It’s Time to Rethink ‘Temporary’ - dynamic architecture and envirnonment PART ONE

Allison Arieff on design and architecture

We tend to view architecture as permanent, as aspiring to the status of monuments. And that kind of architecture has its place. But so does architecture of a different sort. For most of the first decade of the 2000s, architecture was about the statement building. Whether it was a controversial memorial or an impossibly luxurious condo tower, architecture’s raison d’être was to make a lasting impression. Architecture has always been synonymous with permanence, but should it be?

In the last few years, the opposite may be true. Architectural billings are at an all-time low. Major commissions are few and far between. The architecture that’s been making news is fast and fleeting: pop-up shops, food carts, marketplaces, performance spaces. And while many manifestations of the genre have jumped the shark (i.e., a Toys R Us pop-up shop), there is undeniable opportunity in the temporary: it is an apt response to a civilization in flux. And like many prevailing trends — collaborative consumption (a.k.a., “sharing”), community gardens, barter and trade — “temporary” is so retro that it’s become radical.

 

Why should architecture be static?

In November, I had the pleasure of moderating Motopia, a panel at University of Southern California’s School of Architecture, with Robert Kronenburg, an architect, professor at University of Liverpool and portable/temporary/mobile guru. Kronenburg is a man obsessed. Mobility has an innate potency, Kronenburg believes. Movable environments are more dynamic than static ones, so why should architecture be so static? The idea that perhaps all buildings shouldn’t aspire to permanence represents a huge shift for architecture. Without that burden, architects, designers, builders and developers can take advantage of and implement current technologies faster. Architecture could be reusable, recyclable and sustainable. Recast in this way, it could better solve seemingly unsolvable problems. And still succeed in creating a sense of place.

 

Portable architecture was always there

In his presentation, Kronenburg offered examples of how portable, temporary architecture has been used in every aspect of human activity, including health care (from Florence Nightingale’s redesigned hospitals to the Airstream trailers used as mobile medical clinics during the Kennedy Administration), housing (from yurts to tents to architect Shigeru Ban’s post-earthquake paper houses), culture and commerce (stage sets and Great Exhibition buildings, centuries-old Bouqinistes along the Seine, mobile food, art and music venues offering everything from the recording of stories to tasty crème brulees.)

Kronenburg made a compelling argument that the experimentation inherent in such structures challenges preconceived notions about what buildings can and should be. The strategy of temporality, he explained, “adapts to unpredictable demands, provides more for less, and encourages innovation.” And he stressed that it’s time for end-users, designers, architects, manufacturers and construction firms to rethink their attitude toward temporary, portable and mobile architecture.

 

Inject spontaneity into urban development!

This is as true for development and city planning as it is for architecture. City-making may have happened all at once at the desks of master planners like Daniel Burnham or Robert Moses, but that’s really not the way things happen today. No single master plan can anticipate the evolving and varied needs of an increasingly diverse population or achieve the resiliency, responsiveness and flexibility that shorter-term, experimental endeavors can. Which is not to say long-term planning doesn’t have its place. The two work well hand in hand. Mike Lydon, founding principal of The Street Plans Collaborative, argues for injecting spontaneity into urban development, and sees these temporary interventions (what he calls “tactical urbanism”) as short-term actions to effect long-term change.

Though there’s been tremendous media attention given to quick and cheap projects like San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks and New York’s “gutter cafes,” Lydon sees something bigger than fodder for the style section. “A lot of these things were not just fun and cool,” he says. “It was not just a bottom-up effort. It’s not D.I.Y. urbanism. It’s a continuum of ideas, techniques and tactics being employed at all different scales.”

 

Why is Pop-up architecture happening?

“We’re seeing a lot of these things emerge for three reasons,” Lydon continues. “One, the economy. People have to be more creative about getting things done. Two, the Internet. Even four or five years ago we couldn’t share tactics and techniques via YouTube or Facebook. Something can happen randomly in Dallas and now we can hear about it right away. This is feeding into this idea of growth, of bi-coastal competition between New York and San Francisco, say, about who does the cooler, better things. And three, demographic shifts. Urban neighborhoods are gentrifying, changing. They’re bringing in people looking to improve neighborhoods themselves. People are smart and engaged and working a 40-hour week. But they have enough spare time to get involved and this seems like a natural step.”

Lydon isn’t advocating an end to planning but encourages more short-term doing, experimenting, testing (which can be a far more satisfying alternative to waiting for projects to pass). While this may not directly change existing codes or zoning regulations, that’s O.K. because, as Lydon explains, the practices employed “shine a direct light on old ways of thinking, old policies that are in place.”

 

Go to part 2.

 

Allison Arieff first published on The Opinion Pages of the New York Times

All pictures via NYT, Foto 1: Airstream: History of the Land Yacht, Foto 3: De Transparent Kerk

Sat, 02.06.2012 0

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