Reviewed by Rob MacDonald
R. Buckminster Fuller once said that there are two types of people; those that “stay put” and the others who “just keep on moving West.” Transportable Environments 2 is most definitely concerned with the architecture of the latter. All global nomads, movers and the new techno-shakers will find much of interest in this stimulating publication.
I first met Professor Robert Kronenburg, the Editor of Transportable Environments 2, over 30 years ago when we both won the “Architecture on the Move” Competition. Since then I have followed his doctoral and post-doctoral research through many publications including Houses in Motion; The Genesis, History and Development of the Portable Building (1995), Portable Architecture(1996) and Transportable Environments (1998). Professor Kronenburg and his co-editors Joseph Lim and Wong Yunn Chii have brought together a stimulating collection of conference essays concerning the genera of transportable environments. The essays are presented in four sections; Theory, Context, Teaching and Design.
In “Freedom and Transience of Space (techno-nomads and transformers)” Gary Brown discusses the use of inner-city sites for transient functions and he describes five different new approaches to “parasitic” architecture; self destructing architecture, architecture that grows over time, architecture with disassembly in mind, an update on the concept of long life loose fit architecture and finally architecture as transformer. David Craven and Dr Nicola Morelli, in “Logical Spaces for Urban Nomads” describe the history of mobile technological tools from Archigram to Wearables; from the Cushicle to the Electronic Communicating Scarf.
Viadimir Krstic, in “About other Constructs and Spaces,” echoes Buckminister Fuller when he distinquishes between ocnophiles and philobates; those people tied to objects and those in love with open space. The appropriation of virtual open space appears to be a central focus of Transportable Environments and “Transformation in the age of Virtuality” by Ada Kwiatkowska is concerned with liquid architectural objects and their context in the age of virtuality. In a final theoretical statement he suggests that “the aims of architecture in the virtual age should be redefined according to the cybernetic criteria relating to form and network. Time is an active factor expressed by motion without action and therefore soft architecture simulates ever changing life processes instead of attempting Vitruvian durability.”
In contrast with Theory, Filia Klassen approaches the practical Context of The “Big- Issue” of Homelessness. The state of the ever increasing homeless urban population, in global cities, provides Klassen with the opportunity to develop a discussion about the value and relevance of Transportable Environments to practical solutions of providing urban shelters. Professor Kronenburg makes the case for more experiment, research and innovation. Significantly, he observes, “It is important that people discover that portable architecture does not consist solely of the site hut and the mobile home. This understandable prejudice must be overcome not only in the minds of the users but also in clients, designers, manufactures and legislators.”
Robert Vincent and Gregory Nolan provide a fascinating description of ”Innovative and Prefabricated Timber Buildings on Australia’s Sub-Antartic Islands.” They make a very strong case for traditional exemplars as informers of current design. Fifty years of Antartic experience of prefabricated timber framed buildings are described and appreciated. A very simple lesson emerges: a prefabricated timber building, with simple maintenance can survive and be of good utility over time. When no longer needed, it can be disassembled and returned to its country of origin. This is a serious performance consideration for shelters under the Madrid Protocol on the Environment that applies under the Antartic Treaty System.
Designing a multi-use and multi-person shelter is a common School of Architecture teaching project. Joseph Lim of the National University of Singapore describes “A North Thailand Village School Hall Constructed by Singapore Architecture Students.” An impressive 15m x 9m open sided shelter to function as a canteen and meeting hall was designed and built and this essay is well illustrated with a series of three dimensional sketches of the roof and column details. Hee Limin and Colin Seah discuss “Modes of Inquiry in the Design Studio.” A rich variety of imaginative projects are illustrated, including: live-work containers, telescopic workspaces, roll-out workspaces, portable stages, deployable exhibition booths, mobile shelters, urban nomad shelters, tents and observatories.
In “Developing Architectural Skill by Making Temporary and Transportable Buildings,” Gregory Nolan and Ian Clayton discuss the issue of “leaning by doing.” They quote Dewey saying, “Theory separated from concrete doing and making is empty and futile…the problem of the relation of theory and practice is not a problem of theory alone; it is that, but it is also the most practical problem of life. For it is the question of how intelligence may inform action, and how action may bear the fruit of increased insight into meaning.”
Following the essays on Theory, Context and Teaching we are presented with a series of papers on real design applications. Shigeu Ban is an expert on designing lightweight paper architecture. There is a humanitarian aspect to his temporary paper housing and church in Kobe. His larger structures included a Paper Arch for the Japan Pavillion in Hanover 2000. He writes of his work, “Even in the disaster context I am motivated as an architect to create beautiful buildings in order to move people emotionally and to improve their lives.”
Transportable Environments are certainly needed in disaster areas; Mozambique, Ethiopia, Turkey, Kosovo are all locations of recent tragic events in need of shelter, protection and medical facilities. Ulrich Dangal describes a “Deployable Lightweight Medical System for use in Disaster Areas.” This system builds on the existing knowledge of mobile medical facilities and combines simple construction techniques with advanced technology and highly engineered materials.
In “Kinetic Architectural Systems Design” Michael A. Fox describes the very creative work of the MIT Kinetic Design Group, including: A secret garden in New York, the Interactive Kinetic Façade Project, the Deployable Teleconference Station, the Responsive Wall, the Boeing Business Jet Interior and Elevator Choreography. The Office of Mobile Design is described by Jennifer Siegal. OMD has designed a Portable House, PIE.com, a Mobile Eco Lab, the Zevos Kiosk, a Portable Construction Training Centre, MECA a Mobile Event City Architecture and iMobile, a roving access portal to global communication networks.
The globally diverse contributors to Transportable Environments 2 would, no doubt, acknowledge the influence of R. Buckminster Fuller and Walking Cities. In the year that Archigramwere awarded the RIBA Gold Medal, Transportable Environ-ments 2, with its useful bibliography, is a comprehensive position statement on the current location of Walking Cities and Portable Architecture. I look forward to a future Transportable Environments 3.