A House for Eternity?

Isabel Glogar 2011

Ein Haus für die Ewigkeit. Dauer durch Veränderung: Eine Studie über die Anpassungsgeschichte und Wertschätzung von Gebäuden im urbanen Kontext.

MAS THESIS  Wohnforum/ETH Zürich

Publication and Research Project  – Housing in the Swiss Context


„To seek the timeless way me must first know the quality without a name. (…) The fact is that the difference between a good building and a bad building, between a good town and a bad town, is an objective matter. (…) But it is easy to understand why people believe so firmly that there is no single, solid basis for the difference between good building and bad. It happens because the single central quality which makes the difference cannot be named. (…) All things and people and places which have the quality without a name, reach into the realm of “eternal”. Some are “eternal” in almost a literal sense: they are so strong, so balanced, so strongly self-maintaining, that they are no easily disturbed, almost imperishable. Others reach the quality for no more than an instant, and then fall back into the lesser state, where inner contradictions rule. The word “eternal” describes them both. For the instant they have this quality, they reach into the realm of eternal truth. At the moment when they are free from inner contradictions, they take their place among the order of things which stand outside of time.”  

(Christopher Alexander, 1979)

The research presents different aspects of durability and variability of buildings. The study and comparison of existing buildings in their social and physical dimensions leads to the identification of possible architectures for buildings of the future. The analysis of models considers the building’s aging process, the possibility of change of users, and the structural adjustments: an examination of the entire life cycle of a building in its social and economical contexts. Thus, the process of living is the focus of the project.

What makes a building appreciated and popular? What factors are relevant for a long lifespan of a building? How is it possible to design a building for different uses and an enduring practice? These issues are discussed to illustrate the relations of durability and adaptation.

The lifespan of buildings differ according to their location and function. In Europe, a building must be “solid” and its planning involves higher costs and more expensive materials. Consequently, the present research focuses mainly on the European context, since the opportunities for evolution and thus lifecycles of buildings are strongly influenced by the cultural contexts.

The study proposes transformation and mix of usages as long-term strategies for converting existing buildings. Historically, a strong differentiation of building types has evolved following the separation of functions in the modernity. In the postmodern society, housing has become more specific, the nuclear family model dominates the housing market. Currently, residential buildings develop differently, housing becoming more individual and comfortable and so, an associated increase in demand for housing is becoming important in the western world.

Under these circumstances, a sustainable building structure should provide both an incentive for investors, as well as a possibility to provide space for multiple models of society and thus to guarantee a continuous life cycle of a building: an architecture of future buildings.

Keywords: durability, change, adaptation, appreciation, lifecycle

Endnote: Alexander, C., The timeless way of building, Oxford University Press, New York, 1979, p.17-38.

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