Bob Harris, FAIA, and Vicki Yuan, AIA, of San Antonio–based Lake|Flato, have made their careers out of finding beauty in design and doing more with less. They feel the materials that go into a project define the heart, and enrich the edges, of the structure that emerges.
“When it comes to kitchen countertops,” Harris says. “I’ve fallen in love with domestic quarried soapstone. There’s a huge trend to go with granite, but I feel like granite can be (aesthetically) repellent. The soapstone is heat resistant, softer to the touch than granite, and has lower embodied energy when compared to Italian stones.”
“Clients want materials to be durable and low-maintenance,” Yuan says, “and they also worry about their long-term appearance. The soapstone can scratch over time; concrete, which we use a lot in our work, can be harder to sell because of its potential to crack. We find these aesthetic flaws reveal an honesty to the material, but it can drive clients crazy. They have to be already predisposed to using materials with natural imperfections.”
“If a client is OK with imperfection,” Harris says, “there’s a depth and character in hand-cut ceramic tiles that you won’t find in the manufactured brands. They have personality and variability within the glazes and the tile siding. There’s richness and variety, depth and character. It doesn’t look like they popped out of a machine.”
“Salvaged longleaf pine and cypress should be used wisely.” Harris says, ”where it can be touched and felt. We have a table in our office made of cypress that instinctually feels good to the touch. And when we’re done with the table, when it’s gotten a little worn, we’ll turn it into something else. These kinds of wood are so inherently durable and beautiful.”
“Finally, raw steel and other durable materials in a raw state can provide so much value over their lifetime,” Harris says. “But avoid painting it whenever you can; it shines on its own, and the paint makes it just another surface with a life span to maintain.”
Learn more at aia.org/materials.