Durability and stability define everything that is not subject to change and that falls under the broader umbrella of permanent. Historically, architecture has longed for eternity with the exception of those structures specifically built for temporary events such as the Universal Exhibitions. However, even these events can count a few exceptions where temporary constructions have unexpectedly become permanent. Today, temporary events are much more frequent than they used to be in the past, from sports competitions like the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games to the seasonal exhibitions of the Serpentine Gallery in London or the MOMA PS1 in New York. Here again, some projects are able to survive and become part of the urban context. Unfortunately, the passage from temporary to permanent doesn’t necessarily lead to good outcomes.
In fact, in case of natural events like earthquakes or floods, displaced people are immediately provided with emergency shelters. In these cases, huge attention is often given in the aftermath of a disaster with quick actions to meet basic needs, but once the spotlights turn off, the real reconstruction process is hardly activated. Conceived with neither comfort nor durability requirements, temporary architecture turn out to be permanent leaving its beneficiaries deeply unsatisfied.
On one hand we are witnessing exceptional situations becoming ordinary ones, but on the other hand we need to acknowledge that today the boundaries of what we once considered as “permanent” are blurring and mixing with “temporary” situations.
We are living in a society that is characterized by the absence of reference points, where everything has become more fragile and can easily dissolve. We are the liquid society described by Zygmunt Bauman. The reduction in the lifespan of many interventions is becoming more and more frequent and it reflects the trends of a society where everything changes and becomes obsolete very quickly. Commercial stores open and renovate quite often, keeping pace with new trends; while large-scale interventions that undergo intricate bureaucratic schedules run the risk of being outdated long before their completion because the surrounding context is likely to have changed in the meantime.
As a consequence, the limits between temporary and permanent are not so clear anymore. Today architectural projects are expected to satisfy a wide range of requirements that belong to both categories. First of all, durable building materials for long-lasting interventions should be preferred over short-lived ones. Furthermore, they should either be reusable or recyclable in order to meet the required measures for a sustainable development. And last, each project should be as much flexible as possible through the use modular solutions that can easily adapt to future changes.
The role of architecture in liquid times is taking different shapes than in the past and is moving away from the idea of having buildings that are stable and eternal symbols to be preserved for future generations. If some of the most beautiful architectures in Rome belong to the Renaissance period when the Popes used to express their power through the urban renovation, the legacy of modern society is relying much more on visual arts and extemporaneous performances. From static elements to moving environments that are able to renovate and adapt according to the evolution of the surrounding context. In light of the above, the distinction between temporary and permanent is not possible anymore. The two of them coexist in a changing balance.