How is impermanence challenging the doctrine of architectural conformation

By Eleanor Worthington: Arts Columnist

With most architects designing with the parallel notion of longevity and obsessing over the permanence of a structure, it can cause projects to be limited only to their briefs and to only serve their purpose or purposes.

Arguably our streets, neighborhoods, towns and cities become stagnant with ‘affordable’ housing, are outdated with boomer brutalism and revolutionary designs come to be too familiar and their WOW factor dilapidates over time. Temporary architecture preposes polarity to mainstream design by moving past its conventions through ephemeral framework and solitary alternative functions whilst igniting an essence of excitement along with seriousness.

This fairly new phenomena within architecture is constantly expanding, cropping up in cities all across Europe and the States, and branching off the industries socio-economical standpoint. It encourages the use of upcycled materials with little to no manufacturing and elementary modifications that result in easy assembling and dissembling. With low costing materials and engineering and restricted size and functions, these ‘pop up’ structures ultimately reduce overall cost and are therefore materialise during the ever looming financial crises. With the current climate and financial ramifications of the Coronavirus, we are bound to witness a splurge in temporary structures. Though it may possibly resemble the wreckage of our economy, the social joy that can be birthed out of the architectural experiences can dampen these realities. The charm of impermanent structures is that they put the ‘social’ into socially conscious design. The transformed urban spaces form a new and digestible environment in which the public can interact with and observe in contemporary ways.

It is also important to consider the unwelcoming temporary structures, such as the urgently needed hospitals that were erected to withstand the initial wave of Coronavirus and potentially the second. Refugee camps fall here as well as large amounts of people are left without basic amenities in dystopian living conditions. These structures consist of purposely built tents and housing, and existing structures such as old shipping containers and occasionally used spaces like town halls and gyms. So be it they could be considered more favourable than tents, but housing displaced people is not their function and they are not suited for their needs other than shelter and surveillance.


Through challenging the architectural norms, transitory designs continue to bridge the somewhat ambiguous relationship between art and architecture. Celebrated late sculptor Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work reinforces this metaphorical bridge, with the very notable work of The Floating Piers. This monumental site specific installation not only altered the identity of Italy’s Lake Iseo, it temporarily curated an architectural experience through the representation of art. The same glorification be seen in London’s Hyde Park during the annual showcasing of the Serpentine Pavilions. The Serpentine Galleries are renowned for the exhibition of the temporary pavilions showcased for three months, typically between June and October, although it is understandable that this years commissioned architects, South African practice – Counterspace, will be honored in 2021 as the construction has been postponed (as expected). These structures celebrate culture and venerate international architects and their ethos whilst allowing the public to explore the beauty and impact of impermanent architecture.

Modern city skylines are ever changing and contain perpetually new design elements

These unusual architectural experiences create memories and consequently allows the structures to attain some ownership of ‘permanence’. Though we may outlast these structures by decades and typically the most commemorated work is built to last, it is to no surprise that these brief systems will act as catalysts for future enduring designs. Through experimenting with small structures, urban planners and architects can stratagise these deigns to be integrated in the future when technology and design has advanced enough to produce them at a large and safe scale. Alternatively it can encourage a long lasting change of architecture in a way that future buildings may never be permanent and change over time. This may sound absurd, but we have been conditioned to consider architecture as a typically timeless entity. If fashion, ecology, economy and style all fluctuated year after year and decade after decade why can’t the permanence of our buildings?

Meet Eleanor on the Team Page & Visit the Arts Department