Dissertation of the month: The Aesthetics and Architecture of Care Environments by architect Freja Ståhlberg-Aalto. New series presents current dissertations at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture.
‘Materials shape our understanding of the environment’
What is your research about?
‘In my research, I examined the significant role of materials in felt making processes and how they shape us, humans. I worked with felt making and observed how the material shapes bodily movements while making, how it shapes our ideas for making an artefact, and building relationships with other makers – and also with the environment. Felting is a textile practice that is based on unifying wool fibres to create a compound textile surface. By looking into maker experiences and reflections, I followed the transformations in the materials and makers.
In our everyday lives, we are always in contact with materials. Through these engagements, we gain a sense of being and experiencing. However, historically, materials have been assigned a silent role in our everyday lives. We usually perceive materials as fixed and static entities that have been there for humans to use.
But, in reality, materials can provide many different experiences or actions depending on the conditions that we interact with them. They are neither silent nor static but in constant transformation and action. In the research I identify the material's ability of changing and acting as its agency. The examinations aimed at understanding how makers can work with material's ability to act in order to participate in the world in meaningful and responsible ways.’
What's important in it?
‘My doctoral research proposed various insights for theoretical investigations, methodological approaches for learning new skills, and for practicing with materials.
As a method, being and making with the materials can bring an understanding of partnership with the environment.”
Often, we start the creative process at the design studio when interacting with the material begins. However, my examinations showed that the dialogue of making starts before we start engaging with the materials in our studios. The materials are already transforming at their environment. For instance, wool as the main material of felt making is shaped by the breed of the sheep and its living environment through the forces and effects of the wind, sheep’s movements, and weather, such as the sun impacting upon the softness of the wool. This realization proposes that we need to re-define creative practices in fluid ways and not limit our perceptions of making to human presence. We should realize that the material environment is already transforming our making processes by changing the materials and us.
Therefore, the research suggests having a process-oriented mindset to leave space for new thinking and materiality. Discussing the material's abilities encouraged for paying more attention to what happens to the materials even when there is no human contact. These realizations proposed expanding the responsibilities of makers to understand the relationship between the maker and the material from a larger angle.
Designers can put their knowledge in action not only to make utilitarian artefacts but also for thinking about materiality and how humans can relate to the world more responsibly. The reflective qualities that are intrinsic to making and designing processes can be utilized as platforms to think about our relationship with materials and the world.’
What can it lead to?
“During this research, one of my aims was to be provocative to prompt new discussions, self-reflection, and behavioural change. I believe, if people start paying more attention to what happens in the world beyond humans, we can actually start repairing our relationship with the environment. Because once we realize that things are in constant movement, we can realize that we are part of these movements and the world, not the owners of the natural entities, animals, or plants.
This research promotes overcoming human-dominance over materials and implements the idea that humans can only exist with nonhumans that are the other things like animals, plants, minerals, and any entity that exists. And although this has been mostly discussed in the context of felt making in my research, the insights that the studies provided showed that once we start recognizing the human dependencies over nonhumans, we can recognize the hierarchies among humans as well.
Therefore, this dissertation can lead to finding other ways of being, knowing, and designing both among humans, and among humans and nonhumans. As a method, being with and making with the materials can bring an understanding of partnership with the environment. I believe this would be the beginning point to overcome the artificial separation between humans and nature.”
Dissertation of the Month series presents School of Arts, Design and Architecture's researchers and their theses.
Dissertation of the month: Mending clothes, one of the oldest practices known to humankind, nowadays stands for global awareness of the textile waste problem.
Dissertation of the Month: What if interfaces we use are able to distinguish whether we are looking at them or not, and change their behavior accordingly?