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In every doorsteps of the new century, human beings are having stringent demands in adaptation on dramatic changes; changes on speed, physical environment, economy, social network and information technology. Even though there is an ever-increasing demand for flexibility on activities and products, why that is our inhabitable space, our most intimate atmosphere, is still a static boring piece of unit sitting on a constant location. Is there is an imbalance over architecture and information development which is visible? However psychologically people are not ready for this challenge of 'move'. It is argued by R. Kronenburg [i] that, 'To be ultimately flexible and ultimately adaptable these activities must be sheltered by mobile architecture.'(J. Siegal 2002:14)
When thinking about the evolution of architecture, traditionally, our intelligent ancestor built architecture which was temporary and portable from Bedouin tents to Tuareg mat huts and Mongolian yurts. They constructed inhabitation which enabled them to constantly on move to search for better life. Moreover, according to the Bible, the book of Genesis, chapter six to nine, God, the creator, assigned Noah to build a huge lightweight timber ark, in order to accommodate thousands of living creatures and his family to survive from severe weather changes. In reality, we are forced to be flexible and adaptable due to frequent geographical shifts that are taking places, i.e., natural disasters, global warming and political instability, which make some regions on the earth uninhabitable. These are exactly what we have to face nowadays and what our children will have to face in the future.
In opposing to the ancient's old-fashion temporary construction technology, people strive for an environmental, social and emotional stability. That is how iconic monuments are built as a symbol of power and recognition at their sphere of influences. However nowadays, lot of monuments were not functioned to their highest potential and being left out, thus eventually being demolished as time goes by. Taking the Wupatki National monument [ii] as an example, it was a site of ancient people's pueblos (houses) in 12th and 13th centuries. Due to volcanic eruption of the nearby Sunset Volcano in 1064-65, residents were being forced to leave their homes; therefore the Wupatko Pueblo homes were being abandoned for more than 700 years. So it is definitely a civilised and logically way, to take ourselves/houses on board for a rootedness path by portable architecture. Unlike the ancient Egyptian enormous Pyramid to burial deceased which was not subject to any activities and development.
In nowadays' society, there is always a non-stop transfer of information and physical movements of individuals. For example, foreign visits by national representatives, business trips by businessmen, working holiday travels by young working adults, etc. Statistically, 'The average U.S. resident will move a total of 16 times over their lifetime, about once every five years! Now that is a lot of moving!' [iii] Moving is not only a stressful job but also environmentally inefficient.
A solution to this troublesome moving house task is to be able to live in a permanent interior space with the option of impermanent environment, neighbourhood and location. A mobile dwelling, i.e. caravan, gives you the answer.
When discussing the topic of popularity of mobile homes, there is a growth in number, average age, salary and family size. People have migrated into mobile homes from apartments and houses because they much prefer mobile homes both aesthetically and economically. The demand for mobile homes has gaining at an increasing rate over years; they are becoming more luxurious and smartly designed to make homeowners proud. The average house price in the United Kingdom is £219,832 [iv] . In comparison with the cost of a family caravan which is £35,000 [v] , the cost of a house or an apartment is six times more. The budget that we saved from buying caravan can be wisely used to improve living standard in many aspects.
If the facts mentioned above are not convincing enough, it would be beneficial to look at historical case studies and theories in order to generate our creativities to back up with the idea of mobile dwelling. An inventor of a new architecture does not necessarily has to be an architect or with such a background. Like R. Buckminster Fuller who had been able to come up with a new solution for the immediate present and foreseeable future demand. He invented the Dymaxion Deployment Unit (DDU) for military defence housing at the wartime, 1941. Despite its appearance, Fuller claimed that his 'Dymaxion round- house' had a vast good qualities including, fireproof, insulated and termite-proof, demountable, bullet resistant, mass producible, easily ventilated and heated, and economical in material and cost, therefore a sagacious tactical object at the time. Although the DDU experienced substantial assaults, Fuller was positive with his providence and he continuously developed his enclosure -structure technology [vi] . It was based on lightweight and Y.C. Wong's so called 'trans-continental portable environment system' (Kronenhurg 1998:65).
According to R. Buckminster Fuller in Utopia or Oblivion, he said that human behaviour pattern is slow. The universal formulations and transformation speed is 700 million miles per hour. However Man's furthest attempted top speed of self-transport is only 15000 miles per hour. From an economical point of view, speed is a crucial element of industrial development. When man is as immobile as death, thus the universe is at a low productivity. It is said by physicists' Law of Conservation of Energy that 'energy may be neither created nor destroyed-ergo is finite' (Fuller 1970: 353). And currently much energy has been wasted on to varies activities and functions by the slowly moving humanity. This implies that Fuller supported the idea of mobile dwelling which is lightweight and freely transportable, because it can accelerate humanity's speed, thus economical development. One example of his invention of mobile dwelling is the Dymaxion cars (DTU) [vii] which was capable to travel on land, sea and air.
To be more explicit to Fuller's theory, in year 1983, he once said: (Pawley 1992: 57)
Since I was intend to developing a high-technology dwelling machine that could be air delivered to any remote, beautiful country site where there might be no roadways or landing fields for airplanes, I decided to try to develop an omni-medium transport vehicle to function in the sky, on negotiable terrain, or on water- to be securely landable anywhere, like an eagle.
Pros and cons of portable architecture
Certainly, the concept of movable architecture is no doubt, being acknowledged by the public that it was Fuller's influence. Referring to the book, Transportable Environments 1997, an international conference on portable architecture was held in the same year in London. In which, attendants were coming from worldwide and all seeking for the same vision. The vision was to use lightweight, responsive and adaptable structure to solve difficult problems in this dramatically changing world (Kronenburg 1997: 4).
It is oblivious that the idea of movable architecture had been an ad-hoc topic for years, however why are there still a lot of housing developments going on with groundwork foundation? Fuller explained that 'the great world housing problem is an educational problem' (Fuller 1970: 413). In general, people have a wrong perception of moveable structure, which is short-term, temporary, cheap and disposable. However they did not put forward of their thinking of many transportation which contain living facilities, they are also permanent structures which are constantly being used over times. This is why people still choose to be unchanged and constrict themselves in shells-houses.
On the other hand, capitalists and developers tend to maximise their profit by going for a safe and conventional option of housing developments. Inventors (like Fuller and Archigram) in the past were then being neglected as their idea of housing were viewed as unrealistic, especially when talking about housing but not product design. It is hoping that in this new century, current innovators can establish their recognition and provoke global attention towards the advantages of mobile and portable dwelling.
Besides caravans all around the world and Fuller's Dymaxion Design, there are many examples of the 21st century new mobile architecture designed by architects, engineers and designers such as, Ian Liddell of his works on a wide range of transportable structure, Richard Horden with his micro architecture projects, Alex Thallemer, the creator of Airtecture and N55, Danish artists organization with their design of compact living. These designs share common qualities of big freedom in regards to contextual boundary and regulation restriction, and cooperated with innovative technology, which are smartly correlated to the environment and have a thoughtful consideration to the users.
1) Ski haus, Richard Horden:
Richard Horden, a British architect and professor of architecture and design at the University of Munich. This gives him the opportunity to educate the younger generation about his idea of 'micro architecture' and the fundamental essence of architecture - the nature. Sharing the same believe as Buckminster Fuller of the finite resources in the universe, Horden once mentioned from his book Micro architecture (Horden2008:15) :
As demands on the planet and its finite resources confront designers of all-size structures in every location with an ecological imperative, the ability to work comfortably and dynamically within limits- of size, material, energy- will become not only an increasingly marketable skill but an invaluable one.
One famous example of his design was developed in 1992, the Ski haus. It is a mobile station which can accommodate four people at high-altitude site for research. The haus was made out of extreme economical and lightweight materials which can easily be lifted by a helicopter to anywhere in the world. To match with Horden's believe in the nature; his design also allows a panoramic view of the natural surroundings and can maintain human comfort in extreme weather. This stands a common ground of Reyner Banham's favour of Philip. Johnson's glass house in New Canaan [viii] , because of its transparent walls which allows freeway to its landscape. Moreover, the haus' design had defeated the criticism from Groff Conklin as written in his book The Weather- Conditioned House: (Conklin 1985: )
A house is nothing but a hollow shellâ€¦ in which human beings live and work, really is. And most shells in nature are extraordinarily inefficient barriers to cold and heatâ€¦
It is therefore an explicit example showing the maturity of design technology nowadays has developed a high enough level to support the idea of mobile dwelling.
2) Snail Shell, N55:
Another example of mobile living is the N55's Snail Shell System. This compact living unit is a stunted polypropylene cylinder which can roll from one place to the other like a wheel. It can be anchored and float on river, roll and sit on ground, and be placed inside or next to existing buildings. In regards to its small volume, it can serve as a self- containing living unit with toilet and shower facilities. Several units come together can form communities.
Through applying devices like Devices like dynamos, solar panels, wind mills, etc. or connecting the system to existing electric points like street lamp, the Snail Shell tank, can generate energy for home living. Thus this can merely answered Banham's concern and vision of 'self-contained and regenerative standard-of-living package'(Bandam1981:57) that would be genuinely designed. In that case, 'we should really see some changes'(Bandam1981:57), over the architecture field with significant development of mobile dwelling in this century.
We have already seen quite a lot of successful cases in mobile dwelling and mobile architecture. Imagine if one day, the idea of such is being put forward thoroughly in every household in the globe, it is judicious to think forward the physical phenomenon that would happen. Firstly, all architects, engineers and people who are working in the construction industry will be required to obtain new technological knowledge in design and construction. They will have to make use of new materials and techniques such as ultralight fiber-based elements, double layers of inflatable fabric etc. And most importantly, they will have to adopt a new way of thinking and new design philosophy such as viewing architecture in a macro-scale, like how Banham considered Los Angeles' landscape as a whole; buildings and cars in it are architectural objects.
The new design technology will no longer be site specific but conditional specific, i.e. to overcome all extreme weathers and unconventional travelling route path. One more point which is worth mentioning, such innovative design allows non-permanent influence and minimum touches on site which usually cannot be achieved by traditional architecture, therefore it can push architecture form into a new level.
Secondly, out of the construction field sector, it is said by Fuller in Utopia or Oblivion: the Prospects for Humanity, that 'political mandate' (Fuller 1970:391) is the most powerful instrument over housing problem. Government of each nation will have to meet in summit to discuss and refine existing rules and constitute new regulations cooperatively. A good legal frame work is vital to the success of mobile dwelling. Nations will have to come up with international laws on buildings, land, air space, etc., for instance, laws that allow dwelling units to be transported freely worldwide without compromising too much on political stability. Also, Fuller's most famous question at that time ,'Madam, do you know what your house weighs?', will become the most comment question in this new century with law restrictions on volume and weight of each dwelling unit when upon transportation.
Thirdly, one may argue that for mobile unit dwellers will easily lose their social community that they are most familiar with. This is due to the wrong assumption that dwellers are constantly/occasionally on the move, therefore facing changes in their environment and neighbourhood. However, the argument is missing an important point that, if the concept of mobile dwelling is widely exercised, meaning everybody relocates themselves from time to time, no matter whether your home is anchored at a place for your whole life, your neighbours will come and go. At that point, psychologically, everyone will be eager to make new friends. Such socialising atmosphere is extensively beneficial to the whole universe.
The idea of Banham's 'Environment-Bubble' [ix] explained that a home contains services devices does not necessary need any thick and 'fake' monumental walls to cover. The skin of dwelling will be as light as a plastic bubble dome, so that can break down the barrier of communication. Besides, internet networking is at its greatest speed and advancement is yet to come, therefore socio-difficulties is not the less influential.
Last but not the least, in an economical point of view, it is said that mobile dwellers must be rich to own a dwelling unit. Considering that a dwelling which is intelligently tailor made to suit all weather condition, light enough to be transported or decomposed easily, completely self-contain with all necessary mechanical services and aesthetically harmonic to the environment because it is at all time exposing to the landscape. However this worries can be neglected because once the 'portable technology' is being developed, the cost of innovative materials will fall, Advancement in automobile technology will speed up the process of design especially in mass production, thus much economically expenses.
On the other hand, the idea of speeding up humanity by transportation links people together in the ever most dimension. Recourses (natural/human) diversification can take place in the universe: 'involves all experiences of all men everywhere in history.' (Fuller 1970: 370) This is certainly a massive progression in the world industrialization, which in turn achieve Fuller's concept of 'giving man more-and-more for less-and less' (Fuller 1970:410). When we see shifting dwelling moving around, it is a sign of economical efficiency, and less energy will be wasted on forbidden houses and tasks.
Throughout the essay, it is clear that the mobility of humanity in its dwelling is crucial to the universe development. Human dwellings are in static condition which is hesitating environmental, economical and socio progression. In order to use the finite resources in this universe wisely, particularly in the building construction industry when it always consumes too much energy and man-power, it is important to find a smart solution and apply it internationally. Since half a century ago, Buckminster Fuller had given us a clue through his design of Dymaxion Development Units and enclosure structure (geodesic dome). Both architectures demonstrated the benefit of portable and mobile architecture, and the theory of 'using less for more'.
It is a contradiction to tide back our human legs by weighty home which are characterised to be able to move freely; therefore mobile dwelling is the solution as being responsive to user demand and ever changing environment in this century.