ZAHA HADID, a renowned creative architect, once stated: “The modern society does not stay still. It changes ceaselessly. Spatial arrangement and sequence evolve in respect to life patterns.” Just as arts, knowledge and technology go through unending developments and evolutions, so does architecture. From tipis to skyscrapers, architecture has gone through many different phases and shapes. The new type of architecture that reflects the lives of modern people and in response shapes their life patterns is mobile architecture; some call it “architecture of the future.”
The moving castles
Our first encounter with the idea of a moving house may have come from animation films or fantasy films like “Howl’s Moving Castle,” directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Fascinated by images of flying buildings and homes, people imagine themselves in an oh-so-private-and-free haven. Yes, a flying house may always remain a fantasy. Yet, a moving house may not. Mobile architecture is not a distant story anymore; moving buildings are a reality. Mobile architecture, which represents all types of moving construction, signals a change in our living environment.
The very first group of people who predicted this change in forms of architecture was Archigram, an experimentalist architectural group in London. In 1964, they claimed: “The city of the future is an uncertain space, the tomorrow of which is unpredictable. The city is always ready to move to another place under various circumstances.” Modern day people are less compelled to stay at one place than before because moving or changing work is more easily done than before. Fewer people live their whole lives in one place, and many have several jobs throughout their lifetime. Just as people’s lives have changed, buildings are also changing—moving.
According to the 2013 February issue of “LUXURY” magazine, modern day architects say that “architecture will no longer be bound to a certain space.” Paik Joon (Director, Chang-jo Architects) states that “Architecture has until now been location-centered. But now, distinguishing kitchens, beds and rooftops is an outdated concept.” Paik believes that the current perceptions of rooms, ceilings and walls will all be renewed into new forms in the near future. Pieces of buildings will be manufactured in factories and be united with others to form a whole building. Rooms will not only change in function, but in position as well. Just like furniture, structures of buildings will be able to move around.
By literal definition, mobile architecture is an architectural object that can move. Paik, however, says that there is no pure definition for mobile architecture. The idea of moving is its concept, but, of course, it is impossible to move a building. Mobile architecture is not highlighted by the literal movement but the factors that enable its mobility. Transportation is one of them. For example, the well-known “Chanel Mobile Art” by Zaha Hadid is consisted of 700 pieces. The building is dismantled and the pieces are shipped to another city for another exhibit at a different location. Just as Hadid’s pavilion, mobile architecture is enabled by transportation.
Another key is flexibility. Many buildings that are mobile are made of pieces that allow the building to be dismantled and transported to another place. Some, however, do not. They are not made of many different pieces but rather have parts that employ mobile architectural techniques. For instance, a hotel in London had its washrooms manufactured in factories before construction. The washrooms are literally separable from the building, and therefore whenever something goes wrong, they can be removed from the building to be fixed and brought back. In this sense, the building applies mobile architecture to certain parts that need mobile architecture. Not everything has to be able to move, but only the specific parts that need mobility. This is why mobile architecture is not limited to moving buildings but moving structures as well.
The very first fascination people have on mobile architecture probably originates from the outlook. Mobile architecture is visually engaging. Because usual buildings are stationary and permanent in structure, they are mostly conventional in design. Mobile architecture, however, breaks traditional rules and employs a unique fashion. The architects do not hesitate to work with round walls, unbalanced heights, foldable ceilings, and many more that are not easily attempted in traditional buildings. By creating new ways to juxtapose rooms and building structures, each mobile building becomes distinct.
There are other various attractions of mobile architecture. Prefabrication process is one of them. Prefabrication means that the pieces of the specific design for the certain project are manufactured at factories prior to construction. For example, the 700 pieces in Hadid’s “Chanel Mobile Art” are made at factories. They are prefabricated prior to the construction at the field, where the pieces are put together to become the whole building. This reduces the construction time and increases efficiency because the field work required for the entire construction can be done at the same time as the pieces are made in factories. Paik stated that the construction period for usual buildings often require a long time because each work has to be done separately and not simultaneously. Prefabrication allows different works to be done at the same time. In Paik’s case, “2012 BMW 7 Mobile Lounge” was built only in three weeks thanks to prefabrication. The only work required after the respective process is putting together the many different pieces.
Mobile architecture not only reduces the time required but also sound and air pollution, as well as waste material. It is important to note that no actual “construction” takes place at the site because the pieces are prefabricated. Hence fewer noises of drills and fork lanes are created. Even when the different pieces are put together, the process is completed in a short period of time with minimal construction noise. Because the machines in the factory cut and produce pieces in the exact sizes, the throwing away of materials in common construction sites is avoided. There is more safety guaranteed for workers, as well. Most accidents related to construction happen at the actual field. The high heights, dangerous tools and excess dust are examples of the factors that create a dangerous construction environment for workers. Yet, the fact that every piece used for building is prefabricated in factories ensures their safety and provides a healthier working condition.
Because mobile buildings are made of pieces, they have to be stronger than other forms of architecture in order to be sustainable. They need to be harder and less breakable. Such limited condition has led to a revolution in construction materials. Architects have come up with materials never used before, such as Phlabenia, which is not only cheap in price but also easily foldable and incumbent to water and fire. Jang Young-chul (CEO, Wise Architecture) says that mobile architecture and construction material help each other grow. Just as mobile architecture has allowed variations and developments in construction materials, strong and eco-friendly construction materials have enabled mobile architecture to be practical and attractive. Construction materials and mobile architecture are in a mutual relationship.
Shigeru Ban (Prof., Dep. of Environment Information, Keio Univ.) is an architect who has had full use of this advantage. Ever since he used paper as construction material at Alba Altos in Finland in 1986, Ban has continuously worked with paper tubes to build churches, museums and houses. In 2006, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Design House, Ban presented the “Papertainer Museum” which was made of 353 paper tubes and 166 container boxes. The entire process of building and dismantling did not involve any amount of concrete or cement. It was sensational. With recycled materials, Ban was successful in creating strong and eco-friendly construction materials. He has shown how “simple and trivial structure” can turn into a strong enough building and at the same time be generous to the nature and environment. Such strong and eco-friendly materials proved to be sustainable through the development of mobile architecture are also used for permanent architecture, as well.
Movements in Korea
Mobile architecture in Korea is in the research phase. Most people do not even know what it is. Not only is mobile architecture a new concept but also a seemingly unrealistic form of architecture. Mobile architecture breaks the architectural conventions that are prevalent in Korea, such as building methods, design and construction material.
Paik Jun-bum is a world-renowned architect who recently presented the “2012 BMW 7 Mobile Lounge,” a multi culture space, incorporating, galleries, concert halls, party halls and restaurants. He is a Korean architect who has experiences with and is hospitable towards mobile architecture. It is visually outstanding and at the same time practical in usage. The revolutionary design and planning of the lounge has indicated the possibility of mobile architecture in Korea. Mobile architecture has not taken a fixed position in Korea yet, but it will be applied to many different projects in the future. Paik, employed at Chang-jo Architects, works on various projects to apply skills and technology used in mobile architecture.
Another eminent Korean architect who practices mobile architecture is Jang Young-chul. Jang, the father of numerous projects that have gained him much recognition, has launched at least one mobile architecture project each year since 2010, and his works range from “Mobile Study Room” and “Mobile Box Gallery” to “The House of Lee Sang.” One thing significant with his works is “leisure and publicity.” For all his projects, Jang worked with local residents in respective areas. Having experienced the possibility of people actually participating in building a building together as a collective force, Jang claims that he has found hope in the public element of mobile architecture. For usual constructions, this cannot happen, for the job is dangerous even for construction workers. Because mobile architecture allows people to participate in the mantling process, it is possible to build publicity and community. In this sense, mobile architecture is not only for architecture professionals but also for those whose hobby is architecture.
According to Paik, as much as mobile architecture is d gaining popularity, it will be difficult for mobile architecture to be the ultimate form of architecture in the distant future. Yet, the potential of mobile architecture seen over the past few decades has proved how efficient and desirable it is when applied in areas that necessitate it. Perhaps it is valid to hope that mobile architecture will continue to benefit people in the future, however long and slow the journey may be.
A society full of buildings that travel around and change their forms is definitely a dream society. People will not be bound to live at one location and at the same time not lose their familiar homes and belongings. However, the ideal mobile architecture in modern days is not a magic castle. Rather, it is the moving and flexible quality that makes it magical. It is easy to think that mobile architecture is confined to moving buildings, but the reality is not so. The two architects who have experiences with mobile architecture provide different insights and answers to mobile architecture in the future.
Paik, having planned the “BMW 7 Mobile Lounge,” claims that mobile architecture will thrive as a form of technique. For instance, in a theatre, the stage set for a certain musical is a temporary structure that is dismantled as soon as the show is over. The set can be seen as a form of mobile architecture, a structure that can be easily built and removed. Paik believes that it will be extremely hard to have a society in which all buildings move. There simply is not enough space. Yet, it is possible to move certain parts of a building, just as the stage set is constantly built and removed for different shows. Application based on needs—this is what Paik calls the “flexibility” of mobile architecture, its best advantage. According to him, mobile architecture in the future will prosper in forms of application for specific projects.
Jang, however, has a contrasting view. Having experimented with mobile architecture and carried out respective projects, Jang does not believe that mobile architecture will be the “architecture of the future.” He says: “Mobile architecture is like a leisure form or a hobby for people. It derives from traditional architecture but it does not belong to typical architecture. Hence, it is impossible to say that it is the ultimate or ideal form of architecture. It never will be. Yet, because it has qualities that enable revolutions in construction materials and practical usage of space, it will thrive as a delightful pastime for people.”
Although there exist contrasting views on the future of mobile architecture, mobile architecture will remain as an interesting and pragmatic form of architecture, whether it is an application or a hobby.
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Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” The origin of architecture started with the purpose of creating a shelter. It started with simple structures like the tipi. Architecture of today also fulfills the purpose of providing people a shelter, but it plays a greater role and holds greater significance in modern society. It reflects the way we live, and in return it influences the way we live. The evolutions we have gone through have been journey together with our living environment. Architecture and life are interdependent. We have changed; it is time for us to welcome theirs in return.
<What does it look like?>
Mobile architecture boasts of its variety in design, structure and usage. The following are examples of mobile architecture that are both visually engaging and pragmatic.
1. Opera- A house with a foldable ceiling. It won the first place at the “Wallpaper 2010 Design Award.” The ceiling can open to let in warm sunlight or cool breeze.
2. Drop House- Mobile building with solar energy source. It won the “Modular Architecture Challenge” award.
3. Puma City- A multi culture space made of 24 container boxes connected.
4. H Box- A moving theater that travels around the globe.
5. Watervilla de Omval- A mobile villa on water.
6. Room-room- a portable room for one person.