Architectural Permanence

It seems that society as a whole has been seeking to build permanence since the dawn of architecture and the idea of creating space and shelter.  Permanence, defined as "the state or quality of lasting or remaining unchanged indefinitely", has evaded many of our most famous works, over time the elements combined with the destructive character of the human race has led to the premature deterioration of shelter.  Permanence, however, is such a bold term to define what we build and have built over time because after a while, social and technical implications eventually lead to an inevitable destruction.  We are a society - a world - that is based on evolution and alterations through time.  Very few things that started as one entity remain the same through its useful lifetime, we adapt, alter and deconstruct everything.  Quite simply, we are a society unprepared for permanence, and that's okay, but our designers must stop alluding to the fact that a building can and will last for an eternity.  Instead, let's focus on building efficiently, knowingly preparing for the day our marks on this earth will be removed and replaced.

Social Confines of Permanence


We are ever-evolving.  Within evolution is the necessity for change, to alter and move past things that may not have work while adapting others to maintain their current effectiveness.  Permanence may never work because humans are so dynamic.  Whether it be a natural disaster or simply a change in how a businesses are operated, humans will eventually find a better more efficient way to do something.  Because just about everything society does needs shelter or a space to occur, the evolution of even the simplest parts of life will eventually change the way our built environment is made, operates, etc.  Nothing will remain the same forever which immediately eradicates the word 'permanence'.  Instead, our structures, as much as our lives, will change over time to make way for any changes necessary.  Evolution of ideas, technologies and human behavioral patterns immediately changes the idea of a permanent architecture.  

Changing Needs

Similar to evolution, our needs as humans have become more specifically driven as buildings have evolved even in the last 100 years.  What humans need their spaces to do changes as quickly as technology, especially with the ever-increasing use of technology in our buildings. Because of this, nothing can ever be permanent, which begs the question of 'timeless design' since its own obsolescence is planned from the day of its inception.  Hospitals and industrial buildings are a prime example of this, especially as our means of treating humans and manufacturing goods rapidly evolves needing newer technology and perhaps less room to operate.  

Development of Cities + Neighborhoods

As basic animal instincts dictate, humans move.  Whether that move be dramatic or simple, our trends in movement have a huge impact in how our built environment has remained ever-changing and non-permanent.  Housing, for example is a perfect case of how permanence will not be efficient.  Communities spurt up and diminish away while others flourish for decades or centuries.  Atop that, the movement of the typical human (family) to and from different abodes has grown in the past 50 years, especially as our global connection continues to increase.  We are bred on movement, migration patterns demonstrate how staying in one place has never been ample for humans.  Building a home or building that lasts forever creates a conundrum for those who want to move on yet do not want to waste.  What if buildings were able to be disassembled and reassembled or even re-purposed?  Those components actually could become permanent within themselves, living fuller more useful lives creating something different than before.    

Assemblage Confines of Permanence 

Multiple Parts vs. Single Part

Getting into a more 'nitty and gritty' approach to architecture, building assemblies, particularly the envelope, has changed so dramatically over the past century.  Think of the exterior walls of an old rubble fieldstone farm house, one single material that made up (technically) a multiple layer wall - yet it was a singular piece of construction.  Fast forward to the technological advances of today and we have envelopes that have anywhere from 6 to 60 different components.  These numerous and diverse materials all coming together only begs for failure. There is a reason why a lot of the ancient structures we idolize today still stand; they were manifested simply and solidly.  The multiple part assemblies of today may be more efficient and sleek, however their ability to stand the tests of time is limited by their interactions among one another and the effective lifespan of each individual material.  

Materiality: Synthetics vs. Natural

Perhaps the most important part of durability is the materiality that an assembly has.  Today, our buildings, houses, shelters, etc. are constructed from a multitude of different synthetics. While there still remain some natural components (i.e. wood, stone, clay), they are often met with a conglomeration of man-made items.  These synthetics may not break down quickly in a landfill, but their structural and performative qualities are much shorter than their survival rate on earth.  Part of this lies in their applications and interactions with contextual elements (people, sun, etc) while another lies in the interactions of the materials themselves.  Many materials are now showing signs of corroding or deteriorating one another, the greatest example lies within galvanic corrosion which occurs between two dissimilar metals.  This is much less likely to occur between two natural materials, although lumber and stone contact can be traced to providing issues in early architecture.

The ways in which we have evolved as a society and as a profession (architects and designers) has led way to less permanence and more performative temporariness.  This is fine, but it seems that many building owners refuse to believe their investments actually have a useful shelf-life and after that may not be economically viable anymore.  Beginning to think of a building with a 25-50-75 or even -100 year lifespan in which it actually 'dies' at the end of its designated life can help fuel faster growth, more progressive technologies and ease the burden of materials used to create a false sense of permanence.  Instead of mimicking permanence, let's either create for it, or instead think of our shelters as actually being temporary.  That temporariness isn't a bad thing and by no means degrades integrity of design or structure, rather it begs us not to overuse our built environment and know when it's time to replace.