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When Flexible Design Calls for More than Modularity

Different needs surface that often require for a flexible design. Just think of how a home might need to grow or shrink (as the family does), or how a business may grow and change (as will its office building). Also, even within a school classroom, functions change multiple times a day.

Modularity is one way to deal with and accommodate flexible design, but an additional way is through adaptable design. This can include aspects like smart materials, interactive surfaces, or kinetics.

Thus, as you design for a flexible building — it may help to think beyond the modular. Think in terms of meeting occupant needs with transient architectural features that morph in real-time. Take advantage of the adaptive so that you will have more “tools” in your design “tool belt”.

You’ll be able to design architecture that may need to change every decade or every minute. By taking advantage of what smart materials, interactive surfaces, and kinetics can do — you will even know how to use modularity in more intelligent ways.

For example, think of a building’s skin. Often with modularity, this skin is used to segment space in various “flexible” configurations. But what if you could take this skin a step further? What if it could morph in real-time to meet changing occupant needs? What if that building skin was made up of smart materials, interactive surfaces, and kinetic mechanisms that allowed for greater, more meaningful, transience?

As you can see, modularity will take you so far — but it is nice to think beyond modularity so you know how to use it best. Combine modularity with skin adaptability and you will have a flexible design that may change every decade or every minute.

As new tools emerge, think more than just about shifting modules. Thinking about how they can morph in real-time — materialistically, kinetically, and interactively. Your design will be that much stronger.

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what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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