Mobility in Architecture...and Dividing Programs/Rooms

Reply Thu 16 Feb, 2012 11:29 am
In a discussion about "evolutionary architecture" amongst architects in our firm in Boston, we explored the difference between morphable form during construction and mobile form during occupancy. A forward-thinking software client has commissioned us to design a building that can alter itself to their needs. While pre-fabricated modules like shipping containers, SIPs, and concrete boxes can be assembled numerous ways, once the last mortar is laid or nail nailed, they are static.

In our discussion I posited that, post-occupancy, architecture can only be mobile around the shell of a building. From a building's outside in, flashy daylighting and weatherproofing systems can rely on parametrics, but once you deal with flooring, insulation, vertical circulation, and especially vertical structure, everything turns out to be highly fixed in place.

In our discussion, we determined that one element within the building envelope that is potentially very movable is program, i.e. the division between public and private space. Many design schools have 4' x 8' panels for pinups that can be wheeled into place to divide up an auditorium into 5 or more discussion spaces (see pictures). In my office discourse we talked about how to harness this freedom of mobility...having tracks would give too much authorship to the designer; without tracks, the space under the wheels would destroy acoustic privacy.

Does anyone take issue with my cynical thoughts about the practicality of moving whole buildings without the expensive and energy intensive use of hydraulics? Does anyone have any thoughts on practicable ways to rearrange interiors on the drop of a dime, with acoustic and visual integrity?

A friend's response:
For Being a Southern California native, I am very disappointed in your lack of addressing the outdoor space. Given large openings and proper, "designed" engagement of the outdoor environment, it seems to me that there is a variety of ways to manipulate the usable shell and the program. Especially if the outdoor space is shaded/covered etc….

Gregory Ain was masterful at transforming interior spaces with inexpensive movable panels, doors transforming 1, 2 or 3 smaller spaces into larger ones. The original Eames office in Venice – was a beautiful example of transformative space. I could go on…perhaps Bostonites feel differently?
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Reply Thu 16 Feb, 2012 04:55 pm
Ben, welcome to a2k, glad to see an architecture thread here again. I'm a retired land arch, lived in Venice a million years, know the Ain houses as a friend owned one, but on the other hand, they didn't move the walls at least when I was there. I'm don't know how that went in the rest of the neighborhood, which was something like three streets maybe four blocks long.

I have to laugh, as I was reading your post I was revving up to tell you about Ain.. your friend beat me to it.

On moving building units, when I lived in Venice, there was a relatively tall victorian moved onto a corner lot from Boyle Heights, the area just east of downtown LA. Interesting thing to watch.. an engaged owner making a lot of effort.

I've thought myself about possible changes in now deserted subdivisions, especially any with large lots - how to adapt them for better usage, including making some houses multi family, and some of my thoughts had to do with consolidating where the houses were and using the then leftover land for useful shops (what I'd call larder shops) and areas to walk the dog to, get a coffee, etc. Anyway, however pie in the sky, I figured on, yes, move some of the houses. I don't know the economics of that.

I haven't heard the term morphable form but it's a quickly graspable idea, interesting.

We have some old threads here on a2k under the tags architecture, landscape architecture, land use, hope you add more architecture threads.

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