Spaces Adapt To Humans Needs Cultural Studies Essay

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Architecture has mainly remained rigid and fixed, in a way 'static'. The question arises why should it move or morph or change? As the environment changes, objects also adapt to satisfy the changes. So if architecture could adapt according to the needs, would it survive? The 'need' part of architecture is defined by us users. Hence would it be possible for spaces to adapt to the changing needs of the user? Humans have adapted to various spaces to live and to survive. Could spaces also adapt to survive and to live? In a way adapting spaces could bring a sense of permanence to architecture.

Before moving onto adapting, the need to bring about the change should be identified. Before the age of computers, a few common needs were identified and these needs were satisfied by using open plans and movable internal walls. With the onset of technology, computer and sensors are being used to identify the needs and then transforming the spaces to fulfil the needs, hence interacting with the user

This dissertation will look into the various factors considered for spaces to adapt

Research Question:

How could spaces adapt to humans and their needs?

Need Identification

With every passing day, human population keeps on increasing. Major cities in the world are facing severe shortage of land, the amount of people moving into these cities ever increasing. Is there a way to satisfy the demand supply ratio? Is there a way to make most out the resources available? Nowadays specific functions are assigned specific spaces. This method uses up more space. Spaces can be envisioned in a way to serve multiple functions. At the same time they can be made in a way to not compromise on the function. Such spaces have been used for centuries now. Can this age old method be a solution for today's space crunch? Living rooms turning to bedrooms at night, facades that change according to changes in climate, walls being made removable to add space at any given point of time.

It is important to identify how these spaces were conceived. The materials and techniques used in making such spaces should be studied in order to conclude whether the Flexible spaces can be a good solution.

Research methodology

A study that revolves around architectural flexibility and adaptability needs a systematic approach that demands appropriate research methods that can help draw conclusions. The approach starts with the literature survey and study followed by developing tools that can help me in my research methodology which in turn assists me to draw conclusions.

The literature survey primarily includes an initial reading from library sources like books, journals and the internet. This gives me a basic idea to what has been done in my field of research and helps me look into that part where I can proceed with my research, thus refining my research question.

Documentation is to be done in two parts. The first part includes compilation of information from secondary resources, to understand briefly the history of flexible architecture. By creating a timeline, the research will be looking at how the topic has evolved over the period of time and how it has taken inspiration and influenced other fields. Projects that significantly influenced the movement would be studied. These projects would be analyzed on the basis how effectively they can adapt to the various needs. The method of bringing about flexibility and the materials used for the same in the project would also be studied. A comparison of how flexible houses and any normal house would be carried out to get a better understanding of how efficient flexible can be.

These studies would eventually help me arrive at conclusion


Flexible spaces exist from the time man has been building his own shelter. The cave for the Neanderthals, the hut for the peasants and the tent for the nomads. In the recent past, with the advent of new technological means there has been rapid development in the field.

The concept of flexible and adaptable spaces would studied to understand the terminology

This dissertation will look into how spaces can be made in such a way that it could adapt to various needs. Various approaches to achieve flexibility used by architects would be studied.

Buildings from the recent which were envisioned to be flexible would be studied to provide how the concept of flexible spaces has evolved.

Technologies being used to achieve flexible spaces would be looked into.

The research will mainly focus on residential and institutional buildings

Effectiveness of flexible spaces would studied


This dissertation has been done within a specific time limit with according to the academic schedule. As adaptation through technological means is not practiced in India, the cases studied for the dissertation are all secondary sources.


Architecture has traditionally been perceived as enduring. For centuries the architects have strived to achieve a sense of permanence in their creations. He has continually searched for material and structural systems that would increase the length of time a building might stand. But somewhere in the process of achieving structural permanence, the fact that structural and functional permanence do not necessarily go hand in hand has been ignored.

It is no doubt clear that functional changes are inevitable in a build space. It is common observation that what were houses yesterday are shops today or what were bungalows are now museums. Not only is this change over an extended period of time but built spaces are increasingly put to multifarious uses.

All things grow old. As they grow old they become inefficient and ultimately useless. So is the case with architecture, though the speed at which ages is much slower than consumer products. Most architecture till date has been under severe programmatic restrictions which results in severe and restricted forms. The more inflexible the constituents of this form, the more difficult and painful are any change made due to the changed functions

With the onset of the twentieth century, there was a radical shift in the in the world of architecture with the arrival of modernism, the architecture of the unchangeable. It brought with it a kind of brutalism in architecture. The fact that the modernists, failed to humanize buildings, enraged the society, which only began to distrust the architects and their architecture, and fought it in the most effective way- by forgetting it. In this process, it also forgot what architecture could achieve. As a substitute to this brutalism of the 1920's and 50's, flexibility in architecture became a debated topic by the middle of the century (Adaptable Architecture, 1975, p. 166).

According to Richard Larry Medlin (Adaptable Architecture, 1975),"Within our heritage of twentieth century functionalism, we have generally designed buildings as end products intended for predefined functional purposes. We have substantially ignored considerations of their lifetime performance in regard to the maintenance of a high level of facility serviceability for changing need of the inhabitants"

Yona Friedmann, as cited in (Adaptable Architecture, 1975), says, "First few words about 'flexibility' and 'mobility'. Flexibility in architecture means a building conceived by an architect in which ulterior changes are possible, whereas mobility (in terms of mobile architecture) implies a flexible building whose layout was conceived by the future user himself".

An adaptive building as defined by Frie Otto (Adaptable Architecture, 1975) is, "Adaptive building means to adapt, to fit, to join a movement by construction activities, in steps or in progression. In simple words: When man can adapt his dwellings and doesn't have to adapt to them unconditionally, this is adaptive building". The capability to adapt and adjust to invariable conditions in a passive way is however limited.

All individuals of the whole biology possess a greater or smaller, passive physical adaptability, that is an automatic adaptation to the environmental conditions, i.e. to warm or cold weather, to the food basis, to friends or enemies. The passive, physical adaptation range of the naked mammal man is very varying.

For instance," it is low for temperature changes and big for changes in pressure an in the oxygen content of air. The psychic prerequisites of man that depends upon the environment are so castly unexplored with regard to building that we can only make an attempt to predict which actions in a given environment can cause which reactions." (Adaptable Architecture, 1975)

Edwald Bubner (Adaptable Architecture, 1975) writes, "Adaptive architecture is an architectural movement which began in the fifties of this century and which concerned itself with the adaptability of buildings to the requirements of the people for the time being. This adaptability can apply to the whole towns or cities just as much as to individual houses or parts of buildings".

Rudolf Wienands (Adaptable Architecture, 1975) simply puts it as "Adapt = React".

To further understand the topic, the terms associated with the topic are as defined (Agarwal, 1990):

Flexibility: It suggests the potential of a designed entity to accommodate a variety of different functions or conditions (i.e. an open plan school which is conceived with adequate flexibility to enable accommodation of a wide variety of academic processes)

Variability: is the potential to organize or change a designed entity in response to different functions or external conditions (i.e. a building envelope that admits solar energy in winter and is capable of reflecting solar energy in the summer, is variable).

Adaptability: can be of thought of as a potential of a designed entity to passively accommodate or actively respond to different functions, internal or external.

Flexibility and variability can be seen as means to achieve adaptability. But then, adaptability and variability can equally lead to a flexible architecture. A very thin line divides flexibility and adaptability. The two terms are complementary and supplementary at the same time.


Kinetic Architecture

The theory of kinetic architecture identifies architecture as a three dimensional form response to a set of pressures. It is only natural for the form to change as the set of pressure changes. This change in form is not just metaphorical but real. (Agarwal, 1990)

The most important difference between the kinetic approach and the conventional architecture is this emphasis on change of form. This form change can be in the form of sliding roofs, plug in units, self-erecting buildings and even wholly mobile houses. The theory has found application in many forms. The motion allows the building to perform functions that would be impossible for static architecture.


In the 1960's, under the guidance of Kisho Kurokawa and kenzo Tange, a small group of young Japanese architects united under the title of 'Metabolism', an architectural movement and philosophy of change. Metabolism became an extended biological analogy meant to replace the mechanical analogy of orthodox modern compared buildings and cities to an energy process found in all life, the process of change, the constant renewal and and destruction of organic tissue. The metabolists philosophy of change paradoxically stops the clock. By clearly separating parts of building or city which have different rates of change, they allow certain structures to remain undisturbed when others wear out. Their ideal is to design a city so flexible in its connections that its parts could grow, transform themselves and die while the whole animal went living. (Adaptable Architecture, 1975)

Incremental architecture

Incremental architecture is a kinetic system which can accept new outside elements which may not have existed originally.

The concept of incremental architecture involves kineticism of addition, subtraction and substitution. Obviously the process cannot be based upon a fixed set of criteria which describe what a building must be, thereby specifying optimal solutions. Rather, design will have to be based upon the range of potential pressures that may ne encountered. Therefore the major problem of design now moves to design of building systems which can meet anticipated needs for flexibility.

The three kineticism of addition, substraction and substitution actually work hand in hand. As the name suggest 'addition' is a growth process- Extension from the original form at the same site. This can be achieved within the same form as well as by adding new parts outside of the original form. Subtractive incremental architecture is exactly a reverse process of the additive syste. This may include subtraction of something previously added to the original form, or the shrinking of the original form.

Substitutive architecture deals directly with interchange ability of parts. Here parts may be changed with components re-used in other configurations, with components re-circulated to other buildings, or with substituted parts eliminated. This system allows extreme longevity of a building as its component parts always replaces or changed leave the building well maintained on balance.

Mobile Architecture

Mobile architecture refers to a class of architecture in which the building moves as a whole unit. Though locational changes are possible in other forms of kineticism it is only here that the means of locomotion are in integral part of the building systems. The typical image of mobile architecture is some object which moves on the highway, usually a camper trailer. But since the Second World War there has been a tendency on the part of the industry to move from travel trailer to the mobile, and more recently to re locatable houses. (Kronenburg, 2007)In the mobile home industry, there is a growing trend to take the wheels off the products in order to change their image, and to provide greater densities by stacking, sticking together, or plugging into frame just like in reversible and incremental classes of kineticism. Psychologically this absence of wheels gives any mobile structure an appearance of greater stability. (Agarwal, 1990)

Disposable architecture

Till now the problem of adaptive changes have been dealt with form changes through kinetic processes. This method has one great drawback that of being dependent on the original form. The greatest change possible to a building is if it is made from scratch. Thus the greatest adaptavity is shown by an environment consisting of disposable buildings. Functional changes and technological obsolescence therefore can best be countered by disposable units.

Disposability is a phenomenon more prevalent in other areas which are more consumers based. Ball point pens, baby diapers, tissue papers and automobiles are all disposable.

On one end the baby diaper is thrown away after single use and on the other hand, a car is used over a number of years, its parts changed, sold off second hand and ultimately disposed of as useless. Both of these ideas short term usage with disposal of entire units as well as long term usage and disposable of parts are applicable in architecture.


The concept of flexibility can be applicable to various scales ranging from the city or town level to that of the individual homes or parts of buildings. Practical methods of flexible architecture were to be found even in early historical times: the housing of pueblo Indians in New Mexico were spontaneously reconstructed when they no longer fulfilled their original function.

In times of industrialization, building technology can take advantage of innumerable and newly discovered technical achievements and methods of serial production. Paxton's Crystal Palace is an example of the prefabricated and then dismountable, therefore mobile architecture.

As a rule the possibility of making a construction adaptable to the varying conditions, increases with the reduction of the weight of the construction as is demonstrated in tent construction which is both mobile and adaptable. Internal adaptability through the use of lightweight building components is to be found, above all in Japanese houses.

At the beginning of this century, frank Lloyd wright, influenced by construction of Japanese houses, was speaking of a home as an organism. Wright developed thesis in a free and flexible ground plan in a house for the inner rooms. For him adaptability in a house meant embracing the various rooms of the house into a single enclosed entity.

Wright after his numerous trips to japan evolved his outlook on organic architecture. Japan has a small habitable land area and a vast population compared to it. This has made it absolutely necessary for buildings in Japan to be absolutely up to date and wholly functional. The fragile nature of the islands always under the shadow of an impending earthquake enforces lightweight constructions, a pointer to the first axiom flexibility- simplicity and lightweight. (Adaptable Architecture, 1975)

While the construction of primitive people, the house of the American settlers and the industrial buildings of the 19th century only met the requirements of variable existence in buildings, the constructions of Wright, Perret and Horta at the beginning of the 20th century showed, for the first time, how adaptable buildings could be planned from the outset with adaptability in mind. The demand on architecture in the beginning of the 20th century, to design decent accommodation, was always linked with the demand for flexible method of construction.

Times change and each new generation wants something new to live in. significant names of Sant Elia and Harinatti who in 1914 said (Kronenburg, 2007)," The life of a house will not be as long as it is with us, every generation will want to build its own town". Few years later Van Doesburg put forward hi theory of elemental Construction, an area of protective surface (outside) and dividing walls that could be arranged as required (inside).

Among other that spoke of freedom in arrangement of the ground plan were Kiesler, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Alongside internal mobility, other ways were found to build adaptivity.

By combining prefabricated building elements, living accommodation can be altered or taken down at any time. Whole town systems with a high degree of variability were developed on the basis of three dimensional structures (Cook, 1970). One solution that many of the architects have used is, keeping the level of technology involved in construction low, so that buildings are simple and not only easy to manipulate in the future but also promote user self-participation. Frank Lloyd Wright's organic architecture was reflected in number of his schemes.


A traditional Japanese house.

Residence of Ar. Gary Chang, Hongkong.

Mima house, Viana do Castelo, Portugal by Mima Architects.

Timayui Kindergarten, el Equipo de Mazzanti

Rietveld Schroder house.

House at floirac, Rem Koolhas.

Wyly theatre, Rem Koolhas.

Maison Domino, Le Corbusier

Quarteiers modernes fruges, Le Corbusier

Erasmuslaan, Gerrit Reitveld

Flexible space, SOM

Closet House / Consexto

Tolvanen Cybertecture House

SmartWrap Building, New York

Mobile Dwelling Unit (USA)

NASA Bioplex Capsule

Works Cited

Adaptable Architecture. (1975). Publication of the IL, Institue of Lightweight structures, University of Sttutgart, (p. 335). Sttutgart.

Kinetic Architecture. (2011, October 8th). Retrieved october 12th, 2011, from Wikipedia:

Agarwal, T. (1990). Flexible by Design. New Delhi.

Cook, P. (1970). Experimental Architecture. New York: Universe books.

Kronenburg, R. (2007). Flexible. Laurence King Publishing ltd. .