I once had a professor in a residency sculpture studio situation named Tom Butter who would lean into me and shout, “Make the thing the thing! Make the thing the thing, Christine!” I have thought about that again and again, and told students over and over to utilize their materials and not mask the materials’ inherent qualities. If they’re foamcore and masking tape, so be it.
In creating and designing one should use the material (or object or element) because of its inherent qualities, not denying they exist, but instead utilizing them to their fullest capacity.
I also remember visiting Café Coste, one of the first restaurants Philippe Starck designed in Paris. (This is before he went on to be the household name that he is.) There were no painted materials in the restaurant. Rather he used the colors, hues and markings of the materials he selected, such as marble, zinc, etc. I remember looking at the bar, which was a mix of a terra cotta marble and zinc and a emerald green marble and thinking that it was brilliant and inherently beautiful.
Recently I heard to the designer Ken Smith speak at Columbia University about realizing that he was interested in “different landscapes and non-traditional landscapes, non-conventional materials, and non-conventional clients”. Ken Smith could be a poster child for “make the thing the thing”. In his urban landscape designs he’s used existing structures as opportunities for landscapes where traditional landscape installations just didn’t make sense. For instance, to Smith, billboards are opportunities for landscapes: the billboard as vertical wall.) In a landscape he designed for Ohio State University, he used dumpsters as plant containers and window boxes. In fact there is a very large-scale purple “plant container” at the college that is low enough for the viewer to see. His subsequent window box themes include floral beds, perfect lawns, and foundation plantings.
Smith applied the same idea at PS #19, in Queens, NY where he worked with dumpster fabricators to create a half-scale dumpster whose lower height would more accessible to school children.