Future Proof_A New Model For Flexibility
The thesis proposes a new understanding of flexibility in architecture. It investigates reasons for a generic and dull spatial expression of the majority of contemporary buildings.
Nowadays, technology and lifestyle are changing so fast that buildings need to accommodate shifting functions. Unfortunately, in pursuit of flexibility, architects design featureless “boxes” which lack intentionality. Contemporary architects have completely cut themselves off from the rich legacy of pre-modern architecture. As a result, a shallow interpretation of modernism sets a standard of flexibility. The point is to prove that in order to be flexible a building doesn’t have to be a free-plan, post-and-beam construction.
The project wants to demonstrate that flexible architecture can have excellent quality and be inhabited by a language of familiar forms. It is proving it by investigating spatial patterns and form languages in historical buildings. Selected historical examples are analyzed in terms of spatial qualities and materiality. The richness of collected archetypes can be translated into flexible, yet specific designs.
The design phase in an implementation of my research. I chose to adapt a pre-existing building, located in the center of Lund. It is a rather dull example of office design from the 50s and 60s. Structures from these times are now facing demolition or a complete remodeling, which, after a couple of decades at the most, will need to be fully remodeled again.
The design goal is to prevent a vicious cycle of thoughtless and unprofitable adaptations. I create a variety of spaces, expressions and scales which, through their geometry and materiality, affect the behavior and experience of the users. This influence dictates the program, which will change over time, much like the interpretation of space and the culture itself.
The new approach towards flexibility which I propose is based on the understanding of historical legacy in architecture. In the research I have conducted, and which is presented further in this thesis, I invent a method of extracting the historical qualities in forms of spatial patterns and spatial units.
Spatial pattern is a set of spatial relationships between the geometry of the built environment and human interaction with this environment.
Spatial unit is the basic building block of a spatial pattern, and it relates to a form language, tectonics and material aspects of a given pattern.
I am therefore observing and learning from the historical pattern language. I notice how the assemblage of units makes individuals behave, and how their responses are further strengthened by the material aspects of a given building.
In order for the research to be comprehensive and objective, the selection of historical examples had to be wide and varied.
Through my choice I tried to represent the widest variety of spatial patterns. My selection of buildings aims at presenting the majority of existing archetypes. Each building comes from a different period and is a valued example of the architectural approach of its era.
The observations relating to human interactions with the built environment in each of the patterns are used in the design process. If the design requires a type of space which elicits certain behavioral responses, a spatial pattern which produces the same responses can be of help in terms of choosing the volume and geometry of the designed space. The rhythms, proportions and distances in the spatial pattern can be translated into a new architecture, which will be certain to send desired spatial signals and direct the users in a chosen way.
The collection of spatial units shows the biggest possible variety in the language of form and the use of materials. From this diverse set lots of inspiration can be taken.
I decided to tackle a building located in the center of Lund, on the corner of Stora Södergatan and Kattesund. The former is one on the main streets and the latter is a lively walking passage. Multiple shops and restaurants are located in the area.The chosen building is a part of a bigger cluster. Most of the site is covered with 1 or 2 story pavilions, however, the brick part is significantly taller, and protrudes from the cluster. The whole quarter has been built at the turn of the 50s and 60s, and various add-ons and renovations have been carried out over the years.
Despite a prestigious location, the brick part consists of offices and health clinics. Inconspicuous access points from both streets and a large offset of the facades from the street line makes it almost invisible in the urban fabric. It is an embodiment of humble, invisible office architecture, without any intention to provoke an emotional response.
The technical drawings of the building are incomplete and unorganised. The plot has recently been purchased by a developer company Midroc. Since it became their property in December 2016, they did not clarify their intentions regarding the future of the plot. As of now (June 2017), the demolition is still being taken into account, but it’s not the only solution considered by the developer. The existing building is a very complex structure, with quite a chaotic system of connections between the occupying institutions and companies. Over the years, various add-ons have been constructed.
I have decided to limit my scope of interest to levels 1 to 5. These levels are a representation of the repetitive floor plan within the structure. Thus I could prove that starting with similar floor plans can in the end produce very rich and varied architecture.
The building is a simple reinforced concrete construction, with thick pillars and monolithic slabs. The slabs are 30cm thick, and there is no suspended ceiling. The density of the slab reinforcement is unknown.
In the design phase, I tried to focus on the qualities of the existing building and to emphasize some of the current spatial gestures through minimalistic but concrete interventions. I did not want to undermine the principles behind my building and rearrange it completely.
The geometry of the reinforced concrete structure and circulation cores remained unchanged. My approach to the facade was to alter it only in the necessary cases. These alterations include either enlarging the windows or closing them off. Partition walls and structural elements which were discarded provide material for recycling. The brick walls are made of re-purposed bricks from both inner walls and parts of discarded facade. Terrazzo contains chips of bricks, concrete and crushed floor tiles.
Overall, I stayed true to original materials, respecting the existing structure as much as I could. My interventions are very specific and rich in materials and textures, but they harmonize with the existing ones.
My aim was to produce a variety of scales – form small rooms to spacious halls. It was important to prove that a repetitive floor plan can be transformed into a collection of many different atmospheres. I tried to include a rich spectrum of spatial patterns to ensure that the building can be used in many ways and host various programs.
The interventions form a new layer which makes it possible to envisage a variety of functions in the building. Every level ends up having a unique spatial pattern which causes different behavioral responses. My building will take on new functions over the year, as people grow the need for new program and the lifestyle changes even further. The behavioral pattern generated by the built form will not change. The behavior it generates stems from basic evolutionary experiences and collective societal memory. What will change is the program that people connect with this behavior, on account of the lifestyle changes. The same forms could create endless opportunities, accommodating the changing pace of life.
Who influences you graphically?
I would say that I have different inspiration for every type of drawing. As for the renderings I often turn to photography, in order to enrich my understanding of depth and composition. For this project, I looked at the work of Candida Höfer, whose central shots of historical buildings, almost always devoid of people, are characterised by vivid colours and amazing sharpness of detail.
I also look for inspiration in John Pawson’s “A visual inventory”, where different photographs are juxtaposed and organised in conceptual themes.
In line drawings I appreciate simplicity and clarity, often using only two or three line weights. For my historical research, I used “A history of architecture” by Sir Banister Fletcher.
What defined the central one point perspective?
One of the most important goals of my project was to prove that an identical starting point can result in a rich spectrum of atmospheres. Almost every level of the existing building has an identical floor plan. By choosing a central perspective I provide an opportunity for the most objective comparison of different designs for each level. As a result, the images can be read both as visualisations of different floors and also as a design iteration for the same floor.
The centrality, symmetry and axiality in the images serve not only to present the fullest extent of architectural qualities, but also to evoke a certain level of monumentality, which is a reference to historical examples studied in my research. This effect is further highlighted by a persistent lack of human figures in the images.
How and to what extent did the production of one image influence the next?
All images were, to a certain extent, produced simultaneously. If one was subject to a change, all of the others transformed in order to create a consistent whole.
At times, the production of a certain image would set a higher goal for the others, in terms of clarity and sharpness. Thus none of them was finished until the very end.
The production process of every visualisation was tightly connected, as the material choices were made while rendering. The design process was parallel to the image production to make sure that textures and colours chosen for each floor did not contradict the overall materiality.
What was your work process in terms of concept development and production of images?
From the very beginning of the design phase I had quite a clear idea of what type of images I wanted to end up with. Thus the image production — in a preliminary sketch form — started quite early in the process. As soon as I built up a model of the existing building, I produced the first axonometries and sketched perspectives. The concept developed simultaneously through physical models, 3d models, plan drawings and renderings. The volumetric interventions, material choices and spatial concepts were intertwined form the very beginning.
I did not have a graphical style I was aiming for. I knew I wanted clarity and sharpness, and that guided me through the image production.
How can you see this intervention expanding at the scale of the city?
This project set out to be an experiment trying to prove that the respect for existing structures is the best strategy for further development of sustainable cities. As we are slowly running out of free plots, we need to create a strategy for dealing with existing buildings which are difficult or unlikely to be adapted — because of no historical or sentimental value and lack of obvious qualities.
The research into historical buildings provided me with a design toolbox for enhancing beauty, longevity and — most of all — flexibility of the existing buildings in the process of adaptive reuse.
I imagine this methodology being used in the renovation of other generic buildings, in order to preserve the architectural archive, avoid costly demolitions and prevent the creation of a new generation of buildings with a short life span.
The new model of flexibility can start out in small interventions, slowly changing our approach to what is sustainable. I expect it to make people realise that flexibility lies in varying spatial patterns and a rich form language, rather that high-tech solutions and gadgetry. Ultimately, the ‘future-proof’ method can be used in the design process for new buildings or public spaces.
Karolina has been studying in Poland and Sweden, and working in Denmark. Taking various architectural approaches from different cultures enables her to constantly question everything she has learned so far. Karolinas aim is to never be predictable, and always be persistent on finding new takes on old, prevailing dilemmas in architecture. In the future, she would appreciate operating within the realm of architectural renovation, combining respect for existing structures with creative ways of reuse.