Unpredictable Future Use Of Architecture Cultural Studies Essay

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This study was taken with a view to understanding the design principles to facilitate the changing functional requirements in architecture. The research process actually began as a study of form and function but learning about the over determinist approach of functionalism it quickly changed. It is my aim to understand the design principles, the issues involved, how they are applied and the resultant benefits. It is my understanding that architecture today is required to facilitate change through time. Thereby, preventing unnecessary destruction and costly reconstruction and to provide appropriate spaces for changed function and endurance. I have asked the question 'How can Polyvalent and Adaptable Design Facilitate the Unpredictable Future Use of Architecture?'

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 in how buildings function. I discuss how adaptability influences the value of buildings. I also discuss arguments against flexibility and outline methods to deal with change.

Chapter 2 begins by investigating the meaning of Polyvalency and its different design applications. I also discuss a relevant case study.

Chapter 3 investigates the various elements involved with Adaptability and the benefits in facilitating changed requirements within the built environment while also discussing relevant case studies.

Chapter 4 critically reflects by way of conclusion the information within the body of the literature review and the chosen case studies to help further facilitate informing my design proposal.

Chapter 5 and 6 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] In essence it is a form of flexibility.

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 are not immune from change. Frequently, mainly due to determinist design and poor construction, buildings have outlived their usefulness due to their inability to adapt to the development of new ways of functioning and enduring change. It was therefore more cost effective and pragmatic to demolish a building and rebuild for new requirements rather than try to adapt an old building.

Consequently, this process reduces the value our buildings offer to us and reduces the role of the occupant in the process of design, but yet they are the ones who are most informed of the new requirements. The need for adapting to changing conditions has exercised the minds of architects. Therefore in this document I have investigated some of their thinking and principles, applied them to case studies and formed the position that architecture needs to design a combination of polyvalent and adaptable buildings. Within this process there are number of considerations that must be taken into account due to the complex nature of the challenge.

Purpose, Change & Method

1.1 Fitness for Purpose

Leland M Roth in 'Understanding Architecture' describes how Vitruvius classified good architecture into three categories 'utility, firmness and beauty' [5] . Utility meant the functional arrangement of rooms and spaces of a 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 translates 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, meant the arrangement of a plan should be related to its purpose. Fitness for purpose is therefore an organizational principle. It is also a generator of form both in use and proportion, and to provide shelter. 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] . This can be interpreted that a building should be designed to serve the purpose at the time of its inception without hindrance to its functioning.

1.2 Considering Change through Time:

Buildings today have long complicated lives. Within this lifetime parameters of use can change widely and diversely. While a building's essential purpose may not change, how it operates can develop beyond recognition. This could be a costly process as most buildings were designed in a way that requires destruction before construction. Christopher Alexander makes reference to change by discussing 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" [8] .

Rapid change is not only restricted to offices, it can occur in a range of building types such as exhibition centres, museums and hospitals to name just a few. 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 [9] . One of their many reasons outlined is to facilitate development of function. Stephen Kendell shares a similar position arguing that we need to design more 'agile' buildings 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" [10] 

Steward Brand believes the idea that form followed function had misguided architects into believing that how a building functioned could be anticipated, but he believes in reality this is not the case, when change through time is taken into consideration. He argues that while almost no buildings adapt well yet all buildings end up having to adapt to continuously changing ways of operating [11] . This is a paradox as while architecture tries to facilitate suitability it is reality always being reshaped. The reason for this is that future change is difficult to predict and holds with it uncertainty. Frank Bijbendijk 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." [12] 

According to him buildings that offer freedom for future change of use add to their 'emotional value' over time and forms an identity that can be related to. This is achieved by its continued use within society. Brand similarly argues that age and adaptability are the factors that make a building valuable. In his opinion it achieves this value through the occupants learning from their building and it learns from them [13] . By extension, the more adaptable a building is the more valuable both emotionally and commercially it becomes.

1.3 Methods for Change

The need to accommodate change within architectural discourse is not a new subject. As early as 1954 Walter Gropius spoke of flexibility within architecture. Forty describes how Gropius argued that architects should conceive architecture as vessels for flow of life of the people that inhabit it. In his opinion a building should be flexible enough to offer a platform to meet the challenges of modern life [14] . This point is even more relevant today due to the ever increasing pace of change as outlined previously.

There are coherent arguments against this idea. Alan Colquhoun described how the flexible approach results in buildings that are unsuited to their functions. As he argues, life is too complex and changeable to represent in built form [15] . Herman Hertzberger also argued against the flexibility 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…..it only has to do with uncertainty" [16] 

Architecture which offers the possibility of any action or occupation can only create results that are intangible, incomprehensible and unsuited to their functions. Flexibility tries to facilitate the needs of individuals to a level beyond what is achievable.

Recently Leupen argues more definitively by offering two ways to deal with time and uncertainty. Firstly you can make a building polyvalent, a theory that Hertzberger has written positively about, and secondly you make them physically adaptable to meet the changing needs and subsequent alterations. [17] .

2 Polyvalence

The term polyvalence been used for a long time in the context of multipurpose halls in French villages, it has its origins in the term salle 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." [18] 

Polyvalence supports a continuous process of change while the building remains fixed. However the building has capacity to accommodate the changes within it - without changing itself as a whole. Polyvalence in the public buildings is different from that in the private dwelling. In the public building space is capable of accommodating different activities and changes to internal arrangements. In the private dwelling it focuses on the inter-changeability of activities between different rooms. This means that spatial organisations are different for both. In the public building it is achieved by providing generous dimensions, while in the private dwelling it is the relationship between the spaces.

Leupen describes how 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 facilitate multiple uses [19] .

Hertzberger introduces a further dimension as to how polyvalency can be used to facilitate change. He suggests that overtime a building can be influenced or interpreted in different ways by the occupants and in turn they can also be influenced by it. He argues that the building order of a structure provides a framework for this interpretation. Polyvalency is facilitated by the spatially organised structure creating freedom within it. In Hertzberger's opinion the building order enables the freedom of use now and in the future [20] . However Hertzberger's opinion that space is interpretable is limited to the given space and to the occupant's ability to interpret that space and therefore may not support a change in function adequately.

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

The Central Beheer Office was designed 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 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 3m x3m spatial unit. 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" [21] 

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 [22] .

3 Adaptability:

"Freedom - and the ability to change is a form of freedom - will destroy itself without a bounded framework" [23] 

3.1 Open Building

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

In the 1960's John Habraken introduced the concept of 'Open Building' [25] . The idea of his principle had the architect and builders providing a framework while the occupants work provided the fit out of the internal organisation, thus allowing for change to happen incrementally. This principle is comparable to an earlier idea as described by Walter Benjamin. Joesph D Lewandowski recounts 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 [26] . He takes this position because in a shell the occupants can alter the space they inhabit.

This is relevant as Kronenburg agrees that for buildings to retain their relevance; those who inhabit them, because they are aware of their needs they must be allowed to take part in the process of design. He believes this principle is an appropriate response to adapt 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] 

This is interesting and is supported by Brands argument on value as stated earlier. Another one of Brands opinions that is relevant to this open building principle is 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 [28] .

3.2 Layers for Change and Services

Another factor in adaptability is the varying rate of change between the building elements. Francis Duffy states that a building is made up of several layers of components that change at different rates. He distinguishes four particular layers with approximates their longevity as follows ; the 'Shell' or structure lasts the life time of the building, 'Services' i.e. plumbing, cabling, air conditioning and elevators changes every fifteen years, 'Scenery' i.e. internal layout and subdivisions change every five to seven years and the 'Set' i.e. furniture arrangements can be minutes to months [29] . Brand takes the same position but adds the site and the skin of the building as factors to be considered. He believes that due to the different change rates of the different layers a building is essentially pulling itself apart. He states;

"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" [30] 

An example of this is where the services are embedded within a wall that will need to be removed for expansion or to facilitate upgrading. Reyner Banham in his publication 'Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment' believes that servicing plays the most important role in adaptability within a building because of their function in providing for the comfort and wellbeing of occupants [31] . It is important if reflecting on Duffy's, Brands and Banhams opinion, services should be designed as a separate and adaptable layer so that changes can happen additionally and that systems can interface with new ones without destruction.

Kronenburg describes that if a building provides flexible conduits for service systems it allows for replacement and upgrading and also for devising layouts and functional space changes. In his opinion adaptable strategies require a complex servicing system if multi-use spaces are to accommodate their functions properly [32] . To facilitate change it is not as simple as providing a space that can accommodate different uses, these different functions must be facilitated with the capacity to perform correctly.

3.3 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 to facilitate rapid changes in functional requirements of medical operations, changed regulations, and new insurance circumstances 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 it. The secondary system (20 plus years) contains the changing 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" [33] 

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

3.4 Framing

While Leupen believes that a building is composed of a series of changing layers he also accepts that access is one of them. He developed a concept where each layer or combination of layers can be seen as what he refers to as a 'Frame'. His 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;

"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" [34] .

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 frees the internal divisions from bearing loads, the internal walls or partitions can be altered to their desired position at any time which would facilitate the open building principle and polyvalency. Another example of this is if the services are disconnected from the structure and integrated within the skin of the building or disconnected completely internally or externally into a servant space, 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" [35] 

3.5 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 design to accommodate any sort of art installation or performance that might take place. The building demonstrates how a shell construction allows for complete change of use to be applied to it. It also demonstrates how a combined frame of steel lattice structure, with 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. The façade changes in appearance between transparency and obscurity depending on the perspective of view. This allows a visual 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 [36] .

3.6 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 to fulfil its purpose but also for the benefits of local residents in the area, the chance visitor and tourist. From the exterior of the building the viewer was invited 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" [37] 

The building owes its polyvalency to the independence of its structure, its means of access, its services and 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. This allows the large open floor space to be freely subdivided by partitions for exhibitions. The services are feed into the building from the exterior as well as elements of structure and access. The upper floors of the building consist of a 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 contains a double height hall, retail facilities, temporary exhibits and a reception area. One of the successful achievements of the Pompidou Centre was that it helped change an undesirable area into a vibrant community.

3.7 Fluctuating Space:

Where specific space is required to fulfil a close fit to function but also requires flexibility, Kronenburg argues the adaptable strategy of fluctuating space is 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" [38] 

This approach is where a space that is closely fit to its functions is juxtapositioned to an overflow zone for the activities to extend. Kronenburg argues that it allows the dedicated space to cope with the static and specific requirements but also allows the unplanned activities that require more flexibility to expand out from that space. This is method of organising space in useful when reflecting on Colquhoun's previously discussed argument against flexible design solutions.

3.8 Case Study Seattle Public Library, Rem Koolhass 2004

Rem Koolhass used 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 [39] .

4 Conclusion

Every building is designed to serve a purpose efficiently but change within that purpose is almost inevitable. Through my various reviews and in particular that of Bernard Leupen, Robert Kronenburg and Stewart Brand I have established my position that architecture needs to respond to the challenges of change by applying a combination of polyvalent and adaptable design strategies.

Hertzberger wrote of the functionalist, "The rapid obsolescence of all too specific solutions leads not only to disfunctionality but also to serious inefficiency" [40] .

For me it is important to avoid this inflexible approach with the subsequent possibility of destruction before re-construction. While any one strategy in isolation has its own shortcomings it is the combination I will use in the design stage of my work.

A polyvalent response may not be suitable for certain parts of a building program within a hospital for example. An open building principle may not be sufficient for a rapidly re-arranging multiple purpose exhibition centre. Fluctuating space may facilitate an unexpected multifunctional activity within a library but may not be sufficient for the rearrangements of an office accommodation. However all three will permit me as a designer to future proof my design by logically selecting where to apply the relevant strategy.

Future proofing will increase both the emotional and commercial value of the design and extend the longevity of the building.

5 Brief Statement

My vision for the design project is a proposal for a 'Community Art Studio and Exhibition Centre'. Drawing from my case studies and literature research, exhibition spaces require a large degree of polyvalence to accommodate changes in the appropriation of space. Within in this, studio space needs to facilitate specific requirements and a degree of adaptability. Kronenburg outlines that exhibition spaces are a typical building types 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 visitors and investors.

From my case study of the Pompidou Centre, I have learned a flexible building approach has shown to the surrounding environment that architecture can be an enabler for freedom of activity and use. This will help create an emotional value within its context and occupants by constantly accommodating change of use as previously referenced in the research.

I will;

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 adaptable layers and disconnect them from each other accordingly.

The building will include an adaptable art studio for public workshops, polyvalent exhibition spaces to cater for a range of media from paintings to art installations and performances, a lecture room, a public meeting space for the locality and public retail facilities such as a café and shop. 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 the 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 polyvalent and adaptable building solutions. The plan also prioritises the need for cultural buildings for the community, listing exhibition spaces in their priorities. The plan proposes 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) i.e. providing amenities for the community.

The site according to the historical maps had been undeveloped before the turn of the 20th century. There is evidence of some buildings facing St Mary's Place North on the 1995 map but they 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' required us to read and analyse the Greek Tragedy Oresteia originally by Aeschylus and translated by Ted Hughes. The book is based on the curse of the 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 within the limits of a 300x300mm cube.

I chose to focus on the transformation from one to many, i.e. the transformation of the illegality of murdering a family member to the widening of the rule regarding murder of a citizen of the polis. To do this I represented the journey of Orestes from the point at which he murders his mother Clytemnestra in revenge for her killing his father Agamemnon. The abstract model represents a series of key scenes of Orestes journey. He himself is a scaled version of the dimensions of his story. As each scene unfolds the space transforms until the plot has ran its course and the conclusion is represented with a series of similar cubes. The resultant cubes are irregularly organised and coloured but are also scaled versions of Orestes. I did this because I interpreted that we all are different within society but we all contain in ourselves the primal nature for revenge. The conclusion is non-literal as to allow the observers to interpret it for themselves to avoid artistic narcissism. The model as a whole is transformable as I wished to practise how space could be transformed within tight constraints.

List of Figures