the book you have in your hands right now is a material object

October 10, 2012


“like any building, the book you have in your hands right now is a material object. But as you read it you will be unlikely to think of it in this way”  (Lloyd Thomas, 2007, p 2)

I didn’t have a book in my hands. My hands were empty. As I write these words my hands are empty still.

I do not know its weight, cannot feel the texture of its pages, and the only smell I am aware of is the wafting earl grey tea sitting to my right. This is not the image the author imagined, but does a change in materiality make the original intended observation any less true?

In her introduction of architecture and material practice, Kate Lloyd Thomas first identifies the historical notion of valuing form over matter within architectural practice. Claiming “the privileging of form is deeply embedded into our (architects) working practices, material is rarely examined beyond its aesthetic or technological capacities to act as a servant of form” (Lloyd Thomas, 2007, p 2), she insists on making the material matter. By enabling this slight shift in focus towards the material she hopes to identify a wide range of exciting and potentially important issues.

In the discussion of matter, she invites the reader to redirect their attention by considering the book in their hands as a material object. When holding the original book, this refocusing is instant. However, can it retain its effectiveness when you read the same words from a scanned or somewhat disputed likeness of the original book?

“like any building, this book is in fact the result of a vast network of practices” (Lloyd Thomas, 2007, p 2)

This remains true. The network of practices that resulted in this book have now been extended from the ideal, to the physical, transformed to the virtual to come to a physical point on a computer screen. Fittingly, this is also the environment in which most of architectural practice exists.

“the materiality of this book has probably gone unnoticed” (Lloyd Thomas, 2007, p 2)

This is true. Not only has the materiality of this book gone unnoticed, it has cut, copied, edited and transformed. From a bound collection of printed papers to a matrix of black and white pixels stored virtually in a physical but invisible cloud.

Does the book retain its materiality when it is scanned? Is the complex history of development, extraction, technique, transportation and exchange maintained? I would argue that the answer is yes. Although I did not interact with the material “object hood” of the book as intended by the author, I was able to interact with a further materiality of its digital copy.

– Jordan Lane

Katie Lloyd Thomas ed. ‘Introduction’, Material Matters: Architecture and Material Practice, London: Routledge, 2007.

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