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Building Flexibility: The extend to which the concept needs to be integrated into today's design process.

Susan Paul Thomas

MA Architecture Student ID 77124997


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT...................................................................................... v

CHAPTER 1. A BUILDING FLEXIBILITY PRIMER 1.1.An overview on flexibility in buildings…………………................................... 2 1.2.Defining Flexible and Adaptable buildings…………………………................... 3 1.3.Trend towards flexibility……………………………………………………..................... 6 1.4.How flexible buildings work……………………….............................................. 7 1.5.Obstacles to flexible designs……………………………………................................ 10

CHAPTER 2. A BRIEF INTERPRETIVE HISTORY OF THE GROWTH OF FLEXIBLE BUILDINGS 2.1. From office plans…………………………………………..………………….................…. 14 2.2. From vernacular plans……………………………….……..................................… 16

CHAPTER 3. CASE STUDIES 3.1. Une Petite Maison, Switzerland………………………….......................…………… 23 3.2. Rietveld Schroeder House, Netherlands…………….............................……… 25 3.3. E.1027, Roquebrune……………………………………….................…………………….. 29 3.4. Fun Palace, London…………………………………...................………………………… 33

CHAPTER 4. TECHNICAL OVERVIEW 4.1. Flexible building approches…………………………........................………………… 38 4.2. Identifying flexible factors……………………………………...................…………… 47 4.3. Design approches to escalate building flexibility……......................……….. 50

CHAPTER 5. HOW SUSTAINABLE IS FLEXIBILITY? 5.1. Achieving sustainable buildings through flexibility…….......................……. 58 5.2. Schemes to improvement………………………………………………………........…….. 60 5.3. Retrofitting or Reconstruction: A viable solution to the UK’s building stock…………………………………………….......................................................………… 62

CHAPTER 6. HOW MUCH DO WE REALLY NEED? 6.1. What and where to end……………………………..........................................……. 68 6.2. Methodology…………………………............................................…………………… 69


REFERENCES........................................................................................................ 78


This dissertation has beneďŹ ted greatly from the support of many people whom I would like to mention here. To begin with I would like to thank Almighty God for guiding me through this exciting and challenging task during my time at Leeds Metropolitan University. I would like to specially mention my supervisor, Mr. Craig Stott, for his helpful guidance, encouragement and insight during the course of this dissertation. I also particularly praise his honest, calm and friendly manner which allowed me to convey all my doubts most graciously. Thank you very much! I am also grateful to my parents Paul Thomas & Shyla Mathew and my brother Sanel Thomas for their constant support and trust during my hard times. I especially thank my mother for her endless love and faith in me. I would also like to extend my gratefulness to my uncle and aunt, Abeesh Panicker and Sherine Mathew, for their substantial support in completing my work on time. I show my appreciation to my friends and colleagues, Nam and Tono for their valuable contributions despite the work pressures we were facing. To Anupama Nandakumar, special thanks for providing crucial points in the writing of the dissertation. I am particularly thankful to Aishwarya Bharatkumar , who in spite of not knowing me was ready to share her understanding on the topic. And lastly, to Jinu without whom this effort would have been worthless. I am really thankful for your constant love and patience.

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chapter one

A building flexibility primer



The interest in designing for flexibility has been escalating with time as a result of the changing needs of the occupants. In John Habraken’s definition of Open buildings (n.d), he states that the built environment is the outcome of an enduring design process where the environment transforms part by part. Hence flexibility can be understood as an ability to adapt to the varying requirements of the built environment. It includes adapting with changing demographics, the possibility of incorporating new technologies or even opportunity to change the function or configuration of the building. However; unlike many new approaches, flexibility in the design of space was not invented; but rather it gradually emerged in response to the evolving social and economic demands. Paul Oliver, well known for his instrumental research on vernacular architecture, noted that, ‘with the growth of families, whether nuclear or extended, the care of young children and the infirm, and the death of the aged; the demands on the dwelling to meet a changing family size and structure are considerable’. Therefore, liveable spaces must be capable to adapt and transform to accommodate the responsive requirements of the occupants. In philosopher Martin Heidegger’s influential essay ‘Building, Dwelling and Thinking’ (1971), he clearly describes that in the world, a sense of dwelling can be created only through a building when we recognise and establish the essence of the place. For instance, in the Japanese culture, the act of making a home can be achieved by binding landscape- encircling trees, rocks and also using ropes and fabric; and not through permanent buildings. This would imply that the act of home-making is momentary and ceaselessly evolving; and can be achieved through movable and temporary objects. Thus in order to create liveable spaces, individuals would require a dwelling that is responsive to their needs and this can be achieved by introducing a significant degree of flexibility and transformability within the space. According to Till and Schneider (2005, pg.157), the extent of flexibility can be determined in two ways: first the in-built opportunity for adaptability, described as capable of various social uses; and second the opportunity for flexibility, described as capable of various physical arrangements. Then again, despite the numerous attempts, the tendency to design flexible buildings is usually anticipated for a short term where it relates to a particular type of dwelling for a particular point of time. Therefore, it is required to accept the necessity for long term dwelling reflecting on the uncertainty of future demand and occupation. 2| page

The future of a building can be assessed in respect to its flexibility, adaptability and sustainability where such structures can be easily modified according to the requirement. Other aspects that play a crucial role are minimising the waste production, reducing the use of materials and the ease of dismantling services. However, on the contrary, inflexibility of a design depicts that once the needs of the occupants change, they have no option but to leave. Such conditions have an optimistic view in the market since the buildings will remain in demand. The occupants will not be able to adapt well, as in the case of a flexible built environment, and will be unable to live longer in them, thereby boosting the demand in the building sector and encouraging the sales. Currently, developments towards flexible architecture constitute a universal occurrence. Individuals- from industrial manufactures to real estate developers and contractors, from sustainability sponsors to government supervisors- have recognised few of the issues that the building sector faces such as- the vitality of long lifespan of buildings compared to the short span of its functions, the vacancy of structures due to the inability to meet the current requirements and the rapid change in user demands. Hence, contemporary solutions about how to build in flexibility are being industrialised in order to improve the responsiveness of the buildings for the inhabitants, as well as increasing capacity for change, efficiency and sustainability, thereby dramatically extending the life of the buildings.



It has been agreed by many that flexibility and adaptability have overlapping meanings and includes different approaches to understand and explain the phenomenon. According to Rabenek, Sheppard and Town (1973- 74), the concept of flexibility is against ‘tight-fit functionalism’: where a space is being used for its preconceived function. It has been accounted that in the UK most houses are being sold solely based on the number of rooms and its designated purposes rather than the overall floor area. A fine example of space that adheres to tight-fit functionalism is the dining room which is on an average used for less than 5% of the day. Hence to achieve a flexible design, spaces must not be specified with predetermined functions and must also deal with construction techniques & service space allocation. Adaptability, on the other, relates to units that can be easily altered according to changing circumstances. 3| page

In Herman Hertzberger’s interpretation of flexibility he argued that it represented a set of all incompatible solutions to a problem and did not contribute to any better functioning (1967). He further explained in his book ‘Lessons for Students in Architecture’ (1991, pg.146), ‘in flexible design there is no single solution which is preferable to others’ and fashioned another concept called polyvalence. He reasoned that the fame of flexibility made it the remedy to cure all the ills of architecture. As long as the buildings were designed to be neutral, they thought that it could be put to different use and therefore could adapt to the changing situations. But neutrality created a lack of identity, in Herman’s words, “the lack of distinctive features”. Hence flexibility displayed denial of basic perspective. He claimed that though a flexible plan adapts itself to the changes, it is never the most suitable solution because it is kept flexible for the sake of alteration. Hence he moulded the concept of polyvalence where a form can be put to different use without undergoing any change so that the minimal flexibility can still produce an optimal solution. On the contrary, adaptability according to him is based on the planning and layout of a building and includes the size of a room and its relation to other rooms. In Steven Groak’s book ‘The Idea of Building’ (1992), he pointed out that buildings are unstable systems in the dynamic environments. When it is usually conceived by all that buildings are basically constant, unchanging, and eternal; in reality buildings have to be comprehended to undergo changes with time. One of the aspect Groak discusses is while considering the social utility, where he claims that the configuration of internal spaces are appropriate only for limited uses and he differentiates between flexibility and adaptability as: flexible designs are capable of different physical arrangements and adaptable designs are capable of different social uses. “The building’s capacity for accommodating changed uses will depend on the extent to which it is adaptable and/or flexible”- Groak (1992, pg.17). In his book ‘Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary for Modern Architecture’ (2000) Adrian Forty implied that, ‘the incorporation of flexibility into the design allowed architects the illusion of projecting their control over the building into the future, beyond the period of actual responsibility for it’. Such beliefs created controversies and suggested that flexibility can be achieved by making the work incomplete and unfinished in specific areas thereby leaving it to the future to decide. An example of incomplete work of architecture on the basis of large institutions like airports or hospitals was proposed by architect John Weeks where he mentioned that due to the impracticality to predict 4| page

the alterations that the building might require before becoming physically obsolete, the most viable explanation would be to leave some elements unfinished (1963). Forty concludes his argument by mentioning that flexibility is based on two contradicting roles, ‘it has served to extend functionalism and to make it viable’ and on the other hand ‘it has been employed to resist functionalism’. Schneider and Till (2007) characterised flexibility in the context of housing by altering the physical fabric of the building. For instance, by linking spaces together, or by extending the rooms, or through folding/sliding walls and furniture, flexibility can be attained. Thus, it relates to both internal and external changes. Moreover it also applies to temporary as well as permanent changes where temporary changes can be achieved by sliding a wall or door, and permanent changes can be achieved by moving an internal partition or an external wall. They further explained that flexible housing can adjust to the changing needs and patterns, both social as well as technological. The changing needs can be personal (expanding family), practical (beginning of old age) or technological (upgrading the services) whereas the changing patterns may be demographic (growth in single person household), economic (increase in rental market) or environmental (update housing to respond to climate change). Conversely, Schneider and Till outlines that adaptability can be achieved by designing rooms such that they can be used for various purposes. This can be implemented primarily by the way spaces are organised, the circulation within the spaces and the purpose of the rooms. Hence, adaptability embraces polyvalence where the spaces can be utilized in numerous ways without rendering any physical alterations. Therefore, introducing a technical meaning to the concepts of flexibility and adaptability is crucial to differentiate them and conceive appropriate techniques to attain a liveable and enhanced space. Thus, the concept of flexibility can be defined as the capacity of buildings to undergo drastic physical changes in such a way that the purpose and the function of the building can be completely altered whatsoever the original intend was; whereas the concept of adaptability can be defined as the ability to adjust and modify to the changing circumstances efficiently.

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In order to endure a building for a prolonged period, the structure needs support from more than just the environment. People require architecture, a genuine reality. But architecture also requires people since a building has no purpose unless people use it. Hence in order to be meaningful, architecture must be functionally, economically and technologically relevant and evolved. Flexible building designs can keep a structure relevant for an extended period of time. Then how does one design for time? For a dwelling to be flexible, Schneider and Till (2005) point out that the space must be flexible even to the extent of allowing change of function thereby accommodating different uses and user groups. Therefore the interior layout of the units should be either adjustable to allow for different use or designed so that the function of the space is not predetermined. Moreover, the units must also be equipped spatially as well as technically in order to allow for expansion or reduction of size. Flexibility in buildings is an important aspect in terms of its feasibility in the social, economic and environmental facet. In order to predict change for the imminent future, the existing trends are accounted to evaluate the projected course. According to Hagan there are two strategies for prediction of designs: a. Mitigation which deals with what can be predicted or are already encountering For example, the raising global temperature has led to the design of sustainable structures ensuring that atmospheric warming carbon dioxide is produced to a minimal. b. Adaptation responds to what cannot be predicted and relates to wild fluctuations socially, economically and environmentally. For instance, environmentally- volatile variations in temperature, sudden violent storms etc. Hence what is planned, designed and built must be flexible. As explained further by Hagen, the purpose of designing for mitigation is to reduce the impact of future alterations on the building. This can be executed by detailing the past trends and predictions. For instance, in the design of energy efficient buildings, the increasing energy cost can be influenced by the potential of the building thereby tolerating the economic and environmental concerns. Therefore, by being aware of the changes, the need to adapt or renovate is reduced and thus increasing the functional life 6| page

of the building. Then again, the purpose of designing for adaptation is to create flexible spaces to perform adequately within the limits of an unforeseen situation. Kronenburg (2007, p.7) states that, “Flexible architecture consists of buildings that are designed to respond easily to change throughout their lifetime. The benefits of this form of design can be considerable: it remains in use longer; fits its purpose better; accommodates users’ experience and intervention; takes advantage of technical innovation more readily; and is economically and ecologically more viable. It also has greater potential to remain relevant to culture and social trends.” Slaughter (2001) implies that the increased needs for change in buildings are due to increasing consumer expectations, escalating advancement in technology and growing competitiveness. According to David Blackman’s research (2003), there has been a growing demand for the housing sectors in England where statistically on an average 170,000 new residential units are being built per year but with an actual need for around 250,000 units annually in the south of England alone. As per the projections until 2016, the demand for housing will continue to exceed the supply in the UK and the economy will begin to face the problems of affordability and homelessness. This suggests that at the current rate, the new houses being built now will have to last for around 1,200 years (Kate Barker, 2004). Therefore, the facts recommend that a dwelling with significant degree of flexibility and capacity for change according to the needs would suit individuals to make a better liveable space that would last longer to tally the consumer demands on a global scale.



Organisationally, flexible buildings can be sectioned into distinct levels for decision making. These levels can address the various characters of the buildings such as the distribution of space and functions, facades, services and so on to craft an enduring spatial and formal order. The leading theorist, Frank Duffy (1990, quoted in Brand, 1994, p.12) said that, “A building properly conceived is several layers of longevity of built components.” Based on his theory, Stewart Brand distinguished six layers of change (1994, p.13): 7| page

a. Site which is a geographical setting. The site is eternal. b. Structure consists of the foundations and the load bearing elements. Structural life endures for more than a century which ranges from 30 to 300 years and a few buildings make it past 60 also. It involves the part of a building which is common to the occupants and any further individual alterations to the building can- and should- leave the structure unaffected. c. Skin which is the exterior surface now changes every 20 years in order to keep up with the current fashion or technology. Due to the recent concerns in the energy cost, the Skin has been re- engineered to air-tight and provide better insulation. d. Services consist of the working cores of the building such as the electrical wiring, plumbing, HVAC, sprinkler system, communication wiring and the escalators & elevators. The transformations are generally initiated due to the occupants changing preferences for repeated technical upgrades. These services and systems wear out in about 7-15 years and most buildings with deeply embedded outdated systems are demolished- which is easier than to replace. Therefore, it is practical to install the systems independently with optimal freedom, keeping the structure physically distinct as possible, for effortless transformations and imminent upgrades. e. Space plan entails the interior layout such as the walls, ceiling and floors. Commercial spaces can change every 3 years or so. However, extremely quiet homes might wait for 30 years. f. Stuff includes the furniture like chairs, desk, kitchen appliances, lamp, phones, hair combs and so on that twitch around daily to monthly.


Figure 1 Shearing layers of change: Because of the different rates of change of its components, a building is always tearing itself apart.

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The sequence of the 6-S is followed both in design and construction. Architect Peter Calthorpe (nd, quoted in Brand, 1994, p.17) said that, “What stays fixed in the drawings will stay fixed in the building overtime.” Kendall and Teicher (2000, pg.8) accounted that, “in terms of decision cluster, open buildings advocates disentangling specific parts of the buildings and their subassemblies: minimising interference and conflict between subsystems and the parties controlling them; enabling the substitution or replacement of each part during design, construction and long-term management.” These principles can be applied to attain flexible spaces as well, where a broader consumer choice in layout, furnishing and finishing spaces can be enabled by disentangling and regimenting boundaries. As an example of open building practice Kendall and Teicher explains that in a household project, the occupants are enabled to custom design their dwelling units according to their aesthetic, functional and financial preferences. They can decide their preferential locations to place the walls, kitchens and other services as well as hand-pick favourable fixtures and finishes. Hence, by employing advanced technology, information systems and logistics, the occupants can create custom dwellings at a cost not more than the conventional units. The layering also defines how architecture rules people via time. This theoretical concept is based on the work of ecologists (O’Neill et al., 1986) where they described that the processes in nature operate in different timescales and hence there is little or no exchange of energy, mass or information between them. “The dynamics of the system will be dominated by the slow components, with the rapid components simply following along”, (O’Neill et al., 1986, p.98). Likewise Brand (1994, p.17) transferred this perception to architecture and noticed that the lethargic slow parts are in control and not the blazing rapid ones. For instance, the Site dominates the Structure, which dominates the Skin, which dominates the Services, which dominates the Space plan, which dominates the Stuff. Hence he perceived that traditional buildings were able to adapt easily because the faster layers which were the Services, did not obstruct the slower parts, the structure. This concept of shearing layers led to the architectural design principle called Pace- layering, which arranged the layers allowing for maximum flexibility. Therefore, such principles and practices can alter the conventional methods in architecture and construction by reforming the process of design, manufacture and installation of building parts. 9| page



The concept of flexibility is becoming more prominent despite the limited amount of its execution in architecture. Both developers and users in the UK have considerably acknowledged the benefits of incorporating flexibility in design. However, despite the benefits of accommodating flexibility in architecture, it is argued that the technique costs money. These preconceptions that in-built flexibility is much more expensive as well as the lack of funding are considered as obstacles to attaining a flexible space. However Henz suggests that the additional upfront investment can be balanced out against the long term economic benefits such as the capacity to respond instantly to the changing needs of the user, greater appreciation of the dwelling by the inhabitants and reduced fluctuations by the occupants. With flexibility, the obsolescence of the building stock can be limited in the long term. For instance, an increasing number of educational institutions are being renovated to respond to the changing needs and requirements. The cost for the required construction work can be greatly reduced if the buildings are flexible to adapt without any resort to extensive work. Currently, the degree of maintaining the existing building supply and investing in refurbishment is increasing severely. As accounted by Kendall and Teicher (2000) in most of the developed countries, renovation is now being accounted for more than of the construction in the market and has become a crucial alternative to demolition and new build. But despite the increase in transformation of space, the capacity for the building to adapt to the alterations according to user preferences has prominently diminished because it does not determine the finest suitable use to a specific building in a specific location at a specific time (Kincaid, 2002). Conferring to the current data, the average lifespan of newly constructed buildings has descended, from 90 years to as few as 20-30 years. Edward Finch (2009) accounted in his article that during a study conducted by Bottom, McGreal and Heaney (1998) involving the use of supply and demand model, the analysis indicated how challenging it was to achieve flexibility in regard to the changing demands of the occupants. With the rising of new technologies and knowledge of workers, most of the design solutions are subsequently over specified and some others underspecified. For example, the findings related to the supply and demand concerning the building shell revealed that flexibility factors such as the floor space flexibility and floor to ceiling 10| page

height restrictions showed considerable disparity. In the case of floor space flexibility which deals with the potential for varied use of space, the demand ranked 12th out of 39 factors which reflected its importance when considered to the availability ranking only 27th out of 39 factors. A reverse pattern applied for the floor to ceiling height which deals with height impacting on the accommodation of IT and cabling. The importance ranked only 36th out of 39 factors while the provision over satisfied the demand ranking 7th out of 39 factors. Therefore, the study revealed that often it is challenging to predict the priorities of each changing needs for designers as well as users. SUPPLY RANKING


Flexibility of floorspace




Floor to ceiling heights



Quality of building exterior



Location of lifts, stairs & corridors



Table 1 Factors relating to building shell (based on Bottom et al, 1998)

Hence, by employing spatial ideologies, technological systems and service schemes to quantify the flexible use of a dwelling, these pieces of architecture will last for an extended time and will be economic in the longer run since they will decrease the need and rate of refurbishment.

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chapter two

A brief interpretive history of the growth of flexible buildings



During the first half of the 20th century, typical office plans consisted of long rows of desk and benches occupied by white collar clerks in an assembly line. An attempt to bring back the soul in the design initiated in Germany around 1958, where a neoteric style of office planning emerged under the German name Burolandschaft or ‘office landscape’ because of the raising awareness that the existing office layouts often had harmful effects on the working performance of the inhabitants. This term eventually americanised to be called ‘open planning’. Developed by the Quickborner team of Management Consultants, this radical office design consisted of openness by breaking down the rows of desk into organic arrangements involving structurally undivided areas with mechanically controlled surroundings. It also refers to the irregular scattering of furniture in the free and open plans, and therefore involved strategic use of partitions to create some extent of separation and privacy. However, in the beginning the concept was not appreciated to its fullest. Pile (1978, p.18) explains that the published plans which deviated from the conventional planning concepts caused shock, laughter, outrage and curiosity. But the Quickborner team was only concerned of their findings and how the contemporary physical settings influenced the office procedures. Their profound arrangement in office planning attempted to attain a non- hierarchical environment by encouraging all rank staffs to sit together in an open level in order to increase and improve communication between the inhabitants and moreover allow for future flexibility. By 1961, a mail order firm- Buch and Ton at Gutersloh in Germany were occupied by 250 office staffs working in an ‘office landscape’ environment. By 1962, Krupp at Essenhousing 1000 workers planned specifically to accommodate themselves in a five-story building with office landscape installations. Consequently, in time numerous projects settled into using the characteristics of ‘office landscape’ (Pile, 1978, p.24). However in 1964, an American furniture company, Herman Miller proposed the ‘action office’ system designed by Robert Propst. This system introduced highly individualised worker’s needs by combined large surfaces and multiple desk heights accommodating panels for file storage. By 1968, the company began to sell its system as a modular unit. This led to an unfortunate situation of leaving companies to choose their desired designs for planning open office spaces. Even until today several offices are continuing to purchase modular 14| page

units to plan office spaces and this has led to deserting personal interactions. Although open plans in office environments have benefits of fostering teamwork and ambient awareness, a research published by the Asian-Pacific Journal of Health Management by Vinesh Oommen observed that such environments cause conflict and high blood pressure. Open office plans can be a noisy environment and distract the workers thereby leaving them unfocussed and likely to commit mistakes.

Figure 2 An office landscape floor plan

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Kendall and Teicher, the authors of ‘Residential Open Buildings’ (2000) accounted that the rationalised strategies of open building- to define boundaries- prolonged as old as the built environments itself. Builders learned long ago to separate the infill from the building structure, doing so not to compromise the structural performance, thereby making it less enduring because the vernacular buildings experienced a wide range of uses during their lifespan. Kronenburg (2002, pg.22) also stated a similar view that initially humankind were nomadic creatures living their lives in close ties with the movement of wild animals for food and clothing. Soon enough, the domestication of animals led us to further move and orient towards seasonal grazing consequently letting us to settle down to long-term habitation where the few rooms each dwelling had were multi-functional- accommodating sleep, eat as well as work. Thus, such rooms were furnished with demountable furniture that also served several other functions. Kronenburg continues to detail that in Europe only during the last three centuries; rooms have been dedicated and designed for specific functions. However in Japan, the trend of living in a space with multi-functional use still continues till present day. Moreover, in vernacular housing, the spaces were issued to respond to the problems and varied from single space accommodating the entire family ritual to a pool of individual hutsto use according to need- arranged around a courtyard. Such a system where spaces are arranged around an open space is extremely flexible. This arrangement of the vernacular compound reflects the modern apartment plans where the central hall provides path to several undifferentiated rooms that can be utilised for various purposes. Therefore, in traditional Japanese architecture the use of sliding and demountable screens and tatami floors between structural columns were customary, partly due to lack of space. Also, in the traditional Dutch canal houses; the façade, roof and fenestrations were built first and the rooms were arranged later on behind the windows. In the west modernist architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was the first architect to use the concept of ‘open plan design’ in residences. He saw walls and rooms as tyrant to the users and how the flexibility and spaciousness of open plan can liberate them from the curbs of boxed spaces. He was highly inspired by the traditional buildings erected by the Japanese craftsmen. Kronenburg (2002, p.25) described that, ‘the flowing space and unfettered integration with site afforded by sliding walls and open plan, and the 16| page

Figure 3- Above Japanese minimalist house being sensitive to natural materials by designing in plain raw wood, within a tatami-mat layout Figure 4- Center Multi-functional use of space integrating sliding walls Figure 5- Below The interior of the Geppa Pavilion of the Katsura Imperial Villa, perfectly integrated into the garden.

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sensitivity to natural materials and resolution within a modular tatami-mat layout, made a big impression on Wright’. Hence concisely, the layout of traditional Japanese house was designed according to the involvement of the inhabitants; where a dining or a sitting room can be easily converted into a bedroom by drawing out cushions from the cabinets, thereby allowing multiple functions rather than decorating with furniture arrangements. The structure involved spaces dimensioned according to the tatami-mat in sets of 6 or 8 providing a modular approach and included light- weight & sliding walls. A notable example is the Japanese ‘Shugakin Rikyu’ Imperial Villa which was completed in 1659. Kronenburg (2007, p.14) details that the residence showcases simplicity coupled with ultimate flexibility in the use of space. He explains that the interior walls could be easily moved around due to the light weight. Moreover the spaces were generic and could easily adapt to suit multiple uses. In the subsequent years, during the 1900s, Wright’s designs established the groundwork for the revolution in domestic architecture. His concept of the Usonian house- a simple, open-plan, modular and affordable building using traditional materials along with modern building techniques, proved to be quite radical. However, in the European context Le Corbusier was promoting the architectural bubble by formulating a new architectural language known as the International style which comprised complimenting buildings with- ribbon windows, open plans, façade unrestricted by structure, pilotis and flat usable roofs. Le Corbusier’s work of art, Villa Savoye, exhibited elements of flexible space by merging and interlocking areas which encouraged personal movement. However in terms of adaptable elements, Une Petite Maison- one of his earliest buildings, is the most interesting (project detailed in the next section). Though these influential buildings employed the modern construction techniques, they were not designed as ideal dwellings that can be supplied to the larger population. Before World War II, Walter Gropius began to work on several factory-built houses maintaining a modular building technique thereby offering economic and aesthetic benefits. Soon enough, in 1930, a Swiss architect Albert Frey designed and built the Aluminaire house, made of aluminium and steel frame with aluminium panels for cladding, which embraced several innovative construction techniques such as being prefabricated and allowing the structure to be erected in ten days and disassembled in six days. After the war, 400,000 homes were destroyed and the need for housing in the UK was desperate. The government initiated temporary housing programs to speedily supply homes by 18| page

making use of the redundant factories. Hence this situation encouraged to experiment with new construction methods and materials; and standardisation became the strategy to obtain rapid, economic and flexible spaces. So by the 1950s the pre-fabs and the older buildings were being replaced by industrial building techniques using concrete creating large structures that contained dozens of homes. Therefore, after the Second World War, as predicted by the modernists, the mass production industry delivered quick and cheap housing to a set standard which involved conventional plans with modern amenities like indoor bathrooms and fitted kitchens. But it also shrunk the size of the homes creating an inflexible minimum space (Kronenburg, 2002).

Figure 6 Albert Frey's Aluminaire House

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By the end of the 20th century, design began to focus on creating ideal homes involving the concepts of flexibility as an innovative element. An international design group AWG (AllesWirdGut) designed a prototype for an innovative dwelling combining mobility and flexibility. The ‘TurnOn’ project designed in 2oo1 is a combination of several interior segments that can fit together in any arrangement to form a cylinder. Each segments encloses space for sleep, work, eat and relaxation and the assembled cylinder can be shipped to any location easily for either short or long term occupation. Though the effort, until now most of the mass production industries does not appreciate spending their profits on designing flexible housing since there is no evidence for the transformation of the added cost to the finished product.

Figure 7 AllesWirdGut, "TurnOn", 2000: housing system of coupled, vertically revolving side- operating units.

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chapter three

Case studies

kitchen bathroom laundry store


living room



Figure 8 Le Corbusier's Une Petite Maison, Corseaux- Vevey; floor plan for the single story building.

This detached petite house is a simple white plaster parallelogram comprising of a living room, powder room, bedroom, bathroom, vestibule, kitchen, a small salon which can be transformed into a guest bedroom and a closet for storage purposes. An additional elevated guest room, with a view of the lake, was designed which was accessible by stairs from the courtyard.

Figure 9 Conceptual sketches of the Une Petite Maison by Corbusier

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One of Le Corbusier’s earliest buildings, Une Petite Maison was the most appealing design in terms of adaptable elements. Built during 1923-24, the 64 sq. meter (16m x 4m) small single storey building was constructed along the shores of Lake Leman in Switzerland as a retirement home for his parents. The design and plan of the structure was shaped even before choosing a site; since Corbusier was given the task to choose the ground and he located a suitable place. Corbusier’s Une Petite Maison was the primary example of modern architecture in Switzerland. The design presaged three out of the imminent “five points for a new Architecture”: roof as a sun deck or garden, free open plans and large ribbon windows measuring 11 meters long. According to Deborah Gans (2006, pg.158), the 11 meter window which appears as a long slit on the wall was Corbusier’s approach to scientifically and inevitably respond to the sun, its zenith path and relationship to the horizontal eye. The flexible elements included in the design were folding and sliding screen in grid pattern to separate the guest room and an extending dining table to accommodate the guests. Corbusier described the Une Petite Maison as a ‘dwelling machine’ because of the effectiveness and spatial hierarchy of the building layout. He claimed that most components of the house function like machine parts by accurate planning and dimensioning the units. Deborah Gans (2006, pg.158) describes several examples of such mechanical devices: storage cabinets revealed by opening the bedroom wall and

Figure 10 11 meter long ribbon window which displayed no association to the division of space.

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Figure 11 Corbusier also designed most of the furniture which was embedded into the form of the building. This is a chest of drawers which performed as a platform for a high level desk to overlook the lake from the adjoining window.

Figure 12 Gerrit Rietveld's Schroeder House built during 1924-25 and restored 1986-87. The view across external elevation accentuates the play between vertical and horizontal planar forms

Figure 13 East corner of the Schroeder House with a window in a disappearing frame

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tables & lamps are extended of the window by sliding them along the wall. Despite all the innovative approaches to design, the cheap construction materials and structural problems due to the presence of the lake led Corbusier to layer the exterior with aluminium finish during 1950s. 3.2.


The Rietveld Schroeder House in Utrecht, Netherlands; is conceivably the most and only flexible domestic environment of the De Stijl period, which renders with the movement’s concepts of valiant aesthetics, colours and spatial delineation. This two storey house, situated at the end of a terrace for its view then in 1924, was designed by Gerrit Rietveld along with his client and love, Truus Schroeder. The ground floor of the Schroeder House was designed in a traditional and conventional approach with a central staircase enclosed by a large kitchen, a bedroom, reading room and a studio. However, the upper storey was designed to reflect Mrs Schroeder’s interest in one bedroom living. In an interview on May 1982, Mrs Schroder expressed that, “I was absolutely set against living downstairs. I’ve never lived this way, I found the idea very restricting. So we started to map out the upper floor because you can’t do without bedrooms- a room for my two girls and another for my boy. And where should we put them? All of us together, of course, the children had missed so much because I had left my husband on three occasions due to disagreement of the children’s upbringing. Each time they were looked after by a housemaid. After my husband died, I thought a lot about how we should live together. So when Rietveld made a sketch of the rooms, I asked, “Can the walls go too?” And that is how we ended up with one large space. But I was still looking for the possibility of dividing up that space. That could be done with sliding partitions which I think was an idea of Rietveld’s.” (Lenneke Buller & Frank den Oudsten, 1982) Weston and Mondrain (1996, p.97) stated that, “The only fixed volumes are the bathroom and stairwell: the rest is one continuous space, made flexibly habitable by sliding panels and built-in furniture, including fold-away beds and tables.” The Schroeder House basically has an open plan space which is grouped around a central core. This large living space is transformable for the ability to respond to the practical needs and privacy by introducing the partition walls. Each panel is independent and hence the user can accommodate any desired configuration of the space by leaving the partitions 25| page

Figure 14 The Schroeder House interior after restoration. The strong overlapping planes of De Stijl colour are clearly visible, working across the floor and reflected in the furniture. The partitions are open showing the full extent of the space in the upper floor. They are made up of bituminised cork inserted between beaver board and run in recessed grooves at the floor & are guided by steel ‘T’ sections at the ceiling.

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The dining area in the upper floor is also a prominent feature. Situated at the corner of a wide opening window with a disappearing frame, this area endures to be the most dramatic part of the house because of the outside view it overlooks. This corner space also blurs the demarcation of the inside and outside.

Figure 15 The upper floor with the partitions in use, closing the girls bedoom as well as covering the stairs and skylight portion.

Figure 16 Window with the disappearing frame- open in the upper dining space. All windows swing open in this manner

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open, closed or half closed. When Mrs Schroeder’s children resided at the house, the partitions were mostly closed to provide privacy. However, after they left, Mrs Schroder left the panels open during day and closed during night. The built-in-furniture was also designed to complement the transformable upper floor. The storage unit was a remarkable piece of furniture which contained a number of different sized boxes stacked in a way that the boxes slid apart and opened like a Rubik cube. Other built-in furniture included wardrobes for the children’s toy and clothes, and a washbasin unit in a cupboard (Paul Overy, 1988, pg.29). Hence, Rietveld was able to create an innovative house by rationally exploring new aesthetics because Mrs Schroder, his client, had desired to live in a different manner. She was not determined to make something modern but rather it was a work of spontaneity. 58 years of living in the house Mrs Schroeder expressed that, “For me this house exudes a very strong sense of joy, of real joyousness. That’s something in my nature, but here in this house it’s stimulated. And that’s absolutely a question of the proportions, and also of the light; the light in the house and the light outside. I find it very important that a house has an invigorating atmosphere; that it inspires and supports joie de vivre (joy of living).” Kronenburg (2005, pg.31) concludes by stating that, “by being so flexible, the Rietveld Schroeder house seems to achieve more fully the stated ambitions of the modern movement houses that ostensibly heralded the free plan as the liberation of living space, though in many cases it really meant putting the fixed walls into different configurations.” However, it is paradoxical that the openness the sliding partition attempts to characterise is in real suffocating to use. An example written by Catherine Croft in an article in Architectural Design (2000) mentioned that to use the bathroom one would have to pull out the walls around the bath- the contrast of a soothing experience. She continues by explaining that the myths of the Schroeder house emphasises on a modern free living, but in reality it quite resembles a life in prison. The house reflected more about control rather than freedom.

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Other notable flexible and habitable modern building was the house E.1027 by Eileen Gray in collaboration with Jean Badovici in Cap-Martin, France built during 192629. This villa was Gray’s first finished architectural creation because earlier she was a prosperous furniture & interior designer, and was encouraged to transfer her skills into the architectural domain by Romanian architect Jean Badovici. This relic of twentieth century modernism was planned as a ‘maison minimum’ – simple and efficient. The plan included 2,800 square feet of space- that is only little more than living room open on the Mediterranean Sea where each part fits perfectly together (Gordon, 2001, pg.160162). In Caroline Constant’s book illustrating Gray’s work, she described that, “For Gray, the house was not an object to be apprehended through intellectual detachment, but a flexible structure whose occupants would invest it with life” (2000, pg.93). For this purpose, she built a structure which had a persistent as well as developing relationship with the sun, wind and the sea by studying the effects of these natural elements at various times of the day throughout the year. The house was designed in a way that the outside and inside flowed simultaneously because Gray believed that each space must be independent to others, reasoning, “Everyone, even in a house of restricted dimensions, must be able to remain free and independent. They must have the impression of being alone, and if desired, entirely alone”- Constant (2000, pg.95). Thus the inhabitants were allowed to involve amicably with nature, by providing every room an access to the balcony through movable screens

Figure 17 E.1027 from the sea. The house is approached from above by a series of steps and paths leading down the steep, terraced hillside. This isolated structure was built overlooking the Bay of Monaco for its beauty since Gray desired that the house interact with the environment surrounding it.

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and windows. Every space of the villa was facilitated with multiple uses by Gray’s perception of

integrating the furniture into architecture. “The structure incorporated special

design elements such that it blurred the separation between the actual building and the furniture; with desks, table, chairs and cupboards folding and sliding from wall surfaces”- Kronenburg (2005, p.28). The central living room provided with an access to a narrow balcony was furnished with screen like vertical windows to allow in sunlight and view. A partition containing shelves, coat rack and umbrella stand obstructs any direct view of the spaces upon entry. Besides the mechanical schemes, the planning of the rooms such as a recess containing a sleeping area and adjoining shower/ dressing area positioned in a far corner of the room and the dining niche near the stairs, indicate the plurality of the use of space. In regard to the furniture type, Gray reasoned that, “These items are flexible, light and portable, capable of assuming different configurations to accommodate a range of activities: a table can serve as a desk, dining surface, or coffee table, for example”- Constant (2000, pg.105). Hence the project obtained flexibility by creating an open plan and integrating furniture and architecture such that the space can dispose multiple uses. In 1925, Badovici had noted that the E.1027 was technologically influenced by the Schroeder House: “the composition of the interiors can be modified according to need by means of sliding partitions; and the furnishings, reduced to the essential, take their inspiration from the cars of the wagon-lits”. Constant (2000, pg.114) further explains, “Gray incorporated mobility at the scale of the occupant. She made the inhabitant an active agent in his or her environment, a participant forcefully shaping the space”. Although Gray’s E.1027 was a modern movement house and referred several ideologies from Le Corbusier- the paramount architect of the movement; Gray contradicted with Corbusier’s statement that “the house is a machine to live in” (Corbusier, 1923, pg:266). By working within the context of the Modern movement, she wanted to disable the impersonal and callous qualities of the abstract forms by involving in the virtue of experience. She described the house as a living organism, an extension of the human experience, stating that “it is not a matter of simply constructing beautiful ensembles of lines, but above all, dwellings for people” (Gray, 1929, pg.23). According to Constant, Gray argued, “Formulas are nothing, life is everything” (2000, pg.94). By creating the E.1027, Gray made a remarkable and fundamental contribution to modern architecture. 30| page

Figure 18 Eileen Gray's E.1027, Roquebrune, Floor plan for the main level

service areas open living room

discrete bedroom

The house consists of an open living room at the centre which reflects Badovici’s affinity to entertain guests, a discrete study/bedroom, an independent kitchen connected to the roof and a bath in the main floor. The lower floor includes a large enclosed sitting area, a guest bedroom, small maid’s quarters and a toilet. The roof is designed with garden space, a small space for sunbathing and an outside cooking space which is adjoining to the kitchen below.

Figure 19 The living room, the entire south wall of which can be opened by means of folding glass doors onto a terrace overlooking the sea

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Figure 20 The guest bedroom on the lower floor. The circular table could be slid under the bed, the height of the top adjusted to make it possible to have breakfast in bed. The six shaped structure hanging at the foot of the bed held mosquito netting.

Figure 21 Guest alcove off the living room. The cupboard at the head of the divan holds pillows, mosquito netting, books, and a reading light. Cantilevered table beside the divan swing out of the way on two pivoting arms and has an adjustable easel to make it possible to read comfortably in bed.

Figure 22 Integration of architecture

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furniture into



Late British architect, Cedric Price, believed that an architect must recognise the potential needs of a building structure in order to allow for uncertain programs throughout the entire lifespan of the building. He also recognised that in any case if the building has outlived its anticipated purposes, the building should be dismantled and not retrofitted. Hence, Cedric Price conceived the Fun Palace in 1961, which was a laboratory of fun. Located in the Lea Valley at the city’s core, the Fun Palace took inspiration from the 18th century Vauxhall Gardens which incorporated different activities like music, fireworks, walking and garden in open air. Price reasoned that by accurately using the new technology, the public can have a control over their environment thereby making the building responsive to the individual’s needs. The floor layout of the Fun Palace was similar to that of a basilica with a central nave and aisles on two sides; and the transept being replaced by moving gantry cranes. The nave manages the mass activities such as the movies and theatre; and the side aisles comprise of restaurants and bars, workshops, children areas and so on. The building comprises of a kit of parts such as prefabricated walls, floors, stairs, platforms and ceiling modules that are mobile and can be assembled easily by the cranes. The structure is roofed with adjustable blinds that protect the individuals from the rain, whereas the need for external

Figure 23 Cedric Price’s Fun Palace, Lea River site

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Figure 24 Fun palace floor plan

Figure 25 Conceptual ideas and drawing for the working scheme of the Fun Place. Cedric Price worked with Joan Littlewood to create an improvisational architecture endlessly in the process of construction, dismantling, and reassembly.

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Figure 26 Axonometric section. Cedric Price and structural engineer Frank Newby designed a structural matrix with overhead cranes to allow assembly of prefabricated modules.

walls is eliminated through vapour and warm air barriers. The rest of the space is modified into shape by using temporary barriers like fibre panels, pressed aluminium curtains, optical barriers, audio- phonic curtains and quilted lead foil curtains. The suspension grid is the only fixed component while everything else is capable of movement in the structure. Therefore Price promised that, “its form and structure; resembling a large shipyard in which enclosures such as theatres, cinemas, restaurants, workshops, rally areas; can be assembled, moved, rearranged and scrapped continuously�. The structure also allowed the palace goers to walk freely into it and hence the plans deliberately did not add an entrance way.

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chapter four

Technical overview



No change is needed in a building as long as the necessities of the occupants are met. As soon as the requirements of the occupant changes, there rises the need for the building to adapt accordingly. Flexibility can be applied in architecture through partition-able spaces in the interiors, adaptable external facades that can be easily dismantled, intelligent materials and finishes, extendible structural members and many more possibilities. However, the purpose is to adapt using the least amount of effort and resources as possible. Hence, in order to appreciate and recognise the importance of this approach, distinctive categories of building flexibility types have been identified as follows: a. Adaptable refers to where modifications within the existing building are possible. The spaces can be changed or repositioned using partitions following the occupants’ needs. Such buildings are characterised universal due to their open floor plans and facilitate the ease to adapt. With partition-able structures, the building space can be easily divided into several smaller units or the smaller spaces can be merged to create a bigger space. Several units can also be rearranged.

Figure 27 Building flexibility type- Adaptable

Case study: NEXT21, OSAKA, JAPAN Next21 built in 1994 was an experimental 18-unit housing project designed by 13 38| page

different architects. The building elements were categorised into two camps: the long term elements which provided the structure such as the columns, beams and floors; and the short term elements like partitions and building equipment’s & services which can be easily adjusted without interrupting the overall system. Each unit was designed freely within a set of rules which provided the positioning of various structural elements. The flexibility factors that were included in the project are: • Generous floor to floor height allowing space for utility distribution and thus allowing ducts and pipes to route independently. • Reduced depth of beams in the mid-span thereby allowing the ducts and pipes to pass over the beams without using ‘sleeves’. • The building frame, external cladding, interior finishes and the mechanical systems were designed as independent subsystems and thus anticipating a varied repair, upgrade and replacement cycle easily. In order to test the objective that Next21 can be adjusted with improved independence, one unit from the fourth floor underwent significant renovations. The work was carried out using hanging scaffoldings to reduce any commotion to the adjoining neighbours. A considerable amount of the materials were removed especially from the façade and was later redeployed. The project still continues to explore and experiment new ways for building.

Figure 28 Next 21- facade system

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Figure 29- Above Front view of Next 21 incorporating natural greenery throughout the high rise structure. Figure 30- Below Services and componenets

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b. Movable where the structures are capable of being disintegrated, repositioned and reassembled to other locations.

Figure 31 Building flexibility type- Movable

Case study: MOBILE DWELLING UNIT, USA The Mobile Dwelling Units, built in 2002, are transformed from shipping containers by cutting the metal walls thereby generating extruded sub-volumes; each portion catering to live, work or storage function. The sub-volumes can be pushed out when in use and all the functions are assembled along the sides which is easily accessible without creating any obstruction. While travelling, these sub-volumes can be pushed into the containers interlocking themselves and filling the entire space, thus leaving the container to be shipped easily. The Mobile Dwelling Units were conceived for individuals travelling constantly around the world by fitting all the equipment and filling the space with the dweller’s belongings. However, these containers can be only 41| page

temporary solutions for accommodation since studies show that long term use are hazardous to the occupants due to certain emissions.

Figure 32- Above Mobile Dweeling Unit- an experimental design project Figure 33- Below The inside of an MDU, with services towards the sides.

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c. Responsive where the buildings can respond and interact to various external dynamics such as the environmental conditions- response to climate and other factors like the rate of occupancy and usage. Such spaces are easily convertible to economically adapt to the changing program. Buildings with responsive and intelligent technologies can improve its energy performance through sensors, actuators and many more; incorporated within the building fabric.

Figure 34 Building flexibility type- Responsive

Case study: HOUSE R128, GERMANY Erected in 1999-2000, House R128 was an experimental design by Werner Sobek involving spatial intricacy and innovative energy concepts. This four-storey selfefficient recyclable building produced no emissions and is a zero-heating-energy house with an innovative computer controlled technology where information regarding the house can be delivered to the client through mobile or computers. The access to the house is through a bridge which leads to the top floor. The entire building consists of an open plan with no partition walls indicating maximum transparency within the building. The structure has a modular design assembled with mortice and tenon joints, which is completely recyclable. Most of the piping and cabling are either exposed or concealed behind metal covers. The innovative technology includes voice recognition system to control the door rather than the conventional locks and task 43| page

Figure 35 A single family modern house R128 by Werner Sobek: modular and recycleable design

Figure 36 Geothermal energy and cooling concepts intergarted into the design

Figure 37 Creative and interesting interiors designed with glass steel frames

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lighting & water taps operated through infrared sensors. The heat radiated by the sun is absorbed by water-filled panels in the ceiling which is transferred to a heat store and used during winters to warm the building. d. Transformable where the structures are characterised by modular design, being capable of adding and removing components as well as to open and close thereby changing in form. Such type of spaces allows ordered growth with the use of efficient structural systems.

Figure 38 Building flexibility type- Transformable

Case study: FLOIRAC HOUSE, FRANCE Architect Rem Koolhaas redefined the term ‘a house is a machine for living’ by designing the Floirac House in 1998. The house was designed for a couple and their family, where the father of the family was paralysed from the waist below. He insisted the need for a complex design so that the house can describe his world. Therefore Koolhaas proposed a design that involved simple volume which was spatially innovative and complex. He 45| page

Figure 39- Above Architect Rem Koolhaas’s Floirac house in France- spatially dynamic living space Figure 40- Below Ingenious idea to create a room that is capable of vertical motion creating a spatial dynamism within thereby changing and redefining the interior environment. Figure 41- Opposite Vertical circulation masked by the husband’s office

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compiled three levels stacked one top of the other, with each level reflecting unique spatial organisation and characteristics. The lower level lies as a heavy mass and involves all the intimate activities of the family. The middle volume which has an open plan is mostly transparent and is the most occupied space. The top most volume is opaque and screens the bedrooms. All these three volumes are tied together by a central elevator enclosing the husband’s office, which moves between each floor enabling him to live and move in such a spatially complex house. The central elevator is driven by large hydraulic pistons enabling vertical circulation and thereby creating spatial dynamism.



An article by Sarah Slaughter (2001) analyses three types of changes that are expected to occur during the lifespan of a building: change in function of the building, changes in the load carried by the building and changes in the flow of the people and the environment. Changes in the function of the building include upgrading the existing functions when they are not able to meet the new performance requirements, transforming to accommodate different function than it was originally designed for, and integrating 47| page

new functions to achieve new objectives. Changes in the capacity are due to increased anticipation for performance. For example, an office building may add a floor to provide space for the increased number of employees due to performance. Changes in the flow involve the movement of people within and around the building as well as environmental flows such as movement of light, air and sound with respect to the building. Hence considering the different aspects of changes involved with the building, the approaches to increase flexibility include separating the building systems and assigning dedicated zones, using interchangeable prefabricated components to increase and improve flow and improving access to the systems. However, building flexibility- to accommodate the changing needs- is a problematic issue because predicting the significance of each need still continues as a challenge for designers as well as users. But the most optimum approach to deconstruct the building design decisions is by using the six layers of change proposed by Stewart Brand. Using this approach can emphasise the developing nature of the structure, involving the different life cycles for different components of the building structure. Then again, the design decisions based on such models can be more or less obstinate because the site being fixed, the building shell may or may not be easily modified during the building’s lifetime. Hence, before any long time liability to a building, the client must carefully contemplate the restraining factors inflicted by the various components, in order to be capable of being consistently altered. According to Schneider and Till’s article on flexible housing, they express that flexibility can adapt to the changing needs of the users by choosing different space layouts before inhabiting or by incorporating new technologies. The essay ‘Flexible housing: the means to end’ states, “Flexibility includes the possibility of choosing different housing layouts prior to occupation as well as the ability to adjust one’s housing over time. It also includes the potential to incorporate new technologies over time, to adjust to changing demographics, or even to completely change the use of the building from housing to something else” (Schneider and Till, 2005, pg.287). Therefore there are several ways to achieve flexibility, a few noted below: a. Space The extent of space and flexibility are correlated; restricted space can restrict flexibility. For example, the Nemausus housing scheme in Nimes, France (1985) designed by Jean Nouvel, offered excess raw space for the tenants to adapt as preferred due to the initial 48| page

availability of abundant space which priced £300 per square meter then. He argued that the amount of space was more valuable to the inhabitants than the quality of finish in the long term. The structure was built to adapt with the stairs being the only fixed elements and the services grouped either in the centre as a free standing block or along the unit’s perimeter. Every unit can be subdivided easily or left undivided. Even though the apartment block incorporated several flexibility schemes to improve the building performance, the users were restricted by several obligations that dictated the curtain colours according to apartment size and prohibited the use of carpets and painting or plastering the walls. Such restrictions are becoming common in recent schemes where more spaces are provided with lower specifications. Yet, however big or small the spaces be, it can be used in multiple ways accommodating various functional changes- so that if one use becomes obsolete, the space will still remain suitable for other purposes. b. Construction The construction technique that best supports flexibility is the concept of clear spans without any load bearing elements. Such schemes can provide any combination of spaces thereby making it adaptable to different users and occupation. Techniques that allow future intervention must be employed with services located in separate zones that are easily accessible to make any alterations. For example, in the standard construction- to upgrade a wiring system, in addition to an electrician, a plasterer to patch the walls and ceilings is required. Hence, buildings can adhere to flexibility by specialised construction techniques to make any easy adaptations. Within clear span structure, the space can be used effectively by using interior components that can be disassembled and erected in various configurations. Such components can be reuse to form different layouts rather than being stripped out and wasted. c. Design for adaptation Architect Peter Phippen in the UK developed a house with a wide façade that accommodated a central service and a staircase core, so did the Rietveld- Schroeder house in Netherlands during 1924. Such plans allow free arrangement of the rooms around the edges, in a way making the possibility for additions and extensions. In office spaces, the arrangements of services are considered to allow future upgrading. Hence services are either arranged in upper ducts which are accessible through dropped ceilings or under raised floors. Moreover, it is wise to keep the ceiling level consistent throughout because the change in ceiling level can create complications to re-use the movable partitions. Additionally, too much floor to ceiling clearance is wasteful both in long and short term; and too little clearance is inefficient in the long term mostly. A generous allowance to 49| page

accommodate a range of uses can serve for both long and short term. Therefore, these design strategies allow future flexibility at no extra expense. For the approach to be economic, the designer must anticipate multiple future scenarios to analyse what can be further accommodated. d. Technology One of the first exemplar of flexibility achieved through technical means was Rietveld’s Schroeder House, where the first floor was equipped with movable partitions. In the words of J.G. Wattjes, 1925: “a system of portable screens has replaced the usual fixed dividing walls, thus providing a great degree of flexibility in the interior spatial division… the intention is that the interior can be altered daily according to the changing needs of the different times of the day or night” (quoted in Forty, 2000, pg.145). Another notable example of a flexible space through technical means was Beaudouin, Lods, Bodiansky and Prouve’s Maison du Peuple of 1939 in Paris, where during the day the building was used as a market hall and during the evening it could be converted to a cinema hall by means of movable floors, roof and walls. The modernist light weight building structures adopt technology to control the climate within spaces. e. Layers The layers of change- from structure, skin, services and interior layout to furniture and finishes can increase the flexibility of the building during construction when acknowledged distinctly. For instance, building flexibility can be achieved by using appropriate materials that are both suitable for the present and future activities thereby giving the building a complemented value. Lately, prefabricated materials and finishes, where parts of the building infrastructure are being manufactured in factories and transported to site for assembly, are taking a toll in the construction sector and these modern techniques aid to amplify the extent of flexibility in architecture.



Due to the inability of space to accommodate changes over time, the usefulness of such spaces is often compromised. According to Slaughter’s research in 2001, “It is not economical or resource efficient to design and build facilities that have only a short functional life, since a facility that prematurely reaches the end of its useful life reduces the effective time period over which benefits could be obtained, and increases the effective cost of demotion and waste disposal, thereby reducing the return on the initial 50| page

investment”. The functional life of a building can be increased by considering easy and inexpensive construction systems that can accommodate change over the entire life span of the building, thereby improving its value and reducing loss. Slaughter’s research (2001) details that a building comprises of several systems that can interact together through numerous mechanisms and the nature of such interactions can influence the building’s flexibility to respond to the different changes. These building system managements can be categorised into three groups as follows: physical, functional and spatial. Systems can physically interact through connections. For example, the roof component can either be mechanically connected to the building or incorporated into the structural element or can simply rest on the structure. Functional interactions can enhance the existing purposes like when an external wall provides additional shear capacity to a framing system. Such interactions can also complement the existing purpose as well as degrade the performance. For example, open windows can complement a space through proper ventilation providing good quality air but at the same time can degrade the performance of the heating system. The provision of a building system within a spatial region can provide a usage interaction which might be important from the user’s perspective. Therefore, these systems interact spatially, like 5 TO 500 YEARS

maintenance CASH FLOW

renovation concept design


operation TIME

construction decommissioning

Standard designs Designs that accommodate change

Figure 42 Expected life cycle of facilities and potential impact of design to accommodate change (based on Slaughter, 2001)

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where lighting within a room can spatially interact with the interior finishes creating different ambience. While renovation to accommodate change is generally considered to be costly and timeconsuming, the main issue is its complexity. For instance, the nature of the construction with its unique requirements and resources, as well as the various generations of different systems within the same structure, can perplex simple solutions to solving the problems. However, several design approaches and strategies have emerged, developed and implemented. Slaughter (2001) defines design approach as a set of goals that a facility has to undergo and design strategy as specific measures to accomplish the objectives. By analysing the design approaches and the precise strategies, the potential to improving the building flexibility escalates. Design approaches The method to increase building flexibility can be grouped into three design approaches, which are as follows: a. The first design approach emphasises on physically separating the main building systems with their sub-systems so that any alteration in one can be isolated from the other alterations (Slaughter, 2001; Brand, 1994; Glen, 1994). For example, an office building used room-sized cubes known as ‘pods’ which were linked to the service system with a single connection to a distribution system above. b. The second approach focuses on prefabricating the components of the major systems so that the elements can be changed easily over time (Slaughter, 2001; Glen, 1994; Gann and Barlow, 1996). For example, new partitions systems use prefabricated panel that fit easily into the tracks mounted on the ceiling and do not require any on-site work to install these systems. c. The third approach involves designing buildings systems to accommodate future overcapacity so that replacement or extensions to the existing capacity potentials are not required. For example, a bridge is designed with higher capacity than what is currently required to provide an opportunity for the future.

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Design strategies According to Keymer (2000), 37 specific design strategies were identified and grouped into ten clusters; and has been used in buildings to adapt to change. By implementing these specific design strategies, the initial increase in the building cost- which is only a small amount- will be compensated by the first renovation cycle. The objectives of these clusters have been detailed below: a. The strategy to reduce inter-system interactions involves the use of precise components in order to reduce the interdependency with the other systems so that improvements in one can be done easily without any alterations in the others. For example, any modification or replacement in the cladding panels can be performed effortlessly by separating the modular panelised system from the structure. Generally, the initial building cost will rise to approximately 3% because the modular units can be difficult to procure. However, by the first renovation cycle these systems can provide cost savings. b. Design strategies that focus on reducing the intra-system interactions involve reducing the changes within a system. For example, a modular partition wall can be easily moved by simply re-arranging the blocks rather than tearing the wall down. On an average, the initial cost can increase by 1% but while implementing any further change the downtime is decreased, resulting in cost saving. c. The use of interchangeable system components provides cost savings while ordering as well as during the placement and replacement of materials. For example, panelised floor made of modular components attached with data interfaces boxes on selected panels can rise and move the attached panels and relocate the boxes. Since these strategies require modular components and may involve procurement issues, the initial cost of the building can increase to 3% on an average. However, these schemes provide improved access for operations and maintenance and hence simplify renovation and reduce the downtime. d. Another way of achieving flexibility is by increasing the predictability of the layout especially when elements are physically interwoven or hidden by other units. For example, by locating the critical service riser at the columns, the doubts concerning the modification to the capacity or the location to the access points can be clarified. These strategies are easier to achieve and hence no increase in the initial building 53| page

cost is required. However, to predict the location of these hidden systems can still be a task. e. Several other schemes focus on improving the physical access to the components and their systems implemented to change. A small increase of about 1% can appear in the initial construction cost; and these strategies also provide cost savings as well as reduce the downtime during the implemented change. For example, electric wiring within the wall cavity can be reached by providing easy access through demountable drywall panels. f. Flexibility can also be achieved by creating specific zones for particular systems in a way that those areas are free from other systems. For example, by placing the electric wiring within a hollow board provides a specific zone for the system as well as easy access for maintenance and replacement. The average cost for such strategies is about 1%, where immediate savings is provided after the first renovation cycle. g. Some strategies also focus on increasing the physical proximity of the system’s access points. This is done to reduce the need for extensive renovation while changing the location of work spaces or activities. For example, in a particular office building, the power and the telecommunication systems were arranged in a grid pattern below the suspended floor so that so that during any alterations the access points can be easily relocated according the changes in the office walls. These strategies have little impact on the initial cost because it uses standard materials and methods. h. Strategies to improve the flow of people within a space can adapt to change through the location of the specific system. While several configurations can be accommodated within the system and is easy to implement in the beginning of the design, it is generally unalterable and requires alteration of the entire building to perform adjustments. For example, the building core like the elevator can be placed at the end of the building in order to open the centre of the floor plate and use it as usable space. However, it is difficult to calculate the impact of these strategies on the initial and renovation cost since the cost can only be determined by the size and the complexity of the entire building. i. Certain strategies consider ways to accelerate the future construction activities by 54| page

incorporating physical components and systems during the initial construction to accommodate either growth or removal of a system. Such strategies can be easily implemented by using standard components and methods, and their initial cost is often very small. j. Strategies to improve the long-term value of the building involves reducing the time and cost for renovation to incorporate the changes. Such schemes can be executed leaving little or no impact on the time and cost of the initial construction and can also offer considerable return on the investment within the first renovation cycle. Therefore, in order to achieve flexibility, renovation of a facility would require alterations to all the building systems involving the changes in the function as well as the capacity. The interactions between the varied systems can strongly influence the building’s adaptability as well as the interactions between the structural and external enclosure systems. Hence by comprehending the design strategies building flexibility can be increased. Although it is assumed that increasing the flexibility of a building can escalate the initial construction cost and duration, these design strategies reveal that many of the approaches can be implemented at little or no increase in the initial cost due to the usage of standard construction methods and materials. Therefore, by increasing the flexibility of a building and extending its useful life, the value of the building can be increased.

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chapter five

How sustainable is flexibility?



The final ten years of the twentieth century perceived the initiation of a vital change in the way humans use buildings and infrastructure. Following many decades, the growing sense of climate change influenced thinking; aiming at lessening environmental impacts through architecture. For example, according to Hulme and team- in the 2002 climate change scientific report, it was revealed that for the UK the high, medium and low emission scenarios have increased mean temperature that vary by 2 degree Celsius. Heinberg (2007) accounted that the uncertainty of the timing and impact of oil would affect the availability and cost of fuel and consequently all commodities including building materials. Therefore sustainability began to serve as an ambitious objective. For instance, the Sustainable Construction Brief 2 (2004) documented that the UK government promoted reducing energy, waste and water use as well as pollution, while enhancing the environment thereby setting objectives and supervising the execution; the goal of such policies being to minimise the immediate impacts linked with building activities. However from a physical perspective, sustainability of the built environment was alarmed much regarding conversion of energy, material extraction and impact on the ecosystem during the fabrication and use of buildings. Kincaid (2002, pg.95) responded that according to the Building Research Establishment, in 1993, this awareness led to several regulatory remedies for energy and material use in the UK such as using wall thermal conductance, designing and constructing large-scale structures with natural ventilation and using recycled materials (Happy, 1997). But for the past few years the obsession has continuously been towards the energy consumption rather than the sustainability and endurance of the building itself. All the prescriptions were merely a scratch on the sustainability issue because they influenced so little on the buildings. With urbanisation and population growth, construction and renovation responded to human needs without any awareness towards the resource depletion. It is also frequently ignored that the lifespan of the structure influences sustainability, where an extended lifespan can provide a possibility of altering the building functions with the evolving environment. Then how does one achieve a prolonged and sustainable building life through flexibility? During an online interview with Tim Pullen, the author of “The Sustainable Building 58| page

Bible”, he noted that, “Sustainable means to be able to continue and continuing the life of a building- using fewer materials, less resources and reduced CO2.” Kancaid (2002, pg.95) accounted that according to his colleague, Professor Bev Nutt, “sustainability is often merely a matter of planning and designing for the long term, not for the short and medium as is so common. If the materials used in the first place are robust and the value placed on the maintenance of this material is appropriate, then there is good evidence that much extended life can be achieved.” Hence a sustainable future can be accomplished by contemplating various building aspects as well as their longterm effects, considering that the future scenario is unknown and limited. Although by designing and constructing new buildings- offering opportunities to utilise new techniques- is the most viable solution; measures to retrofit are considerably important due to the high amounts of existing building stock (DECC, 2010). Therefore through general refurbishment and adaptive reuse, alterations and modifications have to be made on the existing building infrastructure in order to significantly profit the sustainability scheme in the impending years to come. The main focus of sustainable architecture is about reducing waste including physical waste as well as minimising the energy loss. Using less energy and moreover keeping the space comfortable can make the users resource efficient thereby reducing the effects of climate change. The Green Deal launched by the UK government took initiative to design and retrofit buildings using green technologies. In spite of all the advances towards making the building infrastructures energy efficient, the efficient building materialswhich can have a huge impact on the climate- are often neglected. In Mike Berners Lee’s book, ‘How Bad are Bananas’, he analysed that by constructing a new two-bedroom cottage, 80 tonnes of carbon are released which is found in the walls and materials used. Some of these emissions can be regained by using energy efficient methods. Then again, Berners Lee suggested that it would be preferable to implement sustainable practices such as using materials like rammed earth and employing building techniques like turf roofs, before the construction to reduce the impact. The durability and strength of metals in construction ensures longevity and sustainability thus aiding to reduce the cost of steel buildings. For instance, steel usage has significant environmental benefits since it is 100% recyclable without any deprivation due to repeated usage. Steel buildings have proved to last longer with much lesser need for repairs when compared to others made of conventional building materials. The dominance of steel in 59| page

multi-storey buildings has the ability to provide efficient floor spaces which are column free and thereby offering useful circulation space and sufficient flexibility to deal with differing requirements. The long spans allow the occupants to arrange spaces to suit their requirements and gives complete flexibility in the layouts where integrated beams are used thereby allowing internal walls to be relocated easily. A few other benefits of steel building include reduced use of materials and minimal maintenance, use of pre-fabricated components for speedy construction, lower consumption of energy and increased longevity. Recyclable building materials are also alternative solutions were industries led by German automobile manufacturers are implementing engineering techniques to design for reuse and disassembly. In building construction, the design for disassembly is highly appreciated because it allows reshaping of a building- even at the structural level- in future. Therefore, the demolition practices are confronting a revolution. Therefore, it has been evident that maintaining low carbon is taking a toll. Recently, a study conducted in 2011 by the Carbon Trust revealed that the green economy is considered as a potential opportunity by the UK business leaders to design programmes in terms of energy efficiency and waste material reduction thereby benefitting them. Hence, according to Grinnell, Austin and Dainty (2011); “low carbon is a ‘big’ agenda, a concept benefiting from widespread familiarity and supported by a significant legislative backing, with an abundance of assessment methodologies, marketing techniques and technical products now available to support and promote its ideals”.



In 2006 Peter Graham from the Royal Institute of Australian Architects noted that, “a sustainable is not one that must last forever, but one that can easily adapt to change”. Hence in order to achieve the goals of sustainability and at the same time provide costeffective and energy efficient flexible compositions for the occupants, several prototypes have been suggested and developed. The doors and operable windows indicate the various flows within the space. Several passive and active strategies can allow changes within the building, control natural lighting and wind flow as well as can alter the functions. This may verge on sustainability, especially if the building can be adapted to 60| page

an extensive array of uses. But can this durability be extended beyond fabricating stones and concrete to contemporary building materials on the exterior surfaces of the built environment? a. Loose Fit Façade Technology A façade or building’s skin can outline its architectural expression as well as its value and performance. An accurately designed building skin can make the structure perform more effectively for the occupants as well as the environment. Glass façade systems are very popular due to its aesthetic versatility and functional exposure. However, the use of glass facades in multi-storey buildings initiates several issues due to its material property of being extremely brittle when compared to other building materials and can break without any warning. Therefore, ideal façade systems with infill panels are replacing the glass facades during various types of building construction. These light weight systems are effective since they can be assembled easily; with any cladding material considering the external and environmental factors; reducing the overall construction time and have high structural performance. The components can also be replaced effortlessly allowing functional and aesthetic makeover to the exterior of the building, and in doing so encourages the structures to adapt easily making it flexible.

Glass top / Glass bottom

Glass top / Metal bottom

Metal top / Glass bottom

Figure 43 Loose fit facade system

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b. Movable Partitions The absolute and seamless method for making an available space flexible is through movable partitions. These feather light systems are user friendly and allow to operate in seconds. Lately, ingenious improvements on the traditional movable partitions have led to electrically driven panels since the former method by hand was time consuming and sometimes an unpredictable activity. The electrically operated panels include top and bottom pressure seals guaranteeing a secure closure and ensuring sound insulation. These modern technologies can also merge with history and revitalise the heritage buildings. For example, the Veemarkthallen market buildings design by Den Bosch architecture in 1931 endured an ultimate makeover and transformed into a conference centre. The historic building was designed without diminishing the important cultural features and the new technology with movable panels complimented the traditional designs. The movable partitions consist of a steel inner frame on vertical aluminium profile which guarantees rigidity and stability. With refined track systems and bearing rollers that hardly clamours, minimal effort is needed to move and park the partition walls. Office and commercial arrangements require spaces that are multifunctional so that they can adapt easily without the need for major construction work. Therefore, movable panels blend impeccably within the space and can make one large hall or several smaller spaces flexible and multifunctional within seconds.



UK’s BUILDING STOCK Currently in the United Kingdom, the government is inclining towards encouraging the optimum use of the existing built environment through conversion of redundant commercial spaces into leisure or residence and thus promoting the mixed use within the city. Such a scheme of promoting the mixed use development can reduce the need for private vehicles to travel for work and consequently achieving sustainability (Pitts, 2004). Therefore this being a small example, it is vital to analyse how the existing building stock can be effectively reused since they are often expensive to build and typically the 62| page

Figure 44- Above Designed by Den Bosch, the Veemarkthallenmarket building. The movable partitions are completely closed to form a multifunctional conference hall Figure 45- Below The movable partitions partially open

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purpose of a building has a limited life. Lately it has also been recognised in the UK that it is imperative to re-evaluate the existing built environment in the combat against the fluctuating climate. It has been accounted that 40 per cent of the CO2 release originates from the energy used in residences and buildings. However, the question that the British government faces is whether to retrofit or rebuild the current housing scheme in Britain in order to reduce the global carbon emission since both the approaches are expensive and is a long-term investment. A blog from ‘The Centre for Alternative technology’ written by Richard details the positives and negatives of both the aspects which are as follows: a. Retrofitting and eco-refurbishment are some of the main priorities of the UK government, where the key strategies are to make the residences energy efficient by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions. Kincaid (2002, pg.3) accounted that by the mid-1990s refurbishment practice in the UK presented 42% of the total construction sector- which increased by 22.5% when compared with the 1970s- where the works were categorised as 56% for housing and 44 % for commercial properties. Every year almost 2.5% of the building sector is subjected to major change through retrofitting and refurbishment. The Green Deal policy, launched recently by the government to employ green technologies into buildings making them more energy efficient, can also reduce fuel poverty. The Green Deal energy saving improvements include insulation, heating, draught-proofing, double glazing and using renewable energy technologies. Techniques like improving the insulation can make a building energy efficient and thereby making it more sustainable. For a short term, retrofitting is a cheaper strategy when compared to demolishing and rebuilding structures. However, the cost of refurbishing can often surpass the building’s value. b. Rebuilding has been advocated to be better as a long term approach because the new buildings will impact less on the environment due to the advanced and efficient methods of sustainability to reduce carbon emissions. In the United Kingdom, each year around 1.5% of the building stock are demolished in order to be replaced by new ones (Kincaid, 2002, pg.3). Target has already been set that from 2016, all new buildings will be designed to reach carbon neutral. In general it is always simpler to build a passivhaus, than to adapt an existing one, with the new structure being well insulated including low embodied energy. Therefore existing buildings, which contains little or no wood, can be demolished easily without creating any environmental impact by disposing the materials sensibly. However, 64| page

the presence of great extent of wood, if allowed to burn or rot, can release carbon into the atmosphere. Conversely architects can offset the carbon releases by re-using the materials and incorporating the reclaimed timber to the designs. In 2012, a report by the Consumer Focus- ‘Jobs, Growth and Warmer Homes’explored in what manner the funds raised through energy efficiency and carbon taxes can be re-invested by the UK government. The Energy Revolution responded to the outcomes and debated that the UK government must utilise the invested income to re-building homes. The fuel poverty union mentioned that, “This report shows that in its bid to boost UK economy, the government is not investing in the one thing which could create more jobs and growth than anything else- re-building the UK’s housing stock. Not only does this have massive economic benefits but it is the most effective way to bring down energy bills.” Majority of the standing buildings in Britain have excessive historic and cultural worth. Though these buildings and the Georgian townhouses look impressive, they may include ineffective heating and inadequate insulation. The researchers from the Zero Carbon Britain project proposes to use natural materials to eco-renovate properties in order to create a carbon neutral scenario in the United Kingdom through rapid decarbonisation. For instance, the use of hemp shiv material as a substitute for artificial insulation can resist the ingress of moisture and also function as a carbon sink. Then again, Tony Hutchinson from the Guardian debated that, “Looking at the total cost of a refurbishment project over its lifetime including maintenance and eventual replacement, in both cash and carbon terms, the outcome can be very different. Cost and benefit modelling should be used to compare the benefits of demolition and new build with the costs of maintenance of the retrofitted building over its useful life- and the cost of further refurbishment after 30 years or complete replacement.” Therefore, if the target was to achieve a truly sustainable community, developers would have to consider long term strategies which would be rebuilding Britain’s housing stock wherever possible. Kincaid (2002, pg.4) however suggests that, “unless building life expectancies reduce dramatically, and replacement rates increase accordingly, the changing requirements of building users must continue to be met by moving to more suitable premises, or through the adaptation and better management of the existing stock.” Consequently, a viable 65| page

solution would be to accommodate a bold transition. Heritage buildings like the Victorian terraces can be protected by keeping the façade intact and demolishing the living spaces inside. For example, projects like 10 Hills place and King Cross have demonstrated in achieving sustainable structures and still keeping the building’s historic face. Therefore, it is important to analyse the current demand and supply in the UK’s building stock and utilise the existing building effectively to physically convert them into robust and flexible structures thereby reducing the cost for replacement. Such a strategy will also encourage incorporating greater innovation during the design of new buildings to acknowledge easy means of change throughout the lifetime of the building.

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chapter six

How much do we really need?



In his essay ‘Modern Architecture and the Flexible Dwelling’, Kronenburg describes the extend of mobile and flexible design as a dwelling that can be moved from place to place during inhabitation or that can change its shape and structure. But are such responsive houses really necessary? Flexibility in architecture is widely anticipated due to our ambiguity about the future. But no design adopting flexibility can survive every probable contingency. According to Ar. William Fawcett, because of our limited knowledge we are jeopardising the building scheme by either under or over- providing for flexibility. A typical example of providing flexibility in excess is the Free University of Berlin built during 1967-74. Designed by Paris based architects Candilis, Josic, Woods and Schiedhelm, the university was an architectural experiment containing a cluster of two storey buildings embraced by walkways and internal pedestrian streets in order to maximise exchange between the faculties and students. According to the architects flexibility had been adopted in order to adapt to different work programs and they claimed the possibility of dismantling the entire blocks and reassembling them elsewhere. Not so soon after, the buildings proved to be a disaster. The campus aimed to encourage free social interaction and spontaneous flux. Therefore, the faculties were distributed all around the campus. In reality, the campus layout increased physical disintegration and eventually vandalism. By 1997, major refurbishment was performed by Foster and Partners. They mainly worked on internal alterations by dividing the large spaces into smaller offices. Hence, a better understanding and transformation of flexibility effectively to an environment can be offered by ‘life cycle options’. Explained by William Fawcett, this approach enables designs to incorporate future modifications and transforms the decision making process from the present to the future where the changes required can be perceptible. For instance, Fawcett accounts that, if the future size of the building is uncertain, it is essential to construct for the current requirements and maintain open spaces for expansion of building, if required. This creates a life cycle option to expand which has a flexibility value. By evaluating the life cycle options the peril of providing less or more for flexibility can be lessened by comparing the value of flexible designs incorporating this scheme to the cost of providing possibilities. Only if the value exceeds the cost, it would be significant to invest in the flexible project. 68| page

Despite the fact that flexibility is adopted due to uncertainty of the future, it is relevant to specify the probable and feasible future scenarios in order to evaluate the flexible strategies. Every space can accommodate a variety of purposes and therefore are certainly flexible. However some spaces, for instance nuclear power stations, are rigidly adapted for limited activities. Moreover environments that can accommodate a wide range of activities are flexible in their own way. For example, a residential flat in the city centre is much more flexible when compared to the nuclear power plant, but it cannot alter itself to compliment as a power plant. Hence, it is vital to analyse for what purposes flexibility in the design is required rather than how many physical configurations can be achieved. This is because; if a design is offered with varied physical arrangements as an approach to flexibility and at the same time is deprived of any account of relevant future activities- the flexibility may be of limited value. William Fawcett explains that the Free University in Berlin was submitted to a similar situation where the physical fabric of the building could be altered but was not certain what activity would require the change. So how can we design for an activity that is uncertain?

6.2. METHODOLOGY William Fawcett illustrates that to understand the need for flexibility in an environment it would be effective to record the relevant activities by comprehending the Gibbsian approach. Wiener (1954) formulated the term after the Yale physicist J W Gibbs who produced not one but all possible outcomes to a set of questions pertaining to the environment. While taking an example of the way a population of individuals may separate into different groups, Fawcett argues that in a cinema hall the population gathers in a single place while in a hotel the population is often divided into smaller sub-groups requiring more spaces since the physical environment influences the activities. Moreover, the likely grouping of people can also be accounted. Fawcett further explains by an example where in a population of four people there are 5 groupings, in a population of seven there are 15 groupings (Fawcett, 1979). When the population consists of distinct individuals, the numerous methods in which they arrange themselves within the particular grouping, 69| page

Population of four

Groupings of 4 distinct individuals‘microstates’ 1 2

Right: If the members of the population are distinct individuals, it is possible to enumerate microstates showing the possible ways that the individuals can form the groupings. If all microstates are equally likely to occur; the number of associated microstates is a measure of the groupings probability of occurrence. If there is uncertainty about future grouping of a population, it is considered that the groupings with the largest number of microstates are more likely to occur.

3 Possible groupings 1


2 3 4 5

Left: There is a finite number of ways that a population can divide into groups- for a population of 4 there are precisely 5 possible groupings.


Table 2- Above Possible groupings and microstates for four individuals based on the Gibbsian approach


Table 3- Below Design outcome in a seminar hall for 80 students

Seminar group sizes






















10 10


28 56 168
























































35 280






































56 105

10 10

420 10

210 28 10

1 4945

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known as microstates, can also be accounted. Therefore, with the illustration (table 2), it is possible to design for activities that are uncertain through the Gibbsian approach. For example, in the design of a group of university seminar rooms for 80 students, the size of the seminar groups being unpredictable- flexible design is required. It has been assumed that each seminar groups are always made in multiples of 10 students. Hence the outcome is given in Table 3, where there are 22 possible groupings with varying number of microstates in a total of 4945. Assuming there are three alternative designs as follows: a. Seminar room A with four movable partitions adopting 16 layout configurations. b. Seminar room B with large floor area and no movable partitions c. Seminar room C with large floor area and one fixed partition replacing the movable one A



Figure 46 Three alternative designs for a set of seminar rooms, where each spatial module can accommodate 10 students. Alternative A has 8 spatial modules; Alternative B and C have 9 spatial modules. The partitions between the modules are fixed partitions (solid line) or movable partitions (zig-zag lines)

Alternative A

Alternative B

Alternative C

Possible layout configuration




Possible seminar groupings accommodated max 22




Possbile seminar microstates accommodated max 4945




Table 4 Possible layout configuration for Seminar A, B and C

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Comparing the three design strategies with the Gibbsian approach, seminar A performs the worst and Seminar C is the best. Therefore it is proved that for a design that aims to provide flexibility, it is not the number of different physical configurations that has to be counted but the evaluation of possible activities. The Gibbsian approach makes it possible for designers to produce flexible plans and designs even when the activities are uncertain and has only little specific data.

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chapter seven

The future of Flexible buildings

During the following years after World War II and III where the phenomenon of masshousing was dominant in the housing production, urban sprawl defined the patterns of environmental growth. The eminence of automobile followed by the revolution of telecommunication transformed the way of living (Kendall and Teicher, 2000). By realising the drawbacks associated with the conventional ways of design and construction, the focus on sustainability had become increasingly important. Lately, advancement in technology, manufacture and the finance sectors has essentially rationalised the construction, repair and maintenance of the building stock. The building production has initiated to be shaped in response to the profound functional and environmental change because circumstances led to a majority of contemporary buildings into obsolescence due to inflexibility. It is always efficient to design dynamic spaces that expect change rather than functionally relapsing spaces that require continuous transformation. The described case studies also indicate the extent of open spaces and adaptability, has given way for the concepts of flexibility. Therefore by introducing a sophisticated degree of flexibility, the building design can be reshaped as well as the quality and durability of the structure can be enhanced. So coming back to the question: how does one design for time? Technical viability along with an appropriate understanding of time can enable the building to learn and the users to shape their environment. Hence, through the concepts of flexibility the building can sustain for a long term and adapt to different functions over time making them economical. With the multitude of approaches to achieve flexibility contrary to the obstacles faced, much has to be done to confront the current conditions of the building stocks. The opinion of disparity in a learning structure is typically the investment. Pursuing the idea expressed by Christopher Alexander (n.d), more income needs to be spent on the basic structure, sufficient amount on maintenance and even lesser for the finishes. Slaughter (2001) identified that if buildings and infrastructure are designed for flexibility, the refurbishment cost as well as time can be minimised. Moreover, by designing buildings incorporating energy efficiency techniques, the 30 per cent of the running cost used for the energy payment can be remunerated for maintenance and remodelling. It is also favourable to keep the services detached from the structure as well as the skin so 74| page

that the maintenance and replacement of the hidden wires and pipes does not become a hassle. Theorist Christopher Alexander also insists that it has never been possible for architects to visualise a building’s look and feel even with the help of computer-aided techniques, and so the construction of the building should be a prolonged process. Much can be learned from a building while being built. Flexibility in the design of buildings for future expansion or change of activities can be obtained through life cycle options only if the approach can aid to increase the long term value of the building. Typically, flexibility as a design objective has never been accurate or computable because every possibility cannot be achieved. Often, the concept seemed to be expensive to build and delivered in excess. Flexibility is so vague that most rely on guesswork. But this can changed through life cycle options where flexibility is analysed and measured thereby providing as many opportunities for future decisions. Hence with the life cycle options, enhancement and upgrading can be encountered. The approach is practical- rendering flexibility to be precise and quantifiable. Then again, the technique for assessing the options and deciding the extent, time and location for employing them is absent. Therefore, the point is to design a building in a way that it is always responsible in the future. This can be done by embracing errors and discovering which method’s do’s and don’t work, thereby turning the users into active learners rather than submissive preys. As Stewart Brand (1994) says, “by failing small, early, and often, it can succeed long and large. A successful building has to be periodically challenged and refreshed, or else it will turn into a beautiful corpse”.

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The extend to which the concept needs to be integrated into today's design process.


The extend to which the concept needs to be integrated into today's design process.