Ephemeral architecture

It is known as ephemeral architecture that art or technique of projecting and building buildings that are passengers, that last a short time. The ephemeral has been a constant in the history of architecture, although it is necessary to distinguish between constructions designed for temporary use and those that, despite being made with durability in mind, present a brief expiration due to various factors, especially the poor quality of materials (wood, adobe, plaster, cardboard, textiles), in cultures that would not have sufficiently developed solid construction systems.

The ephemeral architecture was usually used for celebrations and parties of all kinds, such as set design or decoration for a specific act, which was dismantled after the latter took place. It exists from the old art (it is in the origin of forms like the triumphal arch, whose ephemeral model was fixed in permanent constructions during the Roman Empire); and it was very usual in the European courts during the Renaissance and especially in the Baroque.

Despite its circumstantial nature, the ephemeral one has been a recurrent and relevant architecture. From baroque sets to contemporary installations, in the ephemeral, each epoch has given shape to its idea of celebration, and has materialized it with the technique available at that time. Today the ephemeral continues to fulfill these playful and experimental functions, but also aspires to channel new ideas about public space and social participation, halfway between the city and nature.

In the social context, there are different ways of including ephemeral architecture: for specific events (traditional ephemeral architecture), as a way of life (nomadic architecture), as a requirement of a society that venerates change (obsolescent architecture); as a need (emergency architecture).

Traditional ephemeral architecture
That architecture that is ephemeral due to its eventuality.

Old Age
There are few documents of realizations thought with an ephemeral duration, rather on the contrary, both the Egyptian and the Greek and Roman architecture stand out for their monumentality and the lasting desire of their constructions, especially the religious ones. The ephemeral constructions occurred especially in public ceremonies and celebration of military victories, or in celebrations related to kings and emperors. Thus, there is a valuable testimony of a pavilion erected by Ptolemy II of Egypt to celebrate a banquet, related by Athenaeum:

Four of the columns were in the shape of palm trees, while those in the center looked like tirsos. Outside the columns, on three sides, there was a portico with a peristyle and vaulted ceiling, where the entourage of the guests could be placed. Inside, the pavilion was surrounded by purple curtains, except for the spaces between the columns, adorned with skins of extraordinary variety and beauty.

Modern Age, Renaissance and Baroque
The splendor of the ephemeral architecture took place in the Modern Age, in the Renaissance and -especially- the Baroque, epochs of consolidation of the absolute monarchy, when the European monarchs sought to elevate their figure over that of their subjects, resorting to all kinds of propagandistic and exalting acts of its power, in political and religious ceremonies or celebrations of playful nature, that showed the magnificence of its government. One of the most frequent resources were the triumphal arches, erected for any event such as military celebrations, royal weddings or visits of the monarch to various cities: there are several testimonies in this regard, such as the triumphal arch at Porte Saint-Denis for the entrance of Henry II in Paris in 1549, the arch in the Pont Nôtre-Dame for the entrance of Charles IX in Paris in 1571, the triumphal arch of Maximilian I designed by Dürer in 1513, the triumphal arch for the entrance of Charles V in Bruges in 1515, the arch for the entrance of Prince Philip (future Felipe II of Spain) in Ghent in 1549, etc.

During the Baroque, the ornamental, ornate and ornate character of the art of this time showed a transient vital sense, related to the memento mori, the ephemeral value of riches in the face of the inevitability of death, in parallel to the pictorial genre of the vanitas. This sentiment led us to value in a vitalist way the transience of the moment, to enjoy the light moments of recreation that life gives, or celebrations and solemn acts. Thus, births, weddings, deaths, religious acts, or royal coronations and other ceremonial or ludic acts, were clothed in a pomp and an artifice of a theatrical nature, where great assemblies were elaborated that agglutinated architecture and decorations to provide an eloquent magnificence to any celebration, that became a spectacle of almost cathartic character, where the illusory element, the attenuation of the border between reality and fantasy, acquired special relevance.

Baroque art sought the creation of an alternative reality through fiction and illusion, resorting to foreshortening and illusionist perspective, a trend that had its maximum expression in the party, the playful celebration, where buildings such as churches or palaces, or a neighborhood or a whole city, they became the theaters of life, in scenarios where reality and illusion were mixed, where the senses were subverted to deception and artifice. The Counter-Reformation Church had a special role, which sought with pomp and pageantry to show its superiority over the Protestant churches, through acts such as solemn masses, canonizations, jubilees., processions or papal investiture. But just as lavish were the celebrations of the monarchy and the aristocracy, with events such as coronations, weddings and royal births, funerals, visits of ambassadors, any event that would allow the monarch to deploy his power to admire the people. Baroque parties meant a conjugation of all the arts, from architecture and plastic arts to poetry, music, dance, theater, pyrotechnics, flower arrangements, water games, etc. Architects like Bernini or Pietro da Cortona, or Alonso Cano and Sebastián Herrera Barnuevoin Spain, they contributed their talent to such events, designing structures, choreographies, illuminations and other elements, which often served as a testing ground for more serious future accomplishments: thus, the baldachin for the canonization of Santa Isabel de Portugal served Bernini for his future design of the baldachin of San Pedro, and the quarantore (sacred theater of the Jesuits) by Carlo Rainaldi was a model of the church of Santa Maria in Campitelli.

Contemporary Age
In the Contemporary Age, the phenomenon of universal exhibitions stands out, fairs of samples made in cities around the world that showed the scientific, technological and cultural advances to the population, and that became authentic spectacles of masses and in large advertising showcases for companies or countries that promoted their products. These exhibitions were held in venues where each country or company built a pavilion to promote themselves, which were buildings or structures designed in an ephemeral way to last only as long as the exhibition lasted. However, many of these constructions were conserved due to their success or to the originality of their design, becoming a bench for testing and promoting the work of numerous architects. In these exhibitions the first experiments were carried out on new typologies and materials characteristic of thecontemporary architecture, such as construction with concrete, iron and glass, or the important development of interior design favored especially by modernism. The first universal exhibition took place in London in 1851, and was famous for the Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton, a large glass palace with an iron structure, which despite being preserved was destroyed by a fire in 1937. Thereafter and until now there have been numerous exhibitions, many of which have revealed great architectural achievements, such as that of Paris in 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was built; that of Barcelona in 1929, which left the German Pavilion of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; the one of Brussels of 1958, that deparo the Atomium, of André Waterkeyn; the of Seattle in 1962, famous for the Space Needle; that of Montreal in 1967, with the United States Pavilion in the form of a geodesic dome, the work of Buckminster Fuller; that of Seville in 1992, which bequeathed a theme park (Isla Mágica) and various office buildings and technological development (Cartuja 93); or the one in Lisbon in 1998, which left the Oceanarium.

Finally, we should mention the rise of ice architecture since the mid-twentieth century, especially in the Nordic countries – as is logical given the special climatic circumstances that require this type of construction – where various types of buildings have started to proliferate in ice as hotels, museums, palaces and other structures generally conceived for public use and with a playful or cultural character. These constructions are based on traditional structures such as the igloo, the typical dwelling of the Eskimos, but they have evolved incorporating all the theoretical and technical advances of modern architecture. Among other buildings made on ice, it is worth highlighting theIce hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, built in 1990 provisionally and maintained thanks to the success of the initiative, being redecorated every year with the participation of various architects, artists and students from various disciplines.

Except in the case of architecture with ice, which hosts functions usually reserved for traditional architecture and needs to be preserved to survive, the construction methods used for this type of ephemeral architecture, as well as materials, do not differ much from those used in the traditional architecture. This and the fact that the societies in which it was developed was propitious to venerate the monumentality, and the success of some of the constructions of the universal exhibitions, caused that many of these buildings finally were conserved. Currently, that architecture that can best be compared with this type of event building, is the exhibitions (in museums, the street, etc.) and thecinematic or theatrical scenographies. It is worth mentioning the relationship between ephemeral architecture and citizen cartography, and its relationship with the decision-making power of the user, who sometimes becomes the architect of his part of the space. It can happen that concrete parts of a building are movable, to configure a space in a momentary way in which each one can adapt the conditions to the most suitable ones for himself.

Nomad architecture
Portable domestic architecture, one that is ephemeral due to its translationality. The architecture, in its origin, was born being ephemeral, and today certain tribes continue with this lifestyle. There are theoretical projects that transfer this concept to the city, such as the New Babylon, developed from 1948 by Constant Nieuwenhuys. A utopia on a planetary scale, which calls for the return to nomadic origins thanks to the perfection of the machine, which frees the human being from its tasks (food manufacturing, etc.). In this way, a new evolution of the human being, the homo ludens, that freed from their occupations can be devoted to art and happiness. For this achievement the world must be conceived from the freedom of elections and therefore of movements.

New Babylon does not stop anywhere (because the earth is round); it knows no borders (because there are no longer national economies), nor collectivities (because humanity is fluctuating). Any place is accessible to everyone and everyone. The whole planet becomes the house of the inhabitants of the earth. Everyone changes places when they want. Life is an endless journey through a world that is transformed so quickly that it seems different each time.

L’Architecture Mobile (1958) by Yona Friedman and the Plug-in-City (1964) by Archigram are also examples of the approach of mega – structures that host this type of utopian cities. The cycle is closed. If the human being becomes sedentary because he discovers the benefits of cultivation, past millennia the machines free him from such a task, so he can put his house back in his backpack and travel the world.

Obsolescent architecture
Architecture that is ephemeral due to its temporality. Architectural types that until now had always been conceived to remain, like the house, are now thought to be able to be dismembered and their parts reused. It is the legacy of industrial society that allows us prefabricadas.Tal architecture homes and as proposed Sigfried Giedion in the First Congress of CIAM,

“Conscious of the deep disturbances contributed to the social structure by machinery, the transformation of the economic order and social life implies a transformation of the architectural phenomenon.”

Unlike the nomadic architecture, the structure of the world maintains its sedentarism, but the elements that we find inside it every day are projected to change at a higher speed: the latest generation mobile, fashionable clothes, fast food… these are terms established in the collective unconscious that induces us to enhance the value of change and speed. It is positive, within this way of conceiving the times of use, that a rising value is also the ecology, since the reuse of these obsolete parts is the antidote against landfills. There is a prevailing trivialization in many social aspects with the domain of the ephemeral, of the disposable. We are not only tolerant but enthusiastic about garbage-jobs, garbage-companies, garbage-stores, junk-furniture, garbage-houses, garbage-families, junk-programs and junk-books. This strategy goes through the elimination of the qualities of things. In the words of José Luis Pardo:

The only way to maintain the type – and this is the great idea we are talking about – is that things originally lack properties (that is, that they are garbage in advance, without their conversion into rubbish deriving from the waste generated by the use.
How does architecture imply such a dynamic? Will the lack of characterization (an architecture without attributes) be the path to leave no trace, both in its useful life and when it is knocked down, lost, dismantled? Is the peace of the retired matter over? Are the ruins gone?

Emergency architecture
Architecture that is ephemeral due to its economy of resources. Based on the immediate constructions, the fundamental premise is the rapid response required for its realization. That it is going to lose its use, to be dismembered or to change its place, it lacks interest. The important thing is to solve a specific need at a certain time, in the simplest way. It can be related to moments of natural catastrophes, as is the case of Paper House of Shigeru Ban (1995) to provide a temporary home to several victims of the Kobe earthquake; or with social sectors with few resources to which they want to provide a higher quality of life. The latter case is more related to theself-construction as liberation from the bonds of capitalism, the construction of greater solidarity among men, a condition of life in harmony with nature, and the feeling of being the architects of a new beginning. The Rural Studio of Alabama and the Open City of Ritoque (Valparaíso) are examples of this field of architectural experimentation.


Life, nowadays, is unpredictable. “Everyone changes places when they want to. Life is an endless journey through a world that is transformed so quickly that it seems different each time. ” 9 The ephemeral architecture is understood to respond to a concrete act and can be dismantled after having responded to it. You can always return to the origin, unlike the permanent constructions, in which the place is conditioned.

The world changes constantly and increasingly faster. This type of architecture adapts quickly to the needs of the place. It can be re-modeled constantly, just like the needs. 10 The permeability of this architecture allows it to be assembled and dismantled by the users themselves. Currently any country or city is likely to encounter different emergency situations: situations arising from extreme weather events, pandemicsor moments in which factors of political, military or civil disturbance intervene. In this sense, the ephemeral architecture has an important task to be solved in order to get temporary shelters and shelters for the victims of any kind, showing their more solidary character.

It is about creating an architecture with innovative solutions in terms of miniaturization, self-construction and new materials. It has been reflected above all in emergency solutions due to wars or natural catastrophes. Conditions such as lightness, economy, speed and simplicity of assembly and disassembly, storage, sustainability, minimum, collective, transportable, reusable, prefabrication…, require the most innovative aspect of architectural research.

Low cost
Generalized concept in the 60s with fast food chains. In this consumer society have appeared, in all media companies “Low cost” of services, communications, industrial, technological, automotive and even air. In ephemeral architecture is one of the priority concepts that allows and motivates quick operations to experiment, investigate and propose models and constructive methods that are more advanced and visionary than traditional architecture allows us.

Economy of resources
This type of architecture adapts economically to the needs of the place. It takes into account the existing, either by nearby materials, or by taking into account the environment. Non-permanent architecture should not be exempt from its environment. The structural design should be the most appropriate to optimize resources.

Waste management
There are many economic and social problems that change the way things are done. Today, many believe that architecture should optimize resources and be low cost. It can be achieved through the use of recycled and recyclable materials, with reversible constructions. Once the building does not need the materials can be returned to the company or reused for another construction, avoiding debris.

Do it yourself
Reversible autoconstructions where users can decide what divisions and connections they want to make according to the use they need. Countercultural movement transferable to any area of daily life. Although it is also associated with anti- capitalist movements, by rejecting the idea of always buying other things that one can create or manufacture. From the 1950s, the ability of each person to build their own home is made available to society, supported by the emergence of new materials such as plastics, which are characterized by their lightness and ease of transport, in addition to simplifying the connections of different parts. Each person owns their own environment, their own habitat. The possibility appears that the individual becomes a contemporary nomad. In addition, the user is the one who decides if it works and must remain or if he has completed his assignment.

Main authors
AntFarm: At the end of the 60s in the United States, a group of architects, philosophers, film directors and artists made numerous perfomances, audiovisuals, collections of slides such as Enviro-images,clandestine television programs such as Top Value Television, manuals of inflatable architecture such as the lnflatocookbook, manifestos such as the Cowboy Nomad, or bound books like Real © ity, all with the aim of setting new environments for a new way of life. A proposal with different mobile, inflatable, mechanical and technological elements that produce the necessary effects to make habitable any support with a vital architecture, alternative, nomadic, utopian and experimental, because it believes that “the ambiguous society of today forces static life patterns “.

Archigram: Founded in 1962 by: Warrend Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Rom Herrom and Michael Webb, they make a series of technological, futuristic and utopian proposals that opt for an ephemeral architecture destined to be consumed like any other product of the society.

Future Systems: Based in England and founded by Jan Kaplicky and Aman da Levete, they propose three technological, mobile, transformable, autonomous, sustainable homes by means of solar and wind energy, in capsules, prefabricated, and lightweight. On the one hand they could be understood as a revision and updating of the fundamental aspects raised from Buckminster Fuller to the generation of the masters of the 60s with whom Kaplicky and Levete were trained, and on the other, as visionaries of the world that is to come from the 21st century.

Shigeru Ban: He manages to develop an emergency architecture from the social responsibility of the architect through experimentation and the new (old) materials, the low cost, the temporary dimension, the low tech, the existing, the structural design, the waste management, the struggle with regulations, commitment, participation, flexibility and rejection by media architecture. The Shigeru homes are designed to be constantly remodeled, just like the needs. They are easy to build, the same users can do it.

Santiago Cirugeda: He is one of the most innovative architects of the Spanish urban scene. His proposals on issues of occupation and resistance have given him international recognition in the field of ” guerrilla architecture “. With his project Recetas Urbanas, he is dedicated to providing legal advice. Projects that reflect the idea of ephemeral architecture, they take into account the needs of the individual, the area where you are and the circumstances of the moment. Defines an economic project, which adapts to the demand and can even be self-constructed. He believes in non-permanent architecture, which is why many of his projects can be dismantled once he loses the utility for which he was created. In the documentary Spanish dream Cirugeda explains his way of understanding architecture “I have no interest in making architecture that lasts 300 years, but make an architecture that serves temporary states because there are situations in the city that are developed by people who promptly, for years, he will work there or will live there ».

Notable works
Endless House. Frederick John Kiesler, 1924
For more than 30 years, the Viennese architect FJ Kiessler investigates, speculates and experiments in an indeterminate, transformable, self-constructed, self-supporting, versatile, infinite, mutable and ergonomic architecture. The Endless House project, where the author explores the architectural possibilities of spaces in infinite development, capable of adapting to changing environmental conditions, never constant, always in evolution, of biomorphic configuration. The architecture “Infinite as the human being, without beginning or end”.

Removable house for beach. GATCPAC, 1932
A type of wooden dwelling, minimum, self-built and demountable for the holiday period in Catalonia. The whole of the house must be first of all manageable: volume, weight, surface and reduced cost. The house can be expandable and is supplied with the indispensable furniture. It is intended to live in harmony with the landscape and nature without damaging the natural environment.

Maisons to Portiques. Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier, 1945
Together with Jean Prouvé, they designed and produced 400 demountable pavilions as temporary shelters for the victims after the liberation of France during the Second World War known as Maisons a Portiques. No element should exceed 100 kilos or measure more than 4 meters to respond to the idea of quick and simple assembly, without technical aids, that could be transported at once in a truck. The joints and connections had to be tension-free, even in the case of a technical deformation; the facades had to be integrated by interchangeable elements.

Village in cardboard. Guy Rottier, 1960
PPropone new and unprecedented architectures, corresponding to another way of living, coupled with new materials that began to invade the construction market. His proposals deal with the architecture of camouflage, evolutionary, solar, ephemeral, of vacations, of recuperation… In his Village in cardboard he proposes a holiday village in cardboard cells without doors or windows. The entire space is public and does not offer “comfort”. The roofs will be generated by the users with the objective that the holiday makers are active, relate and communicate with each other. The houses would be burned at the end of the holidays.

Plug in city. Archigram,: 1962 – 1966
A megastructure that did not have buildings, only a large frame in which housing or service capsules could be fitted in the form of cells or standardized components. Each element had a durability; the tubular structure based 40 years, in the capsules varies according to its program, from 6 months of time for a commercial premises, to 5-8 years for bedrooms and living rooms. At the top an inflatable balloon is activated in bad weather.

Living Pod. David Greene, Archigram, 1966
It is a habitat-capsule that can be inserted into an urban structure called a plug-in, or it can be transported and perched on any natural landscape. A hybrid architecture, hermetic, small, comfortable and technological, constituted by the space itself and by the machines connected to it; “The house is a device to be transported with itself, the city is a machine to which you connect”. Although comparable to a capsule Living Pood does not have autonomy for it in 1969 proposed the Logplug – Rockplug. Real simulations of logs and rocks that serve to hide service points for semi-autonomous life containers. They go unnoticed, perfectly adapted to the landscape and contribute to any environment a high degree of technological support without detriment to natural beauty.

Peanut. Future Systems, 1984
Rural shelter that is mounted on a standard articulated hydraulic arm. The unit is for two people, you can move in the air, land and water according to the purpose, activity or time. It is a kinetic response to life, allowing inhabitants to control the appearance or orientation of the capsule according to mood, activity and time, leaving behind the fixed point of view of static housing.

Pao 1 & 2 of the nomad girls from Tokyo. Toyo Ito, 1989
It is a project of the mid -eighties, a concept of house scattered throughout the city, where life passes while using the fragments of the space of the city in the form of a collage. For her the living room is the cafe-bar and the theater, the dining room is the restaurant, the closet is the boutique, and the garden is the sports club.

Basic house. Martín Ruiz de Azúa, 1999
Proposal that tries to demonstrate that the habitat can be understood in a more essential and reasonable way, keeping a more direct relationship with the environment. Almost immaterial volume that swells from the heat of our own body or the sun, so versatile that it protects us from cold and heat, so light that it floats.

Pink Project. Graph Architects, 2008
Produced by the Make it Right Foundation. It was conceived as an informative-commemorative tool to create awareness and activate individual participation, which would make it possible to alleviate the needs of those affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Thousands of people were left unprotected and unprotected, and the objective was to obtain funds for the reconstruction of the destroyed houses. Given the strong visual and metaphorical potential that would be installed in the area devastated a village of “houses” pink, Pink was the virtual city of hope, a hybrid between art, architecture, film, media and strategies to raise money.

Paper Log House. Shigeru Ban, 1955
For the victims of the Kobe earthquake. These emergency homes have been built twice more, in Turkey in 2000 and India in 2001. Self-built with a maximum economy of means, they use boxes of soda filled with sand as a foundation, and walls built with cardboard tubes with insulating capacity and resistant to rain once protected with a paraffin primer. The canvas cover, attached to an equally cardboard truss, can be removed and separated in summer to allow ventilation. The material cost of a unit of 52m2 is less than 2,000 dollars, and the assembly is designed to be carried out by the victims themselves and volunteers. The emergency housing took to build between 6 and 10 hours.

Source from Wikipedia