Vivienne Westwood gather inspiration from them. With a resourceful, innovative spirit, textile designers and fashion designers grasp how to combine traditional stitchery techniques with the most modern hi-tech production. With the addition of metal threads, among other things, they lend the material brilliance and formability. At the latest with the launching of curtains and drapes, Schlaepfer has recently also penetrated the interior decoration market. On the basis of Dominique Perrault’s inquiries, the GKD/Gebrüder Kufferath AG weaving mill in Germany specializes in the production of metal mesh that architects use on buildings. Grid-like structures that seem like fabric, but nonetheless protect the façade, arise from wires and pieces of chrome and aluminum sheet. The permeable curtain has stable and durable qualities, while at the same time filtering light and views.
Swisspearl offers fiber cement products, which with their great consistency and durability can be tailored in certain aspects for each building. The custom panel cut, choice of color, installation method, and joint pattern offer possibilities to design the building, or the building shell according to the customer’s wishes. After all, architects, like fashion designers, crave high-quality products to yield individual forms of expression and specific methods of expression.
Featured image: FMGB Guggenheim, Bilbao Museo, Bilbao
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