Skin: Surface, Substance, and Design

October 28, 2009

Lupton, Ellen. Skin: Surface, Substance, and Design. Princeton Architectural Press: New York 2002

Skin is a “richly responsive substance that modulates the meaning, function, and dimension of things. An interesting thought expressed by the author, and that has been said by others, is that our exterior is dead, and so anything we touch we touch with what is dead. Design is said to perform at the intersection of life and death, body and product. In fact, humans and their skin are becoming increasingly cyborg, with prosthetic limbs, cell phones, etc. Skin as a system poses many possibilities for performance and it is worth taking a new look at the organ and how people interact through it.

Other chapters include:

Artificial Skin – Skin is being manufactured, and it is being studied how to do this on a greater level, as with many other organs.

Digital Skins – Skin is being designed using computers, for architecture, product design, health professions, etc.

Beauty, horror, and biotechnology – The skin is the most easily manipulated part of the human body. This cyborg has already emerged, but new technologies are being used, such as garments incorporating safe sex devices, or just plastic surgery.

Vessels and Membranes – The skin is a ‘surreal double’ for the human body. This has lead to the development of covers and wraps that posit something very different from that which they cover.

Intelligence and Touch – The skin is our primary sense organ; it is the “plane of contact between people and things”. Some of the examples react, others are interacted with.

Artificial light and artificial life – electricity is said to be the blood of the cyborg. This electricity brings objects to life, often with light.

Padding and Protection – The skin holds within it a complex and vital padding that shapes the overall form. Designers are taking this to the extreme and experimenting with the layers of protection in a skin.

Warps and Folds – Skin hangs or clings to the body in varying ways. Fashion and architecture find beauty in these wrinkles and creases.


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