Alessandra Cianchetta
Alessandra Cianchetta
Venus in Furs -Clothing as a layer between skin and building - Akademie der Bildenden Kunste Wien Spring 2020
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Fashion
  • Architecture
Vienna, Austria

abstract / excerpt (Daniela Herold, Alessandra Cianchetta_IKA Wien_GLC-HTC_2020)

Venus in Furs_Garment as a layer between skin and building

“She sat in an armchair and had kindled a crackling fire, whose reflection ran in red flames over her pale face with its white eyes, and from time to time over her feet when she sought to warm them. Her head was wonderful in spite of the dead stony eyes; it was all I could see of her. She had wrapped her marble-like body in a huge fur, and rolled herself up trembling like a cat. "I don't understand it," I exclaimed, "It isn't really cold any longer. For two weeks past we have had perfect spring weather. You must be nervous." "Much obliged for your spring," she replied with a low stony voice, and immediately afterwards sneezed divinely, twice in succession. "I really can't stand it here much longer, and I am beginning to understand."

Clothing is a basic human need we are constantly confronted with within our daily life. The wrapping of the human body is decisive for our wellbeing, for our appearance and our social identity.

Cultural theory defines and reflects upon a wide range of basic meanings, functions and origins of human clothing. One of the origins is the requirement for protection. Clothes keep us warm and shelter us due to climatic and environmental needs. They protect our skin from cold and from solar radiation, and defend our organs from illness and bacteria.

By looking at artworks throughout the centuries and relating them to the climatic evolution of our planet, historians argue for the close relation of climatic changes and the development of clothing. In paintings of the early middle ages which is described as a warm period one can observe light dresses, as well as parts of the body uncovered, while later until the end of the 17th century, in the period of the so-called Little Ice Age, one finds bodies wrapped within heavy fabrics worn in several layers and disproportioned shapes. It is said that hats and gloves were invented at that time, worn not only outdoors to keep from cold but also inside the house.

The necessity to transport objects is assumed to be another initial for clothing. To carry the prey that was hunted, to transport the goods that have been collected, the body got equipped with additional features that allowed to move freely and to travel longer distances. Pockets, bags and belts have been attached to the body, adjusted and adapted to its shape.

But not only functional reasons are considered to be the main influencers for the making of dresses also the desire for decorating the body and even more important the psychological factors like the need for privacy and the feeling of shame. Clothes are wrapping our bodies to screen ourselves from views and to protect our intimacy.

Furthermore they are also an expression of socialisation. They reveal who we are and give information about our social structures and professional belongings. Clothing is a sort of language with which we communicate our differentness or in contrary our need for affiliation and community.

Protection against environmental influences, decoration, privacy protection and visual appearance are not just requirements or characteristics of our 2nd skin, the cloth, they also refer to the 3rd skin that surrounds us and gives us shelter, to architecture.

In his article “Das Prinzip der Bekleidung” which was published in “Why a man should be well-dressed”, Adolf Loos described the relation of buildings and garments as follows:
Im Anfange war die Bekleidung. Der Mensch suchte Schutz vor den Unbilden des Wetters, Schutz und Wärme während des Schlafes. Er suchte sich zu bedecken. Die Decke ist das älteste Architekturdetail. Ursprünglich bestand sie aus Fellen oder Erzeugnissen der Textilkunst. Diese Bedeutung des Wortes kennt man noch heute in den germanischen Sprachen. Die Decke musste irgendwo angebracht werden, sollte sie genügend Schutz für eine Familie bieten! Daher kamen die Wände dazu, die zugleich seitlichen Schutz boten. Und so entwickelte sich der bauliche Gedanke sowohl in der Menschheit als auch im Individuum.
With this text and in particular with its title Adolf Loos responded to the „Prinzip der Bekleidung“ that Gottfried Semper had defined earlier in middle of the 19th century. Semper was trying to specify the beginnings of architecture and found an analogy within the theory of clothing.
For him it was not the construction that was fundamental for the design and development of architecture, it was the envelope that he focussed on. In particular it was the decorative aspect that played a central role in his ideas about the clothing of spaces, it was not its protective function. In his work Semper rejected any construction-related design.

“Die Bekleidung der Mauern war also das Ursprüngliche, seiner räumlichen, architektoischen Bedeutung nach das Wesentliche; die Mauer selbst nur das Sekundäre.”

The relation of clothing and space is still relevant in today’s building pratices.
Today when we analyse the atmospheric environment of spaces and try to characterize the criteria that contribute to our wellbeing and our comfort, we can observe that not only the materials and textures of the architectural elements but also that of the human clothing play an important role. The thermic comfort, as it is described in building physics, is depending on many influential factors. It says that a healthy climate exists when the heat balance of the human body is well adjusted and when heat emission is equal to heat generation. It explains that the body`s own heat production is depending on the workload and the level of activity whereas the factors like air temperature, the surface temperature of the space, air-speed, humidity as well as clothing are decisive for heat emission. If heat emission and heat generation are out of balance one speaks of a bad atmospheric environment.

One can conclude that our well-being is to a certain degree conditioned by the kind of clothes we are wearing in relation to the qualities of the spaces we are spending time in.