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«EPHEMERAL SPACES RENATO CESAR F. SOUZA M.SC., PCHE, PH.D. UNIVERSITY O F SHEFFIELD This paper describes some classifications of ephemeral spaces, in ...»

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This paper describes some classifications of ephemeral spaces, in order to define the

terminology. It will be seen that the notion of an ephemeral place is more related to a

communication process that defines space instead the action of a subject over space.

The notion that a space of significance can exist for a very limited time is contrary to the predominant concept of architecture. Buildings are understood as being relatively permanent or stable; there is a strong correlation between longevity and literal or symbolic importance, and ‘temporary’ somehow implies ‘less than ideal.’ Occasionally buildings and places are torn down and new ones built, but cycles of change within an architectural context are long, relative to the age of its inhabitants. As a result, most of us are unaware of our architectural environment, walking or driving around assuming correctly that our surroundings are more or less the same today as they were yesterday, not really seeing anything at all.

An ephemeral place is intended to have a short life, does not strive to be permanent, and recognizes its own impermanence as a potentially positive or even essential quality.

Be the action a installation, light weight structures or only the links between elements in a transient order, it transforms the existing primarily through implication: implying containment without building it completely, implying its use ambiguously rather than describing it literally.


Ephemeral spaces can be classified as follow:


This approach represents a protest against the established system (Cowan 2005), against the excluded social sector, and so on. Nomadic and collapsible architecture is a political manifestation, which sometimes has the character of an invasion of space and a fight against the preponderant opinion. Figure 1 shows a snapshot of the Space Hijackers site (Hijackers 2005). In that site is possible to find documented actions of protest with some manifestos against architectural common sense.


Fig. 1 – snapshot of Space Hijackers’ homepage.http://www.spacehijackers.org B) The portable architecture was the title of the three years programme of research conducted by Robert Kronenburg at University of Liverpool (Kronenburg 1998). As a

result of that research, Kronenburg edited the book “Transportable Environments:

Theory, Context, Design and Technology”, from which the term was taken.


b.1) The word ‘airchitecture’ derives from ‘air’, to refer to inflatable buildings and structures.

This classification includes all pneumatic structures and shelters (Festo 2005). One example is the pneumatic exhibition building, developed by Festo to react to environmental influences like a living organism. Air chambers are inflated to a high pressure and intelligently arranged, forming a building. A computer created selfcontrolled system checks the pressure of each chamber at regular intervals and controls it in accordance with a weather station. The building can be folded up in a standard international 40-ft container, if necessary.

Fig. 2 – wirefame of the product ‘airchitecture’, an inflatable building to shelter events, of Festo Ag and Co. http://www.festo.com


According to Kronenburg (1998) transportable buildings are buildings that move.

Transportable architecture possesses all the capabilities that permanent architecture has to create meaningful, identifiable and recognizable environments enabling human beings to to affirm their physical existence and relationship with the man-made and the natural world. “Portable Architecture” was a conference that happened in 1995, coordinated by Dr Robert Kronenburg, senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool and principal investigator of the portable buildings research unit there.

Fig. 3 - Photo of the Pneumatic village to accommodate 500-1000 young participants in the ICSID Congress of 1971. There were units for two, four and six people. It was like an experiment where there was no preconception of how people would respond to the situationor how pre-structuring and individual initiative would combine to produce a result.

Fig 4 – Plan of the instant city in Ibiza, 1971.

The use of an open system of single skin inflatable structures forming a unified pressurized volume allowing a physical, as well as social interdependence. If the coherence between individual units was great enough, links could be established between them if they were on adjoining corridors. A "grammar" of forms for these units was used as a template, to simplify decision-making and construction.


This category defines buildings that use different technologies to provide mobility and movement. Materials like steel and plastic work together in order to achieve a suitable shelter. Some of these buildings can have a solid, non-ephemeral structure, to support the mobile structures. Control of the performance can be done by computer software which interacts with constantly changing conditions and the needs of the environment.

An example is the building of the National Space Centre of London, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners architects (Centre 2005). The main feature, a 41m high “Rocket Tower”, which dominates the local skyline, composes the view. A semi-transparent tower, (clad with high-tech ETFE ‘pillows’), was designed specifically to house the attraction's largest artifacts, including huge rockets. The tower has been designed in such a way that the side of the tower may be partly detached again in the future to allow easier access at the time of changing large exhibits. Several "decks" placed at various heights down the tower, connected by a series of staircases, have been incorporated. The rest of the Space Centre's visitor experience, its planetarium and space science research unit are housed within the main body of the building, which is built partially below ground level within the walls of old sewers. The entrance to the Space Centre is reached from a courtyard, in which the Challenger Learning Centre building is located.

b.4) LIGHT AN D R E A SS E M BL Y B UI L DI N GS Fig 5 – The Rocket Tower, London This category covers small structures and protection normally related to open markets, lasting the duration of the event. Normally the shelters are foldable and transportable easily, and several materials can be used to construct them.

–  –  –

“…. It is this sort of temporary structure which does not, however, represent any particular government authority or commercial power base and is therefore both revolutionary and free. An event generated in the public space in which the city’s inhabitants can become directly involved defuses, if only temporarily, the authority of the established system”. (Agis 2005)


D) Fig 7 and 8, upper- aerial view of Dreamspace installation and an interior dancing performace.

Fi 9 l I ll i ”D ”b M i Ai i Performances have a vast range of using transient places, either playing with its elements or using human actors to set a scene in a play. It comprehends manifestos, and protests with politically engaging messages and poetical plays about symbolic values. Performance is under the sole control of the author, artist and may also be published using other media, for example, over the internet. They use a sophisticated language to cope with space in order to find suitable attributes on it, expressing the author’s ideas. In this sense, some of them use interaction with the temporary audience.

MIX MEDIAFig 10 – exhibition of paintings in the street, Paris.

E) AND MODELS This category covers experiments with space and new media technology related to the computers’ evolution. As the result seems to be changeable enough to be considered transient, it is possible to sense it as an ephemeral space, as argued by Anthony Crisafulli (Stoudt 2005), associate professor and director of the Johnson Center for Digital Media of Allbright University. The experiments explore the sense of space, virtual-reality feeling, as a multiple source of perception. Figures 11 to 13 show some examples. This category also covers other experiments with computers, in which the three dimensional models are assembled with links to much more information through internet. Such experiments are concerned with the virtual space, but can be considered as transient and dynamic situations of spatial perception. Other experiments such as modeling are in this category too, and can be seen as ephemeral places. In these cases, the model space is sensed as a momentary place enabling “engagement” with the design problem. These models act as an illustration of the intimate relationship between the physical model and the eventual design. Such an approach to model making can begin to blur the distinction between the fabrication of the model and the design process that it is intended to support.

Fig 11 – Toyo Ito - Egg of Wind, a sculpture clad in drilled aluminum panels that reflect the images of the city projected on to it and, at the same time reveals others from the TVs placed inside it. It was installed in 1998 and uninstalled in 1991. (Pawley 1998).

Fig 12 – Rem Koolhaas, Zentrum für Kunst und Medietechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsuhe, to generate density, exploit proximity, provoke tension, maximize friction, organise inbetweens, promote filtering, sponsor identity and stimulate blurring.

Fig 13 – Toyo Ito - Tower of Winds (1986), a structure located in Yokohama, that filters the air and sounds of the city, transforming them into light. An ‘architectronic’ object, rooted in its place, contextual but subject to change as the air, light and sounds around


it are never the same (Pawley 1998).

F) OF CELEBRATIONS Monuments, fountains, and even some shelters to exhibitions can be considered in this category. Figure 14 is an example, and others can be found in the history, like the temporary pavilions to the international exhibitions in England and France.

Fig 14 – Ohann Pasch (1706-1769) Design for an Apparatus erected on the Celebration of the Wedding of the Dauphin de France in 1749 SPACES G) OF UNCERTAINTY Fig 15 and 16 – temporal uses in Derelicts spaces. Source: ww.spacesofuncertainity.org Ill-defined spaces that are not officially or definitively occupied, spaces that are dynamic and unstable. In the agenda of the citizen, the experience of these spaces takes little time in between the massive blocks of strongly defined activities, or strongly defined spaces. The marginal spaces do not have a fixed identity: they are recipients for ephemeral or temporary use, personal or collective activities, encounters, desires and projections, that do not contain the ambition to root, lay foundations, or stress their presence. These spaces are dependent on the weather, the day of the week, even the time of the day; they express temporality between a past and a future use, the possibility to live in this movement. The reference about this category was found at http://www.spacesofuncertainty.org/, accessed in May, 2005.


This conceptual approach comes from the hermeneutics investigation, in which those moments when there is a questioning of disciplinary limits are important, generating a questioning of the construction / meaning of the architectural object (Conde 2005).This approach considers that the whole world is reigned by indeterminate factors, and architecture as well. Some examples of this concept are from post modern architects, for instance, Bernard Tschumi, in the Museum of technology in Paris, “La Villete”.

Outside Tschumi created the so called “Folies”, which are spaces without a pre-defined function, receiving its meaning as space during the users’ appropriation of space. Yago Conde, professor at Architectural Association in London, analysed how the notion of indeterminacy, (a subject present everywhere today) was already dealt with in the course of the 20th century, especially by the European avant-gardes in the twenties.


TERRITORY The approach of this research is considering ephemeral places as that in which the subjects perceive all the spatial elements, including other people, as a source of information. That information, in such transient places, is organized in order to provide a sense of enclosure, internal directions and centrality, all of those qualities related to the space. On the other hand, the information provides the sense of territoriality, privacy, identity and ambience, which are strong qualities of one place. The transitory situations in which that information is organized corresponds to ordinary experience in the day life routine. The organization of information, by the time, corresponds to the linkage process through which is possible compose ephemeral places as a movable phenomenon. From this point of view, it is possible to look at all the precedent studies by investigating their particularities in the light of information technology. The main characteristic of this approach is to consider a multitude of ‘actors’ instead of a small group or only one person responsible by the design of the place. At same time, the assumption is that it is possible to study how information technologies can affect those ephemeral places, implementing, changing, or even disturbing the relationship between spatial elements and social forms. Also, ephemeral places as information places are a subtle phenomena that can possibly only be defined by representational models able to cope with complex arrangements of these processes.

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