Corners are a design opportunity, potentially telling part of the story of a building through the material fabric of a buildings surface. Corners can be a tool for wayfinding, a way to change the visual size of an object or an opportunity to show off great design. Nothing stands out as inauthentic or insincere in a buildings story as a poorly designed corner. Why? Corners often tell us about a buildings character, a chosen materials strength, tactility or lightness and how the materials interact with each other.
Two very simple ways to consider corner materiality is that of planes and masses. A plane is essentially a two dimensional surface like paint, panels, stucco, or lap siding. Mass is a material with three obvious dimensions like stone, brick or concrete. On the outside corner, the corner pointing away from the building, your material will show as mass or plane. Here is the fun part, and a telltale sign of good design, if the face is a mass type material – such as stone - and it occurs at an outside corner, look to see if the stone has stone-like mass or if it is revealed as a thin plane. Bam! Now you know whether that stone was a fake thin veneer or shown as the real thing with mass dimensionality. A great example of a poor outside corner can be found in many chain sandwich shops where a brick like surface terminates at an outside corner and immediately turns into something else. Of course the brick material in these sandwich shops is often just wallpaper and already showing its dishonesty to materiality but that’s not what this is about.
What do good designers do? A good designer will terminate a material in a way that respects the material. Where is the best place to end a material? The inside corner, the corner pointing towards the building. At the inside corner, viewers can no longer see the side of the material so this becomes a natural place for material transition. Inside corners are where mass, plane, color or texture feel most comfortable to meet.
Take a look at the built world around you, what stories do the buildings tell? Do you often see materials telling a story on one face and not telling the same story on another face Or does the story flow consistently around the whole building? Architecture is art and the way corners are designed is an important moment in the story.