Transitory, Transportable and Transformable: Temporary Conditions in Architecture

Symposium of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, London, May 2013

Proposals are invited for papers addressing the theme of TEMPORARY CONDITIONS IN  ARCHITECTURE to be presented at the 2013 Annual Symposium of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, to be held Alan Baxter Associates, 75 Cowcross Street, London  EC1M 6EL, on Saturday 18 May  2013.

Architecture is generally regarded as being, for the most part, permanent, static and immutable.  However some significant buildings are intended to be temporary, whereas others are designed to be moved from one location to another or even to be flexible enough to alter their form and appearance as the result of changing requirements.  This symposium intends to explore the temporary condition in architecture and to question whether architecture needs to be either permanent, static or immutable.

Transitory:  Many buildings are short-lived, but few of them are regarded as serious architecture.  In 1661, triumphal arches were erected for Charles II’s coronation procession from the City of London to Westminster.  Constructed largely of timber, plaster and canvas, they were architecturally elaborate yet intentionally impermanent, only to be soon swept away.  Political expediency, no doubt, necessitated their quick erection, otherwise they might have been built in stone and, like Temple Bar (1670-72), still stand today, albeit not in its original location.  Modern materials allow for the quick and permanent erection of buildings such as Team 4’s prize-winning Reliance Controls Electronics Factory at Swindon (1967).  Yet despite the longevity of its materials, this building was intentionally short-lived and, having served its purpose, was demolished in 1991. Only the ‘thirty-year rule’ saved it from being listed, as it might well have been. Papers could consider whether the lack of permanence in architecture diminishes its value or, on the other hand, whether the permanence which listing building legislation imposes and implies, ultimately benefits it.

Transportable:  The Crystal Palace (1851) was first erected, in Hyde Park, as a temporary building but was soon transported to Sydenham where it was re-erected.  This was made possible by its pre-fabricated, component-based assembly process.  This thinking allowed pre-fabricated buildings to be sent out across the world by the European colonial powers in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Whether these be William Slater’s cast-iron church for the Ecclesiologists (1853-56) or Jean Prouvé’s steel barracks for the French army (1939), the use of transportable architecture to establish and promote religious or military, and therefore political control, was the same.  Conversely, the practice of retrieving and displaying spolia as a demonstration of political control, such as Napoleon’s relocation to the Arc de Triomphe, in 1797, of the quadriga from St Mark’s Basilica, Venice, shows that architecture can be as easily brought home as it can be sent out.  Papers, therefore, might like to investigate the use of transportable architecture as both a vehicle and an affirmation of colonisation and the influence which these buildings had on the national architecture, culture and society of the colony and the coloniser alike.

Transformable: If the Pyramids are regarded as the ultimate expression of permanence in architecture, then the Pompidou Centre, as originally conceived in 1971, might be the antithesis.  For here the floors could move, the envelope could be reassembled, and the exposed services regularly modified.  Although the floors, in the end, remained static, the building has been noticeably transformed over the years.  Today, ‘Legacy’ is one of the key-words for the London 2012 Olympics.  Yet few of the buildings destined to remain will be left in their original condition; many will be transformed.  The side wings will be loped off Zaha Hadid’s swimming pool and the upper stage will be removed from Populous’s stadium.  In considering legacy, papers might ask whether there is a real architectural legacy in such a situation and whether those few buildings which will emerge unscathed, such as, hopefully, Hopkins Architects’ velodrome, will provide the only true reminder of the Olympics.

Abstracts of not more than 250 words should be sent to Professor Neil Jackson at the School of Architecture, University of Liverpool, Abercromby Square, Liverpool L69 7ZN or e-mailed to <> no later than 15 October 2012.  Authors will be advised by 3 December 2012 whether or not their paper has been selected.

For further enquiries visit the SAHGB website: