Adaptable Building Strategies Facilitate Unpredictable Changes Cultural Studies Essay

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The thesis begins in Chapter 1 by examining the meaning of fitness for purpose and then the challenges faced today with the rapid rate of change of how buildings function, the lack of adaptability causing subsequent demolition and the value a building offers by its ability to be adapted.

Chapter 2 begins by investigating the arguments against complete flexibility, followed then by outlining the meaning of Polyvalency, its design application both physically and spatially. Following that I investigate the elements involved with Adaptability and their benefit in regards facilitating changing requirements within the built environment.

Chapter 3 investigates case studies of buildings that have applied the principles differently outlined in chapters 2 and 3

Chapter 4 critically reflects by way of conclusion the information within the body of the literature review and the its application within the case studies to help facilitate inform my design proposal

Chapter 6 and 7 outlines my design aspirations, proposed building program and site selection for the next stage of my thesis.


Value: To rate something in terms of its usefulness or importance [2] 

Polyvalence: multiple use of space without architectural or structural modification or at the most a non-structural change of internal arrangement [3] 

Adaptability: To make or become fitted to new use or different circumstances by modification [4] 


Apart from the much quoted lines by Benjamin Franklin that nothing is certain other than death and taxes one other social certainty is change itself. Over recent generations the rate of changes in all aspects of life has constantly accelerated. Buildings and in particular the use of buildings is not immune from change. Frequently, mainly due to poor construction, it was more cost effective and pragmatic to demolish a building and rebuild for new requirements rather than try and adapt the old structure.

However poor construction standard was not the only reason to demolish, sometimes it was the old building's inability to adapt to its new function or use. Consequently and in light of ever improving construction standard, the need for adaptability of buildings has exercised the minds of architects. In this document I will set out some of their thinking.

Purpose and Change

1.1 Fitness for Purpose

Leland M Roth in 'Understanding Architecture, describes how Vitruvius defined good architecture into three categories 'utility, firmness and beauty' [5] . Utility meant the functional arrangement of rooms and spaces of the building without hindrance to purpose, in other words it meant suitability. Jacques-François Blondel refined the term in the 18th Century calling it 'convenance' which basically translated into fitness for purpose. For Blondel, 'convenance' outlined the relationship between the building and its inhabitants;

"For the spirit of convenance to reign in a plan, each room must be placed according to its use and to the nature of the building, and must have a form and a proportion relative to its purpose" [6] 

Fitness for purpose in Blondel's definition, in inter alia that the arrangement of a plan should be related to its purpose. Fitness for purpose was thus, an organizational principle. Adrian Forty describes how J.C. Loudon in the 1830's also categorised fitness for purpose as an expression of the end in view [7] .

1.2 Considering Change through Time:

Robert Kronenburg takes the position that buildings today have long complicated lives. During this time their parameters of use can change widely and diversely. He argues that if the building's essential purpose does not change, how it operates can develop beyond recognition. This may result in the destruction and replacement of buildings to accommodate new requirements [8] . Christopher Alexander also argues this point by making reference to an office accommodation in his publication of 'A Pattern Language', he states;

"every human organization goes through a series of changes. In offices, the clusters of work groups, their sizes and functions are all subject to change, often unpredictably" [9] .

Bernard Leupen, Jasper Van Zwol and René Heijne take the position that architecture is not a timeless medium in terms of use. In the introduction to their 'Time based Architecture' they write that today's society is changing so fast, buildings are now faced with new design issues which the architect has to be in a position to meet by designing the building accordingly [10] . Stephen Kendell shares this position but states;

This may not sound so difficult, but it is exactly opposed to the modernist/functionalist tradition. We have learned to define function and then design the building to fit" [11] 

Steward Brand believes that this idea had also misled a century of architects into believing that how a building functioned could be anticipated, but he believes this in reality is not the case when change through time is taken into consideration [12] . He also argues that almost no buildings adapt well but all buildings end up having to adapt to new constantly changing ways of functioning, and that this action continually reshapes how buildings operate. For him it is a 'double reality' in which architecture tries to be permanent but it is always being reshaped [13] . Kronenburg takes a similar position and believes this is a costly process as most buildings have been designed in a way that requires destruction before construction [14] .

Frank Bijbendijk believes that buildings that offer freedom for future use add to their value over time and thus forms an identity that can be related to. This is achieved by its continued use within society. Brand agrees with Bijbendijk believing age and its adaptability are the factors that make a building valuable. Bijbendijk also importantly points out that future change is impossible to predict and holds with it uncertainty. He states that;

"If unpredictable change is the only constant factor, it is there that we must look for certainties. We must build for changability(sic), for constantly changing use." [15] 

Methods for Change

"Freedom - and the ability to change is a form of freedom - will destroy itself without a bounded framework" [16] 

Flexibility to cater for change within architectural discourse is not a new one. Adrian Forty describes how Walter Gropius in 1954 spoke of a need for flexibility within architecture. Forty cites Gropius as stating;

"that architects should conceive building not as monuments but as receptacles for the flow of life which they have to serve…..[and]…..that his conception should be flexible enough to create a background fit to absorb the dynamic features of our modern life" [17] 

Alan Colquhoun described the results of flexible approaches as buildings that were unsuited to their functions as life was to complex and changeable to represent in built form [18] . Herman Hertzberger also argues against the complete flexibility of buildings in this respect stating;

"The flexible plan starts out that the correct solution does not exist, because the problem requiring a solution is in a permanent state of flux, i.e. it is always temporary. Flexibility is always inherent in relativity, but in actual fact it only has to do with uncertainty; with not daring to commit oneself, and therefore with refusing to accept the responsibility that is inevitability bound up with each and every action that one takes" [19] 

Hertzberger argues that architecture that begins with the possibility of any action or occupation can only create results that are intangible and incomprehensible. This produces what he believes as boring results and that it only offers a set of unsuitable solutions to any situation. Leupen argues that there are two ways with how to deal with time and uncertainty in this respect. Firstly you can make a building polyvalent, a theory that Hertzberger agrees with. Secondly you can make them physically adaptable for the changing needs of a particular function. [20] . Both methods begin as a permanent solution but provide a framework to facilitate changes of requirements of function.

2.1 Polyvalence

Leupen describes that the term polyvalence has been used for a long time in the context of multipurpose halls in French villages (sale polyvalente). Leupen defines polyvalence as;

"the multiple use of spaces without architectural or structural modification or at the most a change of internal arrangement using revolving and sliding doors and sliding partitions." [21] 

He believes this is a continuous process and the building remains a permanent but has the capacity to accommodate change within it, by being able to process changes without changing itself as a whole. For Leupen, polyvalence in the public buildings is different than in the private dwelling. In the public building it means that the space is capable of accommodating different activities and changes at the same time or in sequence of each other while providing service rooms. In the private dwelling it is geared towards the interchangeability of activities between different rooms. This means that spatial organisations are different for both. For the public building it is achieved by providing generous dimensions. For the private dwelling it is the relationship between the spaces. He argues that a room accessible from another is less capable to adapt to different patterns of use but if a spatial system allows each room to be accessed from a central point or number of different routes it can adapt for changes of purpose [22] .

Hertzberger argues that overtime a building can be influenced or interpreted in different ways by the occupants and they can also be influenced by it. He argues that the building order of a building provides a framework for this interpretation and is achieved through spatially organised structure creating freedom within it. For him the building order enables the freedom of use to which it will be put, now and in the future [23] .

Leupen's preference is for sustainable polyvalent buildings that would avoid intervention in the built environment as too commonly buildings are demolished which in turn puts a strain on our environment. For him, it will also have an effect on our collective memory.

2.2 Adaptability:

2.2.1 Open Building

Kronenburg argues that adaptable architecture recognises that the future use is not finite and that change is inevitable over time within a building. He believes that a permanent framework is an important element in allowing change to occur within a building [24] .This approach to architecture is when an architect designs for a given purpose but within it, the elements are designed such that changes in requirements over time can be accommodated.

In the 1960's John Habraken introduced the concept of 'Open Building' [25] . The idea of this principle was that the architect and builders work at the level of providing a framework and the occupants work at the fit out of the internal organisation allowing for change to happen incrementally. This principle is much like an archetype described by Walter Benjamin. Joesph D Lewandowski describes how Benjamin believed; Urform (archetype) was a practical way of being. Benjamin argued that the Urform of all dwelling is not for one to be in a finished building, but more like being in a shell. He makes this distinction as he believed that in a shell the inhabitants can alter the space they inhabit [26] .

This is interesting as Kronenburg argues, for buildings to retain their relevance; those who inhabit them must be allowed to take part in the creative process as they are aware of the current needs. He believes this principle is an appropriate strategy for adaptation to changing needs and use. He states;

"Because the building plan had more capacity for different layouts, both at its inception and when change occurs in the future, clients, users and inhabitants are able to get closer to their needs because there are fewer restrictions fixed in place by the shell designer" [27] 

Brand also argues that the configuration of an adaptable building should be based on a rectangle as it subdivides well. In his opinion simple autonomous spaces can be readapted without a strain to the building. He believes if you begin with a complicated form then it is problematic to deal with the complexity of change there-after [28] .

2.2.2 Services

Reyner Banham in his publication 'Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment' believes that the service layer previously outlined plays the most important role in adaptability [29] . Forty describes how he also believed that architecture could be built through a purely technical approach and might end up becoming unrecognisable as architecture [30] . Kronenburg takes the position that this is neither desirable nor efficient. He believes that although architecture needs to be designed to accommodate for change it still has to offer timeless qualities. He states that this represents;

"a stable, developing society and help to establish continuity and purpose" [31] 

He believes that architecture must respond in a balanced way to this constant need for change.

For him to achieve this in regards to services, changes should happen additionally so that systems can interface with new ones. If a building provides flexible conduits for service systems it allows for replacement and upgrading and also for devising layouts and functional space changes. Adaptable strategies for Kronenburg require a complex servicing system if multi-use spaces are to accommodate their functions properly. It not a simple as providing a space that can accommodate different uses, these different functions must be facilitated with the capacity to perform correctly [32] .

2.2.3 Layers for Change and Framing

Francis Duffy argues that a building is made up of several layers of building components that change at different rates. He distinguishes four particular layers with approximate longevity ; the shell (structure which lasts the life time of the building), Services (plumbing, cabling, air conditioning if any and elevators changed every fifteen years), Scenery (internal layout and subdivisions changed five to seven years) and Set (furniture rearrangements, can be minutes to months) [33] . Brand takes the same position but also adds the site and the skin of the building as factors. He believes that due to the different change rates of the different layers a building is essentially pulling itself apart.

"An adaptive building has to allow slippage between the differently-paced systems……otherwise the slow systems block the flow of the quick ones, and the quick ones tear up the slow ones with their constant change. Embedding the systems together may look efficient at first, but over time it is the opposite and destructive as well" [34] 

Leupen's also believes that a building is composed of a series of changing layers but believes access is also one of them. He argues that in principle each layer or combination of layers can be seen as a frame. The frame, in turn can be seen as a permanent part of a building.and each layer or combination of layers can generate freedom for other layers. He states that;

"According to this principle, the permanent part of a building can be thought of as a frame which creates freedom and enables various adjustments to be precisely determined in advance. The frame is not just the permanent part of the building: it also embodies the buildings most important architectural and cultural values, which means that the building can react to changes in the requirements imposed on it over time without damaging its essential character" [35] .

Leupen describes how the space defined by the frame can be polyvalent and it can be adaptable. He argues that a layer can become what he calls a 'frame' by freeing another layer. A 'framed layer' therefore can only change when it is disconnected from the layer that frames it. A simple example of this is, when the structure is based on a loadbearing framework and within it the non-loadbearing walls can be altered for their desired position at any time which would facilitate the open building principle described by Kronenburg. Another example of this is if the services are disconnected from the structure and integrated with the skin of the building or disconnected completely internally or externally into a servant space in which they can become individually adaptable.

"Disconnection creates the conditions for freeing the content with regard to the frame and thus enabling the content to change through time. In this set-up the frame represents the enduring and permanent, and the content the changeable and fluid" [36] 

He also argues that by architecturally articulating the frame it will give the layer its own character. This can be applied to the permanent as its identity to those who perceive it. Leupen argues that the more we are able to articulate and give it meaning to the permanent, the more change can unfold.

2.2.4 Fluctuating Space:

Where specific space is required to fulfil a close fit to functions at a particular time, Kronenburg argues the adaptable strategy of fluctuating space is also a solution. He states;

"In essence this approach to design is to incorporate in a building dedicated, functional spaces that address specific functions that need to be carried out there, but are also directly linked with more ambiguous territory -a sort of buffer zone in which many things can happen" [37] 

This approach is when a space that is closely fit to its functions is juxtapositioned to an overflow zone for the activities to extend out to. Kronenburg argues that it allows the dedicated space to cope with the specific elements of and then allow the unplanned and multi-functional activities to then expand out from that space. This is interesting because Kronenburg describes a criticism against adaptability due to its flexible nature, as outlined previously by Colquhoun, is that it cannot facilitate suitability to the specific functions that some spaces require and may compromise its functioning correctly.

3 Case Studies

3.1 Case Study Central Beheer Office Building,- Herman Hertzberger with Lucas & Niemeijer 1968-72

The Central Beheer Office was to accommodate a rapidly changing business organisation. The architects designed the building under the principles of a building order and spatial grid. The building forms a sort of settlement of spatial units tied together to form a coherent whole. The office building program was high in diversity. Each element of the program was accommodated within a spatial unit (3m x3m). Each unit was then placed within the uniform spatial grid. The brief called for a building that could accommodate spaces for specific functioning of the office workers but also allow constant changes to be accommodated without disrupting the rest of the building and maintaining equilibrium of use.

"The building has been designed as an ordered expanse, consisting of a basic structure which manifests itself as an essentially fixed and permanent zone throughout the building, and a complementary variable and interpretable zone" [38] 

Each spatial unit is square in plan, with a cruciform transitional space which enters from the middle of each unit. Each unit also acts as an interpretable zone in which a series of primary building components can be inserted. The primary building components can also be rearranged or changed between each spatial unit. A combination of four units forms a larger square unit or 'island' with a cruciform transitional space dividing the smaller units from each other. Leupen states that over three decades of use the building has been able to accommodate all the changes in working methods and cultural trends [39] .

3.2 Case Study Amsterdam Arts Metropole, Weil Aretes 2005

The Arts Metropole, designed by Weil Aretes for the Dutch arts organisation is a conversion of a 1970s six-storey office block. Its new use is to function as a venue for contemporary arts. The architect's aspiration was to break away from the conventional museum format and designed to accommodate any sort of art installation or performance that might be expected. The building demonstrates how a shell construction allowed for complete change of use to be applied to it. It also demonstrates how a combined frame of steel lattice structure, access and services within a double skin on the perimeter of the building facilitates a polyvalent column free space that is free to be subdivided when needed and also space to adapt the elements of the frame. The façade changes in appearance between a transparency and obscurity depending on the perspective of view allowing a shift between figurative sculpture and a large window display. The levels consist of four floors of exhibition spaces which are stacked above a cafe, shop and bar on the ground floor, with restaurant and social public space at the top of the building [40] .

3.3 Case Study Pompidou Centre, Paris - Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers 1977

The Pompidou Centre is a multi-media arts complex designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers for the purpose of creating a new cultural centre for Paris. The design intention was to express the role of change within architecture and also facilitate it practically. The design was not only aimed its purpose but also for the local residents of the area, the chance visitor and tourist. From the exterior of the building the viewer was supposed to understand that architecture could enable freedom of activity and use. The architects wanted to create a;

"truly dynamic meeting place where activities would overlap in flexible, well-serviced spaces, a people's centre, a university of the street reflecting the constantly changing needs of users" [41] 

The building owes its polyvalency to the independence of its structure, its means of access, and its services in particular the ducting and the airconditioning units on the roof. These three layers are combined to form a frame but sufficiently disconnected from each other to allow for maintenance and replacement over time. This collaboration of the layers to form a frame allows the internal space to become polyvalent. It is essentially uncoupled from the other layers, allowing large open floor space to be freely to be subdivided by partitions for exhibitions. The services are then feed into the building from the exterior as well as all elements of structure and access. The upper floors of the building consists of museum for modern art, a reference library, a centre for industrial design and a centre for music and acoustic research. The ground floor level of the building serves a double height hall, retail facilities, temporary exhibits and a reception area. One of the successful achievements of the Pompidou Centre helped change an undesirable area into a vibrant community. The building was also not just designed for a selected group of individuals but more for the reason of reaching out to a greater community.

3.4 Case Study INO Hospital Addition, Bern, Switzerland - Suter &Partner Architekten 2001

The INO addition to Insel University Hospital was based on open building principle. It was designed on the premise to new functioning of medical procedures, new regulations, and new market and insurance conditions within its existing purpose as a hospital. The architects split the building into three systems, each based on their expected operational lifespan; the structure formed the primary system (100 years) and provided the permanent element for changes to take place within. The secondary system of (20 plus years) comprises of the changing department sizes and layouts of emergency, surgery and pharmacy departments. The territory system (5 to 10 years) is composed of the equipment and furnishings.

"The approach yielded benefits even before the Phase I was completed. Functional layouts had already morphed because of changes in the organization's priorities and client base, as well as medical procedures, hospital politics, and technology. The primary system has allowed that to happen with a minimum of fuss" [42] 

The primary system works on a 8.4m grid with bays of 3.6m providing possible 'punch through' zones to avail of provisions of vertical circulation and service points with the secondary system adapting spatially and practically within the framework that as the need arose.

3.5 Case Study Seattle Public Library, Rem Koolhass 2004

Rem Koolhass practised the concept of fluctuating space in his design for the Seattle Public Library. The approach taken was to design a series of spatial compartments each dedicated to their own role within zones of unpredictability categorising them as stable and unstable zones. Koolhass organised the building vertically on five platforms with the fluctuating space between the levels. Each specific space was designed so that a small amount of change in functioning could take place but the spill over space could accommodate unplanned and multifunctional activities [43] .

4 Conclusion

5 Brief Statement

My vision for the project is to propose an 'Art Studio and Exhibition Centre'. Drawing for my case study research, exhibition spaces require specific requirements large degree of adaptability to accommodate changes in the appropriation of space. Kronenburg has also outlined that exhibition spaces are a typical building type that are used to symbolise a city's changing status and physical sign of its regeneration as they have both value for the local population, attract new vistors and investors.

Designing an adaptable building of this type within a permanent framework would promote its capacity to absorb the changing needs of the inhabitants. This adaptable approach could then be expressed to the surrounding environment promoting that architecture can be an enabler for freedom of activity, use and interpretation. This would form an emotional value within its context by constantly reflecting its continued use for society as previously referenced to in the research.

I will design this by;

Design the structure on an open building principle within an appropriate building order.

Apply the method of polyvalence and fluctuating space to non-static elements of the program.

Treat the building as a system of layers and disconnect them from each other for increased longevity and articulating them to express their independence and adaptability to form the buildings character.

The building will include space for an adaptable artist studios for public workshops, polyvalent and adaptable exhibition spaces to cater for a range of media from paintings to art installations and performances including exhibits from the public and professional artists, a lecture room, a public meeting space for the locality and public retail facilities such as a café and a shop for art supplies to service the work of the studios and the locality. The scheme will also include an Art reference library.

6 Site Analysis

The chosen site is located in a densely populated urban context. The site is undeveloped and located between Mountjoy Street, Graham's Row and St. Mary's Place North in Dublin 7. The site's total area is 1356msq.

This site has been chosen because it was referenced in Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017 as a strategic location for development of sustainable buildings that deal with enhancing the culture of the city. The plan categorises sustainability as an objective in which living can be maintained in the long term and fits with my research into adaptable building solutions. Also the plan prioritises the need for cultural buildings such as exhibition spaces and libraries for the community and also to provide environments for artists to work and to add more public art to public areas to help facilitate regeneration of identified areas in Dublin City. The site proposed has been identified as space to be developed for this reason and is zoned (Z1) for providing amenities for the community.

The site from the historical maps had been undeveloped before the 20th century. There is evidence of some building facing the street front on the 1995 map but had been demolished by the year 2000. The area is mainly residential with a housing estate to the north called paradise place which originally had a small community of cottages, but they were also demolished in the 1970's and replaced with newer housing. The site itself was 'a yard' that was connected to the adjacent church and was used for the gathering of residents after church service. The site today has been fenced off from public use and remains vacant.

Appendix Design Charette 1 -Space

The first design charette called 'Space' called for students to read and analyse the Greek Tragedy Oresteia originally by Aeschylus and translated by Ted Hughes. The book is based on the curse of House of Atreus and is set over three plays, Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides. The brief called for students to find the thesis of the play or perhaps an element of the play through research and then to explore it spatially in architectural terms through the initial medium of drawing and then through a physical model.

I chose to deal with the transformation of……………

List of Figures