Provisional architecture is a challenging field, yet some structures transcend boundaries to achieve a paradoxical state of temporary buildings that became permanent.
Temporary structures come with a shelf life and that is partly the reason why it’s such a fascinating subject for architects. It allows scope for innovation and experimentation, and liberty to choose the form and materials that grant the structure its thunder before it bites the dust.
However, some of these buildings have a lingering impact and become permanent fixtures, like the Eiffel Tower and London Eye – which now enjoy an emblematic status. While there are others that inspire revisiting and reconstructing, like London’s 1851 Crystal Palace that was later assembled in Sydenham.
Here, we discuss three classics from three generations that have gone on to achieve a paradoxical state of timeless temporary buildings.
The Sagrada Familia Schools, Barcelona
Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s architectural work has left an indelible legacy and has been a continual subject of study for generations. Dubbed as God’s architect, Gaudi was known for his ecclesiastical work and had applied the currently favoured parametric design in his practice almost a century ago, without the facility of computation technology.
While the spotlight has always been on Gaudi’s most celebrated work, the Sagrada Familia, the Schools of Sagrada Familia have quietly sat in the shadows of this iconic structure.
Built on a rectangular site of 10mx20m in the year 1909, the design avoided the rigidity of a rectangle, and in a typical Gaudiesque way took the form of an undulating fluid structure. The walls had a two layered Catalonian brick structure that offered stability and at the same time enhanced the undulating nature of the single storey building.
The three layer sinuous roof – which is the hero of this building – worked on a skeleton of conical vaults that were supported by T-beams. Its form ingeniously offered a solution to draining off water on rainy days.
Gaudi had designed the school for 150 pupils from the families that were working on the Cathedral and comprised of three classrooms with patios furnished with benches and fountains designed by the visionary architect.
The building was burnt down twice during the Spanish Civil War and has been re-built each time. It still stands proudly on the grounds of the Sagrada Familia, albeit not in its original location. To accommodate the progressing construction of the Cathedral the building’s position has now been shifted and it currently acts as the office for the Sagrada Familia basilica.
Barcelona Pavilion, Barcelona
Built in Barcelona again, this pavilion couldn’t be more different from The Sagrada Familia Schools. Proposed for the International Exposition in 1929 and designed by Mies Van De Rohe – who made the jargon ‘less is more’ popular – Barcelona Pavilion introduced a new aesthetic that stood in complete contradiction to the classical format of architecture. Linearity and clean geometry emphasised through clever use of modern materials like steel, glass and four different types of stones, allowed the spotlight to remain on space and light alone.
The modernist movement was in its nascent stage then, so people couldn’t embrace this starkly modern Pavilion and as scheduled the temporary space was demolished in 1930. But soon after, the structure drew keen interest and its modern lines haunted architects for years that followed.
Given the rising popularity of the pavilion it was decided that the structure should be reconstructed and restored to its former glory. In 1983, the construction began under the patronage of architects Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Cristian Cirici and Fernando Ramos, and it currently stands on the original site complete with the reproduction of Georg Kolbe’s sculpture Dawn and Mies’s iconic Barcelona chair.
Mies Van De Rohe had managed to display lyrical complexity through bare minimal materials that earned its place in the list of iconic modern buildings.
Cardboard Cathedral, New Zealand
Architecture by rule is not considered iconic because of how it is designed; sometimes it deserves recognition for why it is designed. Shigeru Ban’s Cardboard Cathedral in New Zealand may never achieve the iconic status that probably the previous two examples enjoy, but nonetheless it earns a mention amidst landmark temporary structures. The humanitarian architect almost always makes a permanent home in the hearts of people with his temporary structures.
The Pritzker prize winning architect – known for his sustainable emergency architecture – was invited to design a temporary Cathedral after the disastrous earthquake in 2011 crippled Christchurch town of New Zealand and resulted in massive damage to the Christchurch Cathedral.
Ban proposed a simple A-frame structure as a substitute for the damaged Cathedral and has been constructed with his trademark paper tubes and shipping containers.
Claimed to be one of the safest, earthquake-proof buildings, it has been built with 98 equally sized cardboard tubes and 8 steel shipping containers. Ban’s recycled paper tubes are coated with waterproof polyurethane and flame retardants while the A-frame is covered by a semi-transparent, polycarbonate roof.
Initially proposed as a temporary structure, now the cathedral would continue to hold its place on the Anglican Parish land where it currently stands.
We were sorely tempted to choose another Pritzker Winner and a humanitarian, late Frei Otto’s Expo ‘67 German Pavilion but, Shigeru Ban’s humble yet resourcefully efficient structure influenced our choice.
While architecture is primarily conceived with an idea of permanency, most of it just ends up being a part of an extended skyline. Only those buildings that touch a chord and create a lasting memory get their names engraved in history. Le Corbusier’s lines of appreciation for Gaudi’s work ring true in this case – ‘Only they remain and will endure who touch the sensitive hearts of people.’
Text By Shweta Salvi