Touch Virtuosi: Examining Bernard Rudofsky’s Approach to “Floors”

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Andrea Bocco Guarneri has done well to have organized and executed such a thorough book as “A Humane Designer.” Guarnerri presents us with unpublished Rudofsky essays, forgotten design projects, his world travels, his history and more. One need only open the book randomly to find some hitherto unknown story about Rudofsky or project that Rudofsky was involved in.

Today I would like to open up his short work “Variations – On a Floor” as presented in “A Humane Designer.” In this short article which was originally published in Variazioni sometime in the 1930s, Rudofsky calls attention to that most often forgot of space, the floor. For him, the floor is a much overlooked part of the living space. He examines the Italian word “pianta,” which means both “floor” and “the sole of the foot.” For Rudofsky this intertwining of the foot and the floor is crucial. That is to say, he wishes to call attention to the tactile importance of the floor and sees the floor as that point where the human is grounded, not to mention its power to affect one’s perception of relaxation and comfort.

When I spent time in South Korea, my modest apartment had heated floors. That is, I had no gas stove or wall-mounted heating unit, but a steady warmth emanating from the floor. At first I was quite skeptical as to the benefits of this method of heating, but as winter approached and the temperatures dropped, I realized that walking barefoot across a warm floor was pure bliss. The warmth seemed to travel from the feet to the head and to the heart. I rarely if ever felt chilly while in the apartment.

Rudofsky also mentions that the word “pianta” also means “that springs from the soil.” For Rudofsky, the melding of interior and exterior was important. Some of his houses included indoor gardens or rooms with grass instead of carpeting. Rudofsky wished to bring nature back into the living space and not disconnect the inhabitant from the tactile freshness of nature. This means that, the floor need not be flat, but alight with bumps and crevices, plants sprouting and perhaps even flowers blooming.

Rudofsky also writes, “Try to persuade yourselves that the floor is the noblest part of the house. Make beautiful floors and respect them (184).” This attention to creating a living floor, a special floor, for Rudofsky would help to illuminate the living presence of the house or building. Again, the sole of the foot connects with the floor. As I sit here and write this I am quite aware of my wooden floor and its cooling qualities, despite its propensity for accumulating dirt and dust. At this point I can only dream of a Rudofskyesque marble floor devoid of rugs, light pink with blue veins (as he mentions), a gentle refreshing coldness perhaps complimented by a nice pair of slippers.

picture by Subramanyan

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