I once had a friend whose father was a high-powered building contractor in Texas. “The more cranes you see in a city’s skyline, the healthier the economy,” he used to say. His mantra, however, is quickly becoming an old school paradigm. The world of architecture has had it rough these past few years; building commissions are down, causing firms and contractors to tighten their belts. Not only is this a symptom of a struggling economy, it reflects a shift in our attitude toward architecture and its role in society. “We tend to view architecture as permanent, as aspiring to the status of monuments,” writes Allison Arieff. But lately, like opting for Mr. Right Now over Mr. Right, many companies are resorting to temporary architecture that, while not long lasting, allow wiggle room for future development. The recent trends in food carts and pop-up shops represent something even greater: temporality, when it comes to architecture, is downright liberating.
Many of the great American cities, whose layouts and grids were perfected and cemented in the 1950s, are just now starting to feel out of touch, failing to live up to our ever-changing, modern needs. As more citizens demand safer walkways, bike paths and green space, cities are struggling to cope with a past when city planners thought only of permanence. Robert Moses, the man responsible for shaping much of New York City in the 1950s, has since been condemned as narrow minded, with his designs leaving little room for adaptability. Over the past two decades, the northeast has pooled its resources to undo the work of Moses, making urban areas more multi-functional while leaving room for the unforeseen challenges of the future.
No one is suggesting the end of city planning, however. The name of the game going forward should be fluidity, as our daily needs adapt to technology. The stereotypical office, for example, with its cubicles and fluorescent lighting might become a distant memory as telecommuting enables employees to build temporary offices in their own homes. “An embrace of the temporary and tactical may not be perfect, but it could be one of the strongest tools in the arsenal of city-building we’ve got,” writes Arieff.
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.