An enduring objective in design is to develop objects that achieve a sense of ‘wholeness’. If we are to rationalise this notion beyond a purely visual framing, it is necessary to consider the means of material application and component harmony.

Application of material is a key factor within the design process. How can we use a material to create components or objects without arbitrarily cutting, machining, casting and generating form, and, in the process, disregarding the inherent values of the material? To fulfil the requirements of a component or object we should instead look to manipulate the material according to its unique constraints.

The same logic informs the selection of materials. By selecting a standard section or material, we are using a material in its most logical and inclusive form. Design centres, then, on the manipulation and application of this form, and through the creative negotiation with material constraints, not by its arbitrary redefinition or suspension.

The logic of consistent material application repeats at the level of individual components. In the same way that cutting forms out of a material may override the nature of the material, the process of welding and adhering connective parts onto other components can obscure the value of individual components, and result in a lack of cohesion in the total assembly.

Take, for example, the connective components commonly used in the plywood shell chair with tubular steel frame. The underside of the shell typically features a glued-on ply disc, which is then fixed by screws to a metal plate welded onto the tubular legs. These connective elements (ply disc / metal plate) exist to fulfil the singular function of joining seat to frame. To eliminate the need for these one-dimensional components, greater consideration must be given to the way the core components come together. By developing components that can fulfil multiple functions, such as structure and connection, superfluous connective elements can be omitted. Instead of using certain elements merely as a means to bring other elements together, this function should be incorporated within the central components themselves.

The benefits of this can be interpreted in a quantifiable way through the reduction of physical material and material processing – by combining multiple functions into a single component we reduce the overall quantity of components required to create any single object, with an obvious sustainability benefit. Beyond this, however, we achieve a greater harmony between components and enhanced cohesion in the assembly overall.

As the inessential parts are stripped out, the relationship between the remaining components is rendered more direct. In particular, their co-dependence becomes apparent, each part relying on another to fulfil its function.

Often, a relationship between components is achieved through the imposition of a common visual language. Through a vocabulary of shared profile dimensions, radii, material etc. the hope is to provide enough continuity to allow the assembly to be read as a whole. However, by developing components that fulfil multiple functions eliminating the use of superfluous connective elements, a level of cohesion is achieved that exceeds the merely visual.

Although the notion of wholeness within design can seem an abstract and elusive aspiration, by considering material application and developing a more harmonious relationship between components, we find practical tools and methods readily at hand.