Secartys News – “Transverse materiality”, a concept applied to architecture

Transversality is one of the most overused words in recent times. It is one of the most used in politics. Transversality or transversalism is an ideological trend that defends the refusal to identify their ideas with the classical political spectrum, based on the left-right distinction.On the other hand, transversalism can be applied to positions that declare other different political cleavages obsolete. But what do we mean by transversal cross materiality ’? I like to say that “looking crosswise is not looking sideways.” It is about learning from who we are next to, learning from other disciplines and working as a team, applying the talent of each person for the benefit of common objectives.

Looking crosswise has a lot to do with designing together, co-creating, co-designing … And if we talk about co-design, we are also talking about open innovation. Therefore, we will talk about multidisciplinary teams, with different training and knowledge, that unite around a common project. The talent of all of them lies mainly in how they look at the world.

Open innovation is a term coined by Professor Henry Chesbrough and defines a new innovation strategy, whereby companies go beyond their limits and develop cooperation with organizations and other professionals outside of it. That is, they stop looking at the navel to look at the neighbor’s navel. Traditionally, companies have managed innovation in a closed way (closed innovation or closed innovation), a system through which research projects were managed simply with the ‘know how’ and the means of the system itself.

Under this classic model, projects can only start inside the company and end in their own market. However, under the open innovation model, projects can originate both inside and outside the company. External talent can be incorporated both at the beginning of projects and in intermediate stages of the innovation process, and can reach the market through the same company or through other companies.

Talking about ‘open innovation’ also means talking about ‘design thinking’, always putting the project at the center, that is, the user and not the architect / designer, who together with the other disciplines involved, must be positioned as rotating satellites around it.

Architecture is a holistic discipline. In it, everything is or should be connected, and therefore a transversal view from various disciplines is necessary. But the transversal view can be applied through three axes.


1) Time. Analyze an object, space, or any other material through the historical step. In other words, it is necessary to be aware of the past, to design a better future from the present.

2) Discipline. The same material can be seen and interpreted differently by each of the disciplines involved in a project. And all of them are valid. What’s more, we can learn from other disciplines and apply them in ours. If we only learn from ‘ours’, we will always end up doing the same.

3) Sector. Retail, ‘healthcare’, ‘hospitality’, ‘workplace’ or ‘home’ are not the same, but we can make communicating vessels between them. The future is increasingly hybrid and the borders between sectors and disciplines are increasingly blurred.

Lateral thinking

The ‘look & feel’ (atmosphere or ambience) and the ‘style’ of the architectural space depend on a previous strategy and its material tangibility, through design. In architecture all five senses participate, but it is touch, apart from sight, one of the most essential.

When we talk about material we can talk about sensations, textures, sustainability criteria, prices, construction systems … That is why we can talk about the material in a transversal sense. As Edward de Bono taught us in his ‘Six Thinking Hats’, we must use a constructive working method, instead of confronting arguments to make a correct selection of materials. We must look at the material from different prisms, putting on each occasion a different shadow. Thus, the white hat will focus on facts and figures; red in emotions and feelings; the black in having judgment and caution; yellow will be speculative-positive; green will focus on creative thinking; and blue will help us in the control of thought.

The six-hat method, lateral thinking, is essential because it allows our brain to maximize its sensitization in different directions and at different times. Because it is impossible to experience that maximum awareness in different directions at the same time. Ironically and freely quoting Jack the Ripper, we have to do the work in parts, applying a different look at each moment, although in the end, we connect them all in a transversal way.

‘Brand material’

Regarding materiality and transversality, it is also important to refer to the concept called ‘brand material’, which allows encompassing aspects that can be treated from a different prism than the usual materiality linked to ‘branding’, such as materials, textures , the use of color, lighting, brand identity, construction details, fixings … Because ‘branding’ is not only about designing a logo and choosing corporate colors. Matter, what we see and touch, also transmits brand sensations and values.

It is about choosing the materials that make up the architecture, using a color palette and textures that, together with the shape, allow the brand image to be projected.

Because to speak of materials, one should not wait when we are preparing the ‘measurement status’ of a project. Now what do I build it from? Wood, metal, ceramic …? The choice of materials must take place much earlier and be something intrinsic to the project. In the initial creative phase of a project, the reference and material ‘moodboards’ are key to transmitting the ‘look & feel’ of the project. There are even architects that the first ideas on which to spin creativity are precisely this choice of material. This would be the case, for example, of the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, Pritzker Prize 2009, who in ‘Thinking about architecture’ writes: “Thus, in my work I put all my attention in conceiving my buildings as bodies, constructing them as an anatomy and a skin, like a mass, a membrane, like matter or wrapping, cloth, silk and shiny steel. ”

Another possible look around materiality is sustainability. The future of architecture will be sustainable yes or yes, because otherwise we will not exist. In 2016, we spent 50% more of all natural resources produced by planet Earth in a year, and at this rate in 2100 we will need three planet Earths, when we only have one. That is why we use ecological, recyclable, Km 0 materials, etc. It is not an added value to our projects, but a value that should be intrinsic. 

We have to reread ‘Cradle to Cradle’ (‘From cradle to cradle’) and apply what we have learned to architecture. It invites us to redesign the way we do things. It is a book published in 2002 by the German chemist-ecologist and ex-member of the world organization ‘Greenpeace’, Michael Braungart, and the American landscape architect William McDonough, in which they propose a new way of interpreting environmentalism, the next industrial revolution. 

Faced with this situation, they propose that we always tackle problems from their roots. Instead of reducing energy consumption, we must take into account across the board, from the very design and conception of any product, strategy or policy, all the phases of the products involved (extraction, processing, use, reuse, recycling … .), so that energy costs are not even necessary, even if the balance of expenses and contributions is positive.

Without doubt, we must apply the ‘rule of three R’. And I say three, when there could be many more: rehabilitate, renew, recover, reuse, reduce, recycle, reuse, redesign …


Do we rethink together the materiality of our projects?

Miquel Àngel Julià,


Architect and Director of Strategy and Design at Grup Idea

Vice President of Retail Design Institute Spain