They Used to Call It Fretwork
The CAD-CAM/CNC phenomenon has led to an entirely revolutionary, appropriately technological way of incorporating decoration into modern architecture. Case in point? Herzog & De Meuron’s perforated copper cladding, above, for the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Just don’t call it decoration.
The idea of the perforated surface isn’t exactly new, however. It used
to be called “fretwork,” as seen in the patterned, cut-out sides of this
British 18th-century mahogany hanging wall shelf.
In 17th- and 18th-century India, craftsmen carved jali window screens out of soft native sandstone, creating intricate geometric patterns to decorate the palaces of Mughal rulers such as Akbar the Great.
The pre-modern Chinese made similar geometric window screens, albeit out of wood.
Tod Williams and Billie Tsien adapted the traditional cracked-ice pattern of Chinese window screens for the façade of their C.V. Starr Library in Berkeley, Calif.