Flexible design relates to a building or a space crafted with a base build that can be repurposed, within reason, to cater for market changes and secure a greater lifespan for the project. When we design, there are a multitude of considerations that usually drive the process in its entirety from concept, and one such consideration is a market validation study, which is often key to supplement the projected use of the space.
Architecture that doesn’t respond well to change runs the risk of stagnation. There are many examples of now derelict buildings across the world that were once considered an emblem of contemporary design, but that fell into disrepair when human cultural shifts defied the original purpose for which they were built.
However, there are also buildings that date back hundreds of years, subsequently adapted to reconcile with evolving trends. Meeting the challenge of creating genuinely responsive and flexible architecture begins with taking into account key examples of these historically successful buildings, where the end-use was changed or re-imagined at some point.An immediate advantage to refurbishing or reimagining older buildings is that they already exist; therefore it is not necessary to demolish a building or create new building materials, and the infrastructure may already be in place. Sometimes only minor modifications are needed to adapt existing buildings for new uses, and systems can be upgraded to meet modern building requirements and codes. This not only makes good economic sense, but preserves the legacy and is an inherently sustainable practice, intrinsic as a component of whole building and lifespan design.
The benefits of flexible architecture are extensive. The building will, of course, remain in use far longer, and will fit its purpose while accommodating the end-user experience in a much more dynamic way than that of a rigid design. In addition, flexible design opens itself up to encouraging creativity and taking advantage of innovation, while being more economically and ecologically feasible. If a piece of architecture is able to remain relevant throughout the ages as an attractive place for people to gather, that is the aspiration, surely, for any design. Our solution in this regard effectively aims to future-proof the product we design.
During BSBG’s work in delivering Zaha Hadid’s The Opus for developer Omniyat, the initial plan for the building was as a commercial tower, and this remained the case well after the core of the building had been constructed. However, the client’s vision for the building changed during a transitional period in Dubai that resulted in a diverse mixed-use proposal – with requirements for office, residential and a hotel component. BSBG had to apply significant technical expertise and ensure not only multiple stacked uses worked, but also meet compliance with the local authority codes and best practice. Mixed-use projects, such as The Opus, have a far greater chance of standing the test of time, beyond aesthetic architectural recognition, because they are set up for multiple uses from the outset.
The success of architecture has to be connected directly to the degree of flexibility it presents in its use. As humans, we will alter our own environments to our own tastes or requirements. We give added character, and create an identity that transforms a ‘space’ into a ‘place’. A key principle of modern design is how to provide an architectural canvas that can accommodate a range of different ‘places’ during its lifecycle.