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Rivet | Material


During the 18th century, the rolled iron girder served as the basic building block for the industrial world, first in the construction of bridges and railways and later for skyscrapers, which architectural historian William Curtis refers to as "vertical railways".1 Specified primarily for its strength, iron quickly became a prevalent building material, extending beyond sheds and stations to all building types. For the Bibliotheque Ste. Genevieve in Paris (1843-1850), architect Henry Labrouste exposed iron columns and arches according to Nikolaus Pevsner "as frankly as if he were concerned with a factory or a railway station."2 The ultimate effect, however, contributed to the interior's overall elegance. A year after the completion of the Bibliotheque, another iron structure, the Crystal Palace in Paris was unveiled to a wide public audience. Ultimately, with the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 and the soaring Eiffel Tower in 1889, iron's influence on architecture and engineering was undeniable.

Prior to advances in welding technology and bolted joints, metal building components were fastened together with rivets. The Eiffel Tower alone required two and half million rivets to secure its thousands of iron pieces. Despite the relatively small size of an individual rivet, their collective presence influenced the interior. The impact of an interior repeated mechanical fastener is evident in Otto Wagner's Post Office Savings Bank completed in 1906. According to Curtis “Wagner was concerned not just to express function and structure, but to symbolize them; even to use artifice to convey truth.”3

In many ways, the rivet itself served as a symbol for industry, technology, and progress. During World War II, the rhetoric of "Rosie the Riveter" put forth an image of a modern woman that even today serves as a symbol of feminism.

The rivet fell from favor during the 1930s during the streamlining era, and today is used mainly for automotive, aerospace, and marine applications (as well as for the labels of denim jeans). The rivet no longer exerts a material presence like in the early days of iron construction, but the significance of architectural joints has not diminished. In the essay, "Rappel a l'ordre, The Case for the Tectonic" Kenneth Frampton stresses that building is primarily a tectonic expression and supports his contentions by drawing from the theories of Gottfried Semper. Frampton explains Semper's regard for the joint as the most essential unit of building, the "fundamental nexus" marking the location of material intersections. The joint, "simultaneously articulated and integrated", exerts "a presence in itself."4 The handling of material junctions has such an impact on the overall architectural expression that often the most memorable designs can be summed up in a single detail.

Even slight variations become noticeable to the eye, especially if rhythmically repeated along interior surfaces. Richard Weston explains that "The eye is acutely sensitive to joints in or between materials, and the effects of even the slightest systematic marks in a surface can be considerable."5 According to Frampton, Semper aligned architecture with dance and music due to the rhythmic potential of details.  Frampton writes, “Semper's ‘Theory of Formal Beauty’ of 1856, in which he no longer grouped architecture with painting and sculpture as a plastic art, but with dance and music as a cosmic art, as an ontological world-making art rather than a representational form. Semper regarded such arts as paramount not only because they were symbolic but also because they embodied man's underlying erotic-ludic urge to strike a beat, to string a necklace, to weave a pattern, and thus to decorate according to a rhythmic law.”6

This approach is evident in Tadao Ando's treatment of concrete walls, where impressions of bolt-holes left from the concrete formwork establish a regular pattern over its surface. The repetition of these slight traces embellished by natural light serve to articulate the wall and suggest the process responsible for its making.

More commonly the repeated detail takes the form of a deliberately exposed mechanical fastener such as those used to secure paneling. Threaded fasteners, or screws, are the most versatile mechanical fasteners capable of joining dissimilar materials of varying thicknesses.  They are commonly made of carbon steel, stainless steel, nylon or other rigid polymers.7 A popular alternative to threaded fasteners is the snapfit, which can lock together "components of every different shape, material, color and texture."8

The best examples of repetitive and highly expressive hardware often involve the joining of glass pieces. One of the leaders advancing this technology is TriPyramid Structures, Inc.  This company has designed custom stainless steel and other hardware for award winning projects such as the Apple Store, the Corning Glass Museum, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and the Rodin Pavilion. The interior of the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston is also a contemporary example of repetitive joints.9

In summary Perforate is a vigorous material expression used archetypically in various practice types. 10

end notes

  1. 1) William J.R. Curtis, Modern Architecture Since 1900 (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996), 37.
  2. 2) Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1949), 76.
  3. 3) Curtis, Modern Architecture Since 1900, 67.
  4. 4) Kenneth Frampton, " Rappel a l'ordre, The Case for the Tectonic" in Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory, ed. Kate Nesbitt (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996) 522.
  5. 5) Richard Weston, Materials, Form and Architecture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 152.
  6. 6) Frampton, Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture, 523
  7. 7) Mike Ashby and Kara Johnson, Materials and Design: The Art and Science of Material Selection in Product Design (Oxford: Butterwsorth-Heinemann, 2002) 268.
  8. 8) Ashby, Materials and Design, 269.
  9. 9) Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum [1997] Francois de Menil; Houston in Oscar Riera Ojeda and Mark Pasnik, Materials: Architecture in Detail (Gloucester: Rockport Publishers, Inc., 2003), 184-185.
  10. 10) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Rivit as a material was developed from the following sources: 1900 Post Office Savings Bank [1906] Otto Wagner; Vienna, Austria; 1990 American Standard Showroom [1990] Tigerman McCurry Architects; New York City in Monica Geran, "American Standard," Interior Design 61, no. 12 (Sep. 1990): 239; PhotoCrd: Timothy Hursley; Clix Photography Studio [1992] Rockfefeller-Hricak Architects; Orange County, CA in Edie Lee Cohen, "Clix," Interior Design 63, no. 3 (Feb. 1992): 127; PhotoCrd: David Glomb; Mackinaw Offices [1992] Mark Randall, AREA Interior Design; New York City in Justin Henderson, "Shoji Subtleties," Interiors 152, no. 4 (Apr. 1992): 54; PhotoCrd: Whitney Cox; Storefront for Art + Architecture [1993] Steven Holl Architects with Vito Acconci; New York City in Oscar Ojeda, Materials: Architecture in Detail (Gloucester, MA: Rockport, 2003), 55; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol; The Hadley Group Office [1996] Alexander Gorlin Architect; New York City in Kate Hensler, "Marketing Agency," Interiors 155, no. 2 (Feb. 1996): 96; PhotoCrd: Michael Moran; Jumeirah Beach Hotel Conference Centre [1998] W.S. Atkins and Partners, Architect; Leo A. Daly Interior Design; Dubai, United Arab Emirates in Kristen Richards, "Jumeirah Beach Hotel Conference Centre," Interiors 157, no. 10 (Oct. 1998): 106; PhotoCrd: Anonymous; Putnam Lovell de Guardiola and Thornton Offices [1999] The Phillips Group (TPG); New York City in Timothy Jones, "High Finance," Interiors 158, no. 10 (Oct. 1999): 59; PhotoCrd: Peter Mauss/Esto; 2000 Pongo Noodle Bar and Asian Beer House [2000] McKinley Dang Burkhart Design Group; Pongo, Calgary in Julia Lewis, "Pongo to the People," Interior Design 71, no. 1 (Jan. 2000): 182; PhotoCrd: Robert Lemermeyer; Stair Wall, Bellevue Art Museum [2001] Steven Holl; Bellevue, WA in Philip Jodidio, Architecture Now! Vol. 2 (Kohn: Taschen, 2001), 234; PhotoCrd: Paul Warchol; Stair Detail, Apple Store [2002] Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects; New York City in Raul A. Barreneche, "Apple Store New York City," Architectural Record 190, no. 10 (Oct. 2002): 159; PhotoCrd: Peter Aarons/Esto; Communal Workplace for Mad River Post [2003] Kostow Greenwood Architects; Jane Greenwood, Sr. Project Designer; Dallas, TX in Monica Green, "It Takes a Village," Interior Design 74, no. 6 (May 2003): 276; PhotoCrd: Steve Wrubel.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) O'Brien, Elizabeth. “Material Archetypes: Contemporary Interior Design and Theory Study.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2006, 50-59.