Ephemeral occupancies: Non-linear approach to adaptable architecture

Marek Lüley

Cite this article
Lüley, M. (2023) ‘Ephemeral occupancies: Non-linear approach to adaptable architecture’, Architecture Papers of the Faculty of Architecture and Design STU, 28(2), pp. 30-38. https://www.doi.org/10.2478/alfa-2023-0010



An adaptable approach understands architecture as a non-linear process, which enables a dynamic response to changing environmental and contextual conditions with the aim to extend the life of a building. The application of adaptability is as ambivalent as the term itself. Therefore, the paper opens a discussion on different perceptions of adaptability in architecture. Adaptability cannot only be understood as moving partitions or vast open spaces. There is a variety of different principles leading to adaptability that can prove the versatility of use – from the basic understanding of flexibility to comprehensive polyvalence. Longevity should not be about programs, functions, or typological characteristics. It should refer to a building and its construction system, which we perceive as hybridlike. An important factor in longevity is the independence of the shearing layers of a structural system and their time scale. In a construction system understood in this way, we perceive the function as ephemeral. An important aspect is the time scale of the intervention. The study deems the design process to be divided into two streams: a) a linear, initiated, top-down design process. The linear system can lead to a clearly defined and legible typology limited to one function, or a set of predefined functions; b) a non-linear, cyclic, evolutionary, bottom-up process that can lead to ambiguity and indeterminacy with different possible interpretations, thus providing an adaptable solution. This paper explores the phenomenon of non-linear design processes expressing our perception of the adaptability application to carbon-neutral construction using the concept of ephemeral occupancies. Ephemeral occupancies are activities and events occurring within a building system that is ambiguous, generic, or specific. They require an open, polyvalent, free, democratic, and adaptable form. They work with hybrid material compositions of different temporal material flows, with dynamic settlement processes and new forms of ownership. Ephemeral occupancies establish a new way of thinking, lifestyle, and approach to climate change. The phenomenon is examined using the scientific method of conceptual analysis based on examining the relationship between capacity and tendency in the context of adaptability. The study explores the creation of a conceptual system of applying adaptability approaches and strategies in architecture in relation to the capacity and tendency of building systems and architecture. The terminology based on the most cited definition of adaptable architecture puts capacity in the prominent position as the main property of an adaptable system. On the other hand, Manuel DeLanda distinguishes the philosophical difference between property and capacity. Properties are always actual because an object, at a given time, has or does not have a certain property. But the capacity is not necessarily actual if the object, in the given state, does not require it. This means that capacity can be real without being actual. Subsequently, DeLanda explains the structure of the virtual and introduces tendency as a supporting phenomenon. The result of the conceptual analyses is a framework distinguishing the non-linear strategy supporting the divergence of capacity and tendency in the context of adaptability. In such an established context, we can understand a non-linear system as a system of several variables entering the system, the result of which is significantly disproportionately greater than their input. Another concept of non-linearity can be the cyclic evaluation of variables. Such a procedure is called iterative and uses tools such as a narrative (a scenario that defines the desired state under certain conditions), feedback, and interpretation. Narrative strategies are supported by Schumacher’s understanding of scenarios that define function not statically, but dynamically and variably. Henri Achten approaches the problem in a similar manner. He proposes “Interaction Narratives” as the organization of moments of interaction between a user and a system following a story, which is consistent with the style of interaction. Another type of narrative is provided by Nigel Coates, which we understand as a narrative connecting the urban context, which contains several functions and events that are mutually supportive, and yet independent, to dynamic systems of building’s functional parts. Feedback as a system of constant evaluation of variables is an intermediate step to interpretation that was in our case inspired by the finding of an autopoietic function and intra-architectural codes described by Mitášová and Zervan. Although the authors mainly focus on the investigation of existing buildings using their method of interpretation, it can also be uses for non-linear forms of design, such as: 1. Contextual reconstruction of the autopoietic function and the internal-architectural code, where we can perceive the context as a relationship between two states of the architectural space at the point of the critical threshold – the need to change the function; 2. With the help of the feedback and the scenarios of possible anticipated development, we can infer a hypothetical reconstruction of spatial situations; 3. We can subsequently encode these into building system components and spatial configurations in order to provide answers for future interpretation. The final observation is based on the principle of polyvalence as one of the key features in adaptability. It can be expressed using a single component, spatial organisation, position of access points, etc., as presented in the author’s own practice.

Keywords: adaptability, capacity, tendency, narrative, polyvalence, feed-back, interpretation