The Temporal and Historical Limits of Architectural Design: Two Contrasting Theories (RPP #4)

Within the field of architectural design, there are several theories about how architecture and design should, optimally, be implemented; two of these are the adaptive reuse theory and provisional composition theory. Adaptive reuse posits that out-of-use or non-functioning buildings can be best optimized by repurposing them for uses other than those for which they were originally constructed, thus reinventing them into entirely new spaces. Provisional composition, on the other hand, suggests that space and time are pre-existing entities and should be worked within, rather than re-manipulated and re-designed.

Francesca Lanz is a proponent of adaptive reuse; her main analytical claim is that the art of interior design has a greater purpose than merely working inside of an architectural space. Her question, put simply, is “Why do some European countries feel more autobiographical affinities to their built environment than others?”[1] She makes use of the neo-positivist small-n design by analyzing two specific cases, and she collects qualitative data on whether the spaces are ‘incident places,’ ‘identity places,’ and/or locations of vast socio-historical change, to show that uncertainty of identity in a built environment can be best rectified by re-imagining the use for historical buildings.

In contrast, proponents of provisional composition, such as Warakanyaka, aim to make the claim that temporal boundaries should be deeply respected, not reworked.[2] Warakanyaka also uses the small-n design, evaluating a single case: the redesign of waste distribution in the Jakarta neighborhood of Lokasari, using data such as geospatial and behavioral mapping to show how using existing gutter systems and neighborhood layouts could easily transform the area into a hub of urban glory.

These two schools of thought, and authors, are not in direct contradistinction to each other. While they disagree on the limitations of time and space in architectural design, they agree that urban spaces have the potential, and the responsibility, to be tremendously transformed for the better of a community, and that this is best studied through specific examples of public urban spaces. Lanz’s dichotomy of ‘incident vs. identity places’ may be a useful tool I can use to classify architectural spaces in my own research, while Warakanyaka’s contrasting opinion has shown me that I can build on this key debate between the two opposing theories—and perhaps find harmony between them.

[1] Lanz, Francesca. “Re-Inhabiting- Thoughts on the Contribution of Interior Architecture to Adaptive Intervention: People, Places and Identities.” Journal of Interior Design 43, no. 2 (June 1, 2018): 1–10. 10.1111/joid.12121.

[2] Warakanyaka, Agung Ayu Suci, and Andri Yatmo. “Understanding the Importance of Time in Interior Architectural Design and Method.” Sciences Humaines Et Sociales Web of Conferences Journal 41 (2018).

3 thoughts on “The Temporal and Historical Limits of Architectural Design: Two Contrasting Theories (RPP #4)”

  1. Not going to lie Rachel, your project has peaked my interest. Interestingly enough, I have seen these competing theories at play back home in Michigan. For example, many of the abandoned structures in Detroit are systematically demolished in order to gentrify them with new neighborhoods. This is a good example of provisional composition. Conversely, however, many of the old buildings from the old Chrysler building to the Renaissance Center have been repurposed and now hold apartments, restaurants, offices, etc. This, I hope, is an example the adaptive reuse theory.
    I am also interested to see if cultural relativism will appear through the course of your research. Cultures in which history matters a great deal will undoubtedly favor the adaptive reuse theory, while rapidly developing cultures might favor provisional composition.
    I am excited for you!

  2. Rachel,

    Your post has brought me to think greatly about the sadness over the fires of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. During this time, I remember seeing deep melancholy over the historical building’s loss from a range of people — some were Parisians, some had seen the cathedral once or twice, and some had never even seen it in person. I also remember seeing a lot of criticism on social media platforms that Notre Dame’s destruction seemed to be valued so much while the losses other non-Western historical architecture, such as the destruction of Syria’s Aleppo, were not as outwardly mourned.

    This could be an interesting point to reflect on when considering questions such as “Why do some European countries feel more autobiographical affinities to their built environment than others?” As Tristan stated, cultural relativism will become greatly important when deciding, do Europeans actually value their architecture more? Or do we just interpret it that way?

    I’m so excited to see where your research takes you.

  3. Rachel — — you discuss two articles here that are clearly relevant to your research and you do a good job of identifying the main claims in each and discussing some of the methodological details in each. As you think about these pieces, how would you categorize them in terms of the overarching types of explanation each provides for puzzles like yours (such that you could think about whether those explanations are at the center of one or more of the conceptual groupings of scholars that you could analyze in your literature review)? Overall, a good job here–this will provide a good foundation for your continuing research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *