Student Name: Anna Grubinski Ossyra

School: Woodbury University

Studio: Senior Thesis Project

Instructor: Heather Peterson

Materiality of Things is a multisensory design project for a Senior Community


The project explores the importance of material authenticity in multisensory design, through the use of one material (white oak) in all of its tectonic expressions, to address a range of programmatic conditions, with the aim of achieving sensory resonance and material performativity.


In The Principle of Cladding, Adolf Loos states that, “Every material possesses its own language of forms, and none may lay claim for itself to the forms of another material.” A critical understanding of materiality, and the deliberate manipulation of material characteristics, behaviors, and performativity allow us to achieve sensory alignment with architectural conditions and spatial effects.

This project explores the importance of material authenticity in multisensory design, through the use of one material (white oak) in all of its tectonic expressions, to address a range of programmatic conditions, with the aim of achieving sensory resonance and material performativity.

I designed a senior community center located in California for socially active 65 and older. Senior centers offer opportunities for social interactions, friendships, and emotional support.

The oak tree is one of the most widespread and one of the most majestic trees in Northern America. And wood as material is one of the most magnificent materials gifted to us by nature. Since the beginning of time, it has not only given us shelter and protection, but also stimulated our senses. Wood delivers a very unique tactile experience. When we slide our hand over the soft grain, smell the aroma of the wood, and listen to the unique sound while walking over a wood floor our senses awaken and we feel a strong connection with nature and the tree it came from. It is the simplicity of the material that speaks its own language. 


In this project, I wanted to explore the diverse array of tectonic expressions wood has to offer. Starting with the light airiness of veneer that can be bent and backlit, through the pliability of the flat sawn lumber, to the determined resilience of the end-grain which wood may possess, simply by cutting it at another angle.

The layout of the space stimulates social interaction. It converges and intertwines activities like eating, cooking, dancing, or reading into one space. Entering the courtyard, we are immediately immersed into the lifecycle of the vegetal world. The tree and planters take center-stage here, showing the flourishing qualities of nature, the aromas of the plants filling the space and inviting one inside.


Wood plays a central role in this building, and this space is no exception. Here, we are granted an intimate view of our relationship with both the material, and the trees it comes from. The walls are covered in recycled oak wood cladding, the horizontal lines drawing our eyes towards the center of the building. The floor, too, is made of wood. We walk over a cobblestone-like surface that is made of end-grain pieces. The closed cellular structure of white oak makes it water- and rot-resistant and very well suited for outdoor use. The smell of the herb garden, the sound of music and voices from the inside, and the insight into the space through the large glass doors invite us to step inside and explore it with all senses.


An American chef once said “Everything happens in the kitchen. Life happens in the kitchen.” The cooking area is the midpoint and the heart of this community center. We are greeted with a large window, which invites the natural environment into the space. In doing so, the exterior is united with the interior, the light monolithicity of the cooking environment is balanced by the various dark hues of green outside. This space is designed to promote collaboration. It will be used for cooking classes, social gatherings, or just spending time with each other. The white oak creates an elegantly simple backdrop for these activities. The three islands gather the people around the space. The prep area consists of a large butcher block which represents the logical progression from our primordial origins. Butcher blocks have been in use as long as humanity has prepared food, and I wanted to reflect this in my design, highlighting an important example of our connection with the material.


On the other side of the kitchen there is a lounging area, featuring a fireplace and sitting areas. The wall panels are treated by a technique used by oak barrel making known as toasting. The wood is treated by high heat and fire to reach the right level of aroma that later influences the bouquet in wine. The different levels of toasting have different shades in the wood. The chairs are upholstered in raw leather, which compliments the white oak interior. The raw leather and the wood will oxidize with age but still keep their natural appearance and character.


From the lounge area we enter the library. In the center of the library is a large table below a skylight. The table will be used for computer classes, writing, or drawing activities. The library is unique for its incorporation of the finer elements of wood. Its design recognizes the value of wood found in paper, the knowledge it contains, and its similarity to the material which coats its walls: veneer. The reading nooks are integrated into the walls and have a pull-out table. A skylight above them allows natural light to filter in, allowing each nook to feel personal and intimate while still lighting up the space.


Adjacent to the kitchen is the dining room. This room recognizes the variability in wood, the fact that, while not every tree may be suited to be turned into a piece of dimensional lumber, it still is beautiful in its own right. This room is a celebration of nature’s perfect imperfection. The sticks which line the ceiling, seemingly floating as if held by nothing, to the large crack which runs down the center of the dining table, all demonstrate this principle of sublime imperfection. The contrast between these elements and the simple refinement of lumber creates a unique dichotomy for the eye to explore. Even on a more minute scale, this dichotomy is present. The cracks in the dining table are held together by clean and precise joints, enhancing the strength of the material while still maintaining its visual integrity.


The final room is the multipurpose dance/exercise room. It is adjacent to the dining area but may be physically separated by a pocket door. The room is designed to emulate the interior of a basket-woven lantern. The ceiling is made out of basket woven veneer. The walls, too, are covered in a thin layer of veneer, and are backlit, allowing a subtle degree of lighting to illuminate the space through them. These lights follow the rhythm of the music and allow people with hearing impairment to see and feel the music. This is also supported by the structure of the flooring which lets them feel the pulse of the music. The lighting of the space, in combination with the natural light which enters from its two large windows, gives the space a light and airy feeling.

As we return to the courtyard we are reminded of another quote from Loos “Be truthful, nature only sides with truth.”