Transience and Permanence: An Architectural Dialogue

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Virginia Tech

The American way of life is becoming increasingly transient in nature. But at the same time there is also the inherent need to have a sense of rootedness, the need for a place to call home, to belong. The current thesis is an architectural exploration of creating a dialogue between this duality. The approach is to explore a composite system, where modular prefabricated architecture is implemented in conjunction with traditional building practices. The idea is to address the transient nature and sense of belonging by combining the prefabricated modular approach with the site-built traditional approach. This study proposes that there are two types of spaces in a house that creates the overall spatial experience of a home. These can be termed as core functional spaces and more fluid or flexible spaces. Core functional spaces are bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, dining, formal living etc. Flexible spaces are more fluid in terms of function, for example – family living, lobby, lounge, connecting/common spaces etc.

In the current thesis, core functional units are proposed to be developed as modular units. The reason is, because of their defined functionality they can be designed as basic modules. The modules would be prefabricated in a factory and transported to site. The modules themselves are composed of panelised systems. This allows for a flexibility in different permutation of layouts and enables adaptability of the house with changing family dynamics and other functional needs, thus addressing the transient nature of life. The fluid spaces are proposed to be built on site allowing greater flexibility in terms of dimensions, construction material and design. This type of space addresses the sense of permanence and rootedness as they are designed to be responsive to the site forces and define the unique characteristics of a home based on client’s unique requirements. Overall, the composite approach addresses transience and changing family demographics through the modular, prefabricated, core functional units. Prefabrication is adopted for saving time and expenses of construction. Assembly line techniques, grouping of similar tasks and use of skilled labour help in achieving that. The core functional spaces serve some basic purposes which is common for every house in general. So these spaces can be considered as repeating units and forms, and can be considered for prefabrication. For example, Kitchens, bathrooms or bedrooms can be treated as basic units and thus can be designed as prefab modules. Prefabricated, modular construction is rapidly gaining interest in the building construction industry. Implementation of modular construction improves the efficiency in production and safety in the working environment. This reduces the necessity to transport many skilled workers to the construction site. Prefabrication also helps avoid other adverse conditions like exposure to harsh weather or a hazardous environment, lack of water or power etc. On the other hand, the proposed composite approach addresses permanence through the site-built components. These components are responsive to different sites and different client needs. The fluid spaces are the spaces that do not serve any specific or basic purpose for the designed architectural piece to function as a home, but rather work as a space that binds all the core functions together. The fluid spaces ne the architectural experience of a house and how the core functions are coming together to form an architectural piece that one can call home. For example, common lobby spaces, informal living, corridors etc work as fluid spaces where all the functional spaces are connected. For different households, different family needs, the fluid space can receive the functional modules differently thereby defining the architectural space differently. This type of spaces can be designed using traditional on-site construction which provides the language of permanence and rootedness. Proposed modular units themselves follow a panelised construction, so it is easy to add or remove panels to support the different arrangements of modules around different types of site built elements. Thus the composite system supports the transience by providing adaptability and permanence by responding and being rooted to the site. The overall spatial experience created by the juxtaposition of these two systems and two types of textures is the focus of this thesis.

Modular, Prefabrication, Traditional, Composite