Across the world, permanence and impermanence have pervaded architectural traditions. The Romans constructed enduring architecture as symbols of their long-lasting reign, asserting their status and reputation. Conversely, Japanese architecture long embraced ideas of change and renewal, evident in the ritualistic rebuilding of Shinto shrines in a practice known as “shikinen sengu”, where the shrine is purposefully dismantled and reconstructed every 20 years. 

Amidst the climate crisis, how do these tenets apply to modern architectural design? 

Pride and obsolescence 

Structures are still being created as symbols of power, prominence and pride-like Olympic stadiums, which represents a country’s ability to host global events and leave behind iconic landmarks. These structures often become obsolete once the events conclude, raising concerns about their long-term viability and sustainability. 

The Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, the Athens Olympic Complex and the Montreal Olympic Stadium have burdened future generations with high maintenance costs. 

Contemporary architecture 

In a consumer society that seemingly embraces “planned obsolescence”, buildings must be continually updated or demolished to make room for new constructions. The rise of online shopping and changing consumer preferences have made traditional shopping malls irrelevant. Architects and designers now face the challenge of reimagining spaces in a rapidly evolving world, adjusting to varying needs and shifting societal behaviours. 

Metabolist architecture 

Structurally acknowledging that Japanese cities were in a constant state of growth, the Metabolist movement sought to create dynamic buildings that would metabolise to meet expected future needs. However, a significant oversight was the failure to anticipate that the movement itself would eventually become outdated. 

The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, designed by Kisho Kurokawa, is an example of ambitious Metabolist architecture. The tower was conceived as a modular system, with individual pods capable of adapting to different uses and being moved in and out of a central core structure. The innovative design ultimately failed to live up to its promise of transformability. 

Credit: John Gollings 

Ephemeral architecture 

Responding to the fast-paced nature of our contemporary world, ephemeral architecture focusses on creating structures and spaces designed for a limited lifespan, ranging from hours to a few years. By embracing impermanence, resources are utilised efficiently, and structures can be easily dismantled and repurposed. offering flexibility and adaptability. 

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival offers immersive experiences through temporary structures – however, the construction and dismantling of these structures often require substantial resources and generate significant waste. Issues such as the use of non-recyclable materials and excessive energy consumption have raised concerns about the sustainability practices of these events. 

Future architecture 

Architects are faced with the challenge of designing for a future that is ever-changing and increasingly complex to predict. Balancing the desire for architectural permanence and cultural preservation, with the need to adapt and evolve, becomes a crucial question. 

Issue: Is sustainable architecture meant to be permanent or impermanent?  
Solutions: The paradox of longevity and adaptability demands exploration, where both are embraced. 

Sustainable architecture  

By definition, the term “sustainable” explicitly indicates durability and longevity. However, it is also closely associated with ideas of a minimal environmental impact, implying that sustainable architecture should be transient, evolving and “light”. This paradox demands exploration and introspection.  

Full acknowledgement and thanks go to for the information in this editorial. Original article written by Ankitha Gattupalli: “The paradox of sustainable architecture: Durability and transience.” 

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