The Pursuit Of Permanence Cultural Studies Essay

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This thesis is an exploration of pop up architecture and the role it can play in our communities in the 21st century. It seeks to show that by utilising pop up architecture it can fulfil community needs in a more efficient and sustainable way than permanent structures.

Table of Contents

Statement of thesis: needs to be revised

How can pop up architecture facilitate community buildings where a specific need is required?

Pop up architecture has been an idea within architecture in different forms since mans earliest structures. It branched down two pathways. One being the pop up dwellings of nomads such as tipi's and yurts which still exist today in nomadic cultures. The other pathway is pop up architecture in a more permanent setting such as an urban environment.

In this thesis I aim to explore the second path of pop up architecture and determine whether or not it is a suitable method for providing community service needs in the 21st century.

Key Words and Definitions [2] : need to be clarified a little bit more.


'Able to be modified for a new use or purpose'. In this thesis the term adaptable will be used to describe the structure of buildings and how they can change.


'A particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants'.


'Able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances'. This definition will be applied to space making and how space is used within buildings. Flexibility is a core concept in the pop up architecture that is being proposed in this thesis.

Pop up

'Appear or occur suddenly. For the purpose of this thesis pop up architecture will refer to architecture that is built or erected in a relative short time such as hours or days. This is opposed to the more regular construction of permanent buildings which may take months. Pop up architecture for this purpose will also imply that it is portable. There is also pop up architecture that is not portable


'Lasting only for a short time; impermanent'.

Machine Age:

Introduction: needs to be revised

Pop up architecture has been around for thousands of years. The ideas of pop up architecture are very prevalent in the architectural ideas of the 21st century. However it is not widely used as a building or design method. To understand the reasons for this, its development through time must be examined.

If we are to use pop up architecture for community needs then we must also look at flexible space and its development. For the purpose of this thesis pop up architecture and flexible space are inextricably linked.

The opening chapters will review how space was viewed in the 20th century and how this thinking changed. Out of this change of thinking emerged flexible space. The main protagonists of this change will be examined as well as the impact they had on flexible space. Examples of flexible space will also be examined which aims to show how it developed.

The next chapters will examine pop up architecture. Again its historical background will be examined as well as its development since the early 20th century. From here the more recent issue of how it has stopped developing will be looked at as well as the reasons for this.

The final chapters will pose the question do we really need pop up architecture? This thesis will make the argument that, indeed, we do need pop up architecture and now is the opportune moment to embrace it.

Finally this thesis will look at how to design a method of pop up architecture that is suitable for the needs of communities in the 21st century.

Space in the 20th century:

Space had rarely been discussed by architects before the beginning of the twentieth century" [3] 

At the beginning of the 20th century there was a change in ideas of how we should use space. Up until then the issue of how we use space had not been high on the agenda for architects when designing buildings. Stylistic patterns such as gothic or classical were what set one building apart from another.

There were many factors which brought about this change. One such change, according to Sigfried Giedion, lay in the work of cubists painters. In his book 'Space, Time and Architecture' Giedion talks about how the cubists had a different approach to how space was viewed. (Started to paint objects from many angles and not from one direction….Picasso) This approach was to influence architects of the time [4] . This claim concerning cubist artists is echoed by Bernard Tschumi, he said that "by 1923 the idea of felt space had merged with the idea of composition to become a three dimensional continuum" [5] . Some architects at that time were also painting in the cubist style and similarly painters were creating architecture based on the ideas of cubism [6] . This art style and new way of viewing space would have a huge impact on how they created space in their architecture. This new idea of space was the beginning of the modernist movement and changed how we look at space today.

There were a number of factors which led to the change of how we look at space. One factor was the reaction to stylistic motifs that had come to represent architecture. There were many protagonists opposed to this stylistic movement, most notably Le Corbusier. He felt that "architecture is stifled by custom" [7] and that the styles which had dominated architecture for so long were a lie [8] . This attitude was a yearning for something new. These ideas coupled with his ideas on cubist paintings led Le Corbusier to becoming one of the leading figures in the modernist movement. However Le Corbusier was not alone in this idea or even the first architect to put forward the ideas.

In 1914 an Italian futurist architect named Antonio Sant' Elia published his manifesto. In this he, like Le Corbusier after him, felt that it was time for change.

"architecture now makes a break with tradition. It must perforce make a fresh start [9] 

This was another example of an architect rejecting elements of what had preceded his own work.

So what was this 'fresh start' that Sant' Elia spoke of and that made Le Corbusier proclaim 'architecture of revolution [10] '?

The notion of flexible space:

"the philosophy behind the notion of flexibility is that the requirements of modern life are so complex and changeable that any attempt to anticipate them results in a building which is unsuited to its function and represents a false consciousness of society in which it operates" [11] .

Some of the first examples of flexible space in housing can be observed in Japanese architecture. The internal walls of many traditional Japanese homes contain a 'fasuma' and a 'shoji'. These are solid and translucent panels respectively. They are movable and create flexible spaces within the house.

Though the idea existed in Japan for centuries flexibility in Europe arose in tandem with the modernist movement for a number of reasons. Among these are that it fit in with this idea of prefabrication and industrial building that was being pushed by people like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Le Corbusier himself said that "we must create the mass production spirit" [12] while Mies van der Rohe said "Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space [13] ". They believed that we should embrace the technology of our time and let this benefit architecture. They also worked in a time when industry and technology was progressing at a rate never seen before.

Secondly the housing crisis after the First World War was the perfect time to start developing houses that could be mass produced by industrial fabrication [14] . This led to a number of architects bringing the idea of flexibility into their houses. This worked alongside prefabrication which was gaining momentum. Le Corbusier was one of the most active architects in this area with designs such as Maison Dom-ino, Maison Voisin, Maison Citrohan and Maison Loucheur. These designs were all a product of his thinking on mass housing. In 'Towards a New Architecture' Le Corbusier claimed that mass produced houses would be lower cost and 'the lightly walls and partitions can be rearranged at any time and the plan altered at will [15] . This pro-industrial attitude which modernists were advocating contrasts sharply with the afore mentioned Japanese style in which houses were constructed of very light and natural materials.

Lastly this flexibility that Le Corbusier spoke of was not just a product of prefabrication; it was also aligned with a new model of habitation that many modernists were advocating. This was a reaction to the previous houses that had a room for every function. Architects were now questioning whether the building could be something that could be flexible for the user [16] . The following examples are of how some architects tried to infuse flexibility into their houses.

Schroder House- Gerrit Rietveld

Built in 1924 the walls of this house were flexible so the room layout could be altered or changed depending on desired use

Le Corbusier - Maison Loucheur

Built in 1929 the Villa Savoye had a free form plan leaving its layout up to the occupant and their needs

Mies van der Rohe - Apartment block for Weißenhofsiedlung

Built in 1930 this house has two exterior walls that slide down into the floor creating a more open area between outside and inside.

Hertzberger - Diagoon House

Herman Hertzberger [17] , who designed the Diagoon House, was very aware of the both sides of flexibility. In his book 'Lessons for Students in Architecture' he promotes the benefits of flexibility in terms of efficiency, variety of use and the importance of user influence. [18] He also outlines many problems with flexibility. The main issue he discusses is that "the flexible plan starts out from the certainty that the correct solution does not exist" [19] . This view would suggest that if you can design every solution except the right one then is there any need for flexibility at all. As Hertzberger points out flexibility was not without its short comings.

Flexibility was investigated by some of the biggest architects of the early 20th century. It was practiced on many different housing projects from the turn of the century. According to Hertzberger it was viewed as the panacea to cure all the ills of architecture" [20] . This view was perhaps premature to think that flexibility was going to fix all the problems in architecture. Flexibility was an idea which was only starting to emerge but was to become a big part of 20th century architecture.

Where does flexibility fit in with pop up architecture

Flexibility is one of the core concepts of the pop up architecture being investigated in this thesis. The understanding of the development of flexibility is a necessary step if it is to advance further. We have seen its development in housing and static structures. We must now look at it in the context of pop up architecture.

Pop up architecture

There are numerous historical examples of pop up architecture. These examples are primarily in nomadic cultures. Robert Kronenburg [21] , in his book 'Houses in Motion' describes the need of pop up architecture for primitive man, "when existence is based on a transient lifestyle the ability to create a portable or temporary shelter is one of the most important factors for their survival [22] . This ability to create this pop up architecture was formed out of necessity. It also needed to be easily taken down to move onto the next place. This principle feature is core to the idea of pop up architecture which is discussed in this thesis.

The nomadic examples of temporary architecture such as the tipi, the Bedouin tent and the yurt are all inherently pop up. They are erected quickly when needed and then disassembled when it is time to move on. The Native American tipi is circular due to their beliefs that everything that the creator does is in a circle. The door always faces the rising sun. Internally the hearth is on axis with the door with another sacred hearth in the rear and children were always on the south side and adults on the north. The Bedouin tent is similar in that it has a clear segregation of areas. The tent is divided into areas depending on use. It must always face east towards Mecca. The wall can also be raised and lowered depending on circumstances such as letting in a cool breeze or keeping out a storm. Finally the Mongol yurt shares similar meanings in its layout as the tipi and tent. The door faces south to let in the light which acts as a sundial. The men sit in the northern end to greet guests upon entrance. The hearth is sacred; it is positioned under the hole in the roof, the eye of heaven. These three examples are rich in architectural meaning with regard to their layouts and construction despite their ephemeral nature [23] .

The early 20th century has had few examples of pop up architecture other than tents or nomadic dwellings. In the 1930's Walter Gropius was hired to refine an existing model of a pre fabricated pop up house. He claimed that this 'copper' house' "could be assembled in only twenty four hours [24] ".

In 1955 Alison and Peter Smithson developed a plastic 'House of the Future'. It could be clipped together and put back to back to "provide high residential densities at single storey heights" [25] . The house had blank walls on three sides so that it could facilitate being clipped together with others back to back and all light was brought in from a central courtyard. According to Reyner Banham it was "conceived in terms of a mass produced product" [26] . It was to be transported by truck and then dropped into place. It was an instant pop up architecture designed in the vein of mass production that was being advocated by many modernist architects at the time.

Despite the intention of this modular 'House of the Future' it was rife with problems. It was criticised by Reyner Banham in his article entitled 'A Clip- On Architecture in 'Design Quarterly'. He claimed that "its concept is limited once you put more than 2 or 3 clipped together, "services and communication will have to be consciously designed at the same time as the units themselves" [27] . If the services had to be designed according to the final arrangement then this left no room for change. This showed that there was no flexibility in the design of the modules. They worked on a small scale and individual level but as a group that could be adapted and changed. This was an example of a pop up home that was never realised in a workable fashion.

Another example that failed to become a success was Buckminster's Fullers 1946 Wichita house. It claimed to be pop up in nature in that it could be shipped worldwide in its own metal tube which could be assembled on site [28] . The reasons for its failure were more economic than design related. When he launched his idea in journals he got 37,000 pre orders for the house. However Buckminster Fuller did not want to hand over design responsibilities to the Beech Aircraft Company who had taken on the production role. By the time that issue had been resolved the company had gone bankrupt and the 37,000 houses were never manufactured.

One of the most important innovations in regard to pop up architecture was by a Belgian architect called Jacque Baudon. He developed a connector between units that enabled a house to grow. The clip on house which he designed was made up of a number of capsules of different configurations. The main corridor was extendable. It was constructed in sections which could be swapped in order to create extra clip on points for more capsules. This connector was, according to Reyner Banham "an essential further concept" [29] . This ability to expand and contract a home by adding connections and modules was a leap forward in the idea of the flexible home.

None of these 20th century examples of pop up architecture were successful in economic or production terms, most remained as prototypes.

These precedents are an insight to the development of pop up architecture. If a pop up architecture is to be developed which will contribute to communities then the successfulness and failures of these precedents and many others must be learned from and improved upon.

Need to integrate this with last few paragraphs

In the early 20th century a different variant of the pop up home was established, the mobile home. There are an estimated 12 million people living in mobile homes in North America [30] . The essence of these is that have a transient element. The older versions of pop up architecture mentioned already, they tipi, the yurt and Bedouin tent also share this essence of transience. These have been successfully used for hundreds of years. The unsuccessful 20th century examples mentioned above all lack a transient element. We can speculate then that for pop up architecture to be successful it must contain a strong element of transience.

Society and Architecture (Why is Transience important)

Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space [31] 

In 1923 le Corbusier suggested that we were living in a machine age [32] . That suggestion is now more applicable than ever. Society is driven by the machine.

In the book 'The Temporary City' by Peter Bishop and Lesley Williams, they quote a Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. He believes we have moved to an ever changing liquid form of modernity. This is because " We no longer believe that a state of perfection will ever be achieved: change is here to stay, as 'a permanent condition of human life' [33] . This statement of our ever changing world is echoed by many others including Mies van der Rohe. He said that "architecture is the will of the age conceived in spatial terms. Living, changing, new [34] ".

If the society in the 21st century is evaluated then it is truly a machine age. However it is more than a society based on machine and technology, it is also a transient society. This has been influenced by the machine. We move through our cities for work, for living and for play. Travelling around the world has never been easier or more accessible. Great cities of the world are now melting pots of different cultures as a result of this transience. This has all been made possible by the machine age we inhabit.

Where then does this leave architecture? In a speech at the XXI World Architecture Congress Frei Otto said that "Our art of building has reached a turning point" [35] . If he is right and architecture has reached a turning point then it must reflect the will of our epoch, the will of the machine. If this is to happen it must be embrace current technology and contain transient qualities. Herman Hertzberger advocates that we must design architecture "which is less fixed, less static" for this changing world [36] .

Pop up architecture responds to the will of both technology and transience. The argument has been made for transience but we must also look at why it must embrace current technology. In this instance technology is referred to in terms of materials and as a method of construction.


"we must create the mass production spirit" [37] .

Almost ninety years ago Le Corbusier raised the issue of how the construction industry had fallen behind in its application of technology. He used the example of how architects used glass. Other industries such as automotive and naval had windows that opened, that had louvres and were using plate glass instead of bottle glass but architects still use only use windows like those at Versaille or Compiegne" [38] .

This view is still being echoed today. The architecture firm KieranTimberlake are strong advocates of this. In their book 'Refabricating Architecture' they compare the construction industry to the automotive, naval and aero industries in a similar way that Le Corbusier did. They claim that "In these construction industries [cars, planes and ships] fabrication times have decreased along with production cost and waste while quality has increased exponentially" [39] . Seen from this point of view it is unusual that the construction industry has not taken this approach. Robert Kronenburg also shares this sentiment in his book Spirit of the Machine. He asks the question "why not make use of the technology of production line manufacturing to make buildings? [40] "

There have been successful examples of this prefabrication of buildings in the past.

This method of prefabrication for pop up architecture must use up to date technology. It must use lightweight materials in the same way Frei Otto has done. - examples

The following case studies how technology is being used for pop up architecture and prefab.

Conclusion: not revised yet

The ideas are there and the concept of pop up flexible architecture is already out there. KieranTimberlake architects suggest that there is a "fervent desire to convert modern architecture into a commodity, to turn away from permanence and toward transience " [41] . Again the question arises why. Why, if there is a desire for this architecture, are we not seeing it come to fruition?

All of the examples given in this review are flexible houses. So far the vast majority of literature on flexible architecture has concerned houses. Pop up architecture has had a similar fate. A lot of the literature concerns one off houses or emergency shelters. KieranTimberlake architects believe that, "by equating a process of building with a single type of building - housing- the result has again been disastrous to the modernist dream of industrialised architecture" [42] . We need to break away from the area of housing and focus on community buildings which will then help pop up architecture progress in line with other forms of architecture.

How are we as architects going to provide community buildings that satisfy all these demands? We have to be able to embrace technology to reflect our time. We must use prefabrication so we can disassemble and be more sustainable. We must provide flexible architecture so it responds to the communities changing needs. We must embrace pop up architecture.

pop up architeecture must be flexible, transient and prefabricated and lightweight material utilising the most modern technology.