Temporary Architecture

İris Gül

Published Apr 14, 2021

To understand temporary architecture, we must first define what permanent architecture is. What is permanence and what is the time required to call a structure permanent? If a structure is demolished unintentionally, does it lose the qualification of being permanent? Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who designs temporary structures for disaster victims directs the question “After earthquakes, ‘permanent’ buildings were easily destroyed, so what is permanent?” (as cited in DeWolf, 2017, p. 84). Permanence is explained in Vitruvius’s Ten Books on Architecture as “the ability of a building to endure, based on its material strength and soundness of construction; often defying both nature’s and time’s deteriorating effects” (Touw, 2006, p. 28). However, as there is not an absolute form of permanence, it could be described as the maximum effectiveness of planned and intended performance, and durability of a structure. Temporality, at this point, could be defined as an efficient solution for making structures not as long as their materials’ lifetime, but for its specific purpose in a limited time.

In a world of production, architecture is constantly in a process of regeneration. Besides natural effects or disasters that necessitate the structures to be renewed, both the consumerist approach of users and owners and their itch to follow up rapid innovations create an unavoidable cycle. In this picture, the temporariness of architecture is inevitable. But what is to be asked here is the state in which it is efficient. The matter at hand in this paper, the kind of temporariness, is the duration of a couple of days or months. Thus, what is to be examined will be the efficacy of architecture of pavilions, expositions, temporary exhibitions, and pop-up buildings; the most visible concepts of temporary architecture which arose considerably following the modernist approaches in the 20th century and manifested itself mostly in world fairs.

First and foremost, temporary architecture has great potential in offering a flexible work environment, where the designer can try and experiment design, playing with fragments. The designer can test the users, record their reactions, challenge the design, and enhance it according to the feedbacks of the users or the needs of the context (DeWolf, 2017, p.87). The other pivotal point is the usage of materials. The temporary architectural design offers a perfect playground for experimenting with new materials or different methods to use conventional materials (Tunçbilek, 2013). It allows examining the materials in a specific context for its natural conditions and adaptability to the urban environment, as well as experimenting with the collocation of different materials and structures.

From another point of view, some products of temporary architecture bear a deeper meaning, like symbolizing the ideologies of some periods in some contexts, such as festival arches (Yürekli, 1995), or installations of participating country pavilions in world fairs. In this particular approach, experimentality is no more the purpose but a tool to discover the means for conveying the correct message. As the structures or products carry an ideology, they also become a part of history, they play a key role in the understanding of a period. They also become symbols of the years they are exhibited and take part in the literature to make a better understanding of both the architectural approaches and the political ideologies of the nations and thus feed the architectural memory.

At that point, preservation also becomes an issue. If the temporary structures are going to be destructed completely, they should be documented elaborately. Along with its technical data (plans, sections, photographs, design, etc.), their implications and effects on its particular site and the society should be documented delicately. This approach would be instructive on future architectural products. On the other side, it should be considered for some architectural products to be preserved on its own particular site, some to be dismantled and relocated to another site, or some to change its use and function for a more “permanent” use if the structure itself as a shell offers a message (University of Pretoria, n.d.).  This way, the forms of temporary architecture could be handled in three different approaches. The first one develops according to the effect of the structure on-site and on people. The second one depends according to the quality of the architectural work, and the third one on the necessity of the structure in a particular context. But what they have in common is their feeding of architectural memory. They all serve for the qualification of architectural products and to contribute to the architectural field, and for the search of new ways to qualify exhibitions to convey the desired messages.

As a result, temporary architecture in the field of exhibitions and expositions is an effective attempt to develop architecture. It feeds the search on innovations and serves for the improvement of new techniques. It enables a broader space for architects to search, explore and experience further possibilities (Tunçbilek, 2013) that are usually not convenient in permanent architecture and thus create the architects’ opportunity to improve themselves and architecture to go beyond conventionality. In any case, approaches on temporary architecture should always consider the way it should be preserved and its future condition, if essential. That way, temporary architecture could find a state of maximum efficacy and has the potential to hold out transience as a solution in ongoing architectural issues.

This paper is written within the requirements of the MIM 507 Change of Cultural Environment course at the Graduate Program in Architecture at TOBB ETU instructed by Dr. Elif Mıhçıoğlu.


DeWolf, C. (2017). Living for the Moment. CLADmag, 4, p.84-87. Retrieved from https://issuu.com/leisuremedia/docs/cladmag4_2017/80?e=1249580/54795344

Forms of Temporality. (N.d.). University of Pretoria. Retrieved from https://repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/30282/02chapter2.pdf?sequence=

Touw, K. (2006). Firmitas re-visited: Permanence in Contemporary Architecture. (Master’s thesis, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada). Retrieved from https://uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/bitstream/handle/10012/2858/kltouw2006.pdf?sequence=1

Tunçbilek, G. C. (2013). Temporary Architecture: The Serpentine Gallery Pavilions. (Master’s thesis, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey). Retrieved from http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12616546/index.pdf

Yürekli, Z. (1995). Modernleştirici Devrimlerde Geçici Mimarlık ve 1930’larda Türkiye Örneği. (Master’s thesis, İstanbul Technical University, İstanbul, Turkey). Retrieved from http://polen.itu.edu.tr