ARCH 3808/6308
Time Builds: Designing for Change

stacked series of diagrams showing the progression of a house

James Stirling, diagram of unit growth scenarios, PREVI; John Habraken, Supports; Tatiana Bilbao, Sustainable House

  • Instructor: Lily Chi
  • Time: Th 12:20–2:15 p.m.
  • Location: 261B East Sibley Hall
  • Credits: 3
  • Territory of Investigation: Architecture and Discourse

The rising interest in "loose fit" architecture, flexible design, and incremental building springs from diverse ecological, technological, economic, and sociopolitical concerns. Ecologically, adaptability extends the life of buildings, minimizing waste and obsolescence — "slow" architectures in a speeding context of rapid technological change, mobile livelihoods, and indeterminate environmental futures. They are the opposite of tight-fit design (optimized, expressive, or "functional"), arising instead through tactics of tolerance — for the ebbs and flows of biological and social life, for unknowable customs and imaginaries, for the vagaries of context and circumstance. Loose fit and adaptability have also been pursued to enable bottom-up urban, cultural, and political formations. For a discipline of global reach but finite knowledge, designing for change makes room for difference and a virtue of disciplinary limits.

These aspirations have in common a redirection of the agency and object of design. The designed artifact is not a terminus, but a point of departure for ongoing formation by other actors. Far from being less relevant, design becomes all the more critical — the most flexible space is not necessarily an empty envelope. Flexibility, adaptability is as much about making visible and enabling (alternative) possibilities as it is about leaving room. Design thus aims not just at a finished form, but at multiplying its possible mutations, growths, transformations. The object of design is more akin to a tactical framework created through strategic dimensioning, suggestive adjacencies and materiality . . . No longer just aesthetic shape, form operates as improvisational prompts — matter loaded with virtualities. While contemporary technology is rife with promises of micro customization and interactivity, this seminar focuses on unplugged virtuality: Time Builds explores how static matter acquires multiplicity and latency through tactical design, aiming at longterm resilience and open-ended relevance.

Current interest in adaptable and incremental architecture echos a robust postwar discourse and prolific design current. Experimentation was most active in social housing, the apex of which was the extraordinary Proyecto Experimental de Vivienda in Lima to which some of the most influential international architects of the time contributed. Interrupted by political instability and economic crises, these bold efforts — failures and successes — offer intriguing thought (and design) experiments for concerns that remain relevant and pressing today.

Time Builds explores this material along with more recent work in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Students will participate in weekly topic discussions, present and lead debates on one to two texts/projects, and research one case study using analytical, critical, and speculative drawing.

Instructor permission required:

Strong experience in architectural analysis and extrapolative thinking. Students must attend the first class.

View a PDF of this class description.