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Can Flexible Design Get You to the Cutting-Edge?

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © Manky Maxblack | Flikcr

What can flexibility do for you?

Let’s exaggerate for a moment and see if we can make what is flexible, even more flexible. The goal is to get you to push some design boundaries and of course, to use the idea of “flexible design” to get your architecture to that “cutting-edge”.

Of course, there is a find line between extreme flexibility and that ultimate point where something just breaks. But for now, let’s take a look at the following list which I’ve put together to get you thinking about how you can take full advantage of flexibility for your future designs.

The aim here is to design architecture that is both technologically, scientifically and aesthetically advanced, but to do this in a most humane and occupant-centered manner.

To get started, try asking yourself the following four questions and see if you can “strip away” what you take for granted to bring an innovative edge to your work:

1. How might my designs change if I could reinvent any building material with whatever properties I specify?

Nanotechnology will bring a new type of flexibility into the forefront of architecture. As we speak, materials are getting smarter from the bottom up (at the nano scale).

What you generally think a material can do today, will likely change into tomorrow. Glass will span wider distances, concrete will self repair and other materials will be stronger than steel (and weigh less). Nanotechnology can change what you think you know about material behavior.

2. If my building’s surfaces (regardless of thickness) could sense and actuate, what would I have them do for my building occupants? Both for the entire group and for its individuals? 

Buildings skins are already gaining ability to breathe and to sense and interact with their exterior and interior environments simultaneously. Skins are becoming smarter, not just because of the materials being used to make them, but also because of the strategies being used to optimize the notion of “surface”. Can you make your building skins “breathe”?

3. What varying internal or external conditions do I want to keep “constant” for certain individual occupants? Or for a whole group of occupants? How?

Believe it or not, asking yourself how you would go about keeping something constant, immediately exposed all of the “variations” you would have to account for. Suddenly it becomes clear, for instance, that to keep temperature constant you need to account for location, season, personal preference and time of day. What better way to get you thinking of how you can “play” upon the notion of “flexibility”.

4. How might I take what I find to be a beautiful experience or thing and present it in totally new form for my occupants to enjoy? How can I manipulate it to make it something new?

Pushing your design instincts to intuitive extremes can often have great results. Capitalize on architecture’s ability to surprise, inspire, calm and bring spirit to your occupants. Being creative means knowing the right time to push the boundaries — and finding moments that lend themselves to greater flexibility.


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 multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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