A New Lens of Typology for Architecture?

From "Mark My Words" published in the 2021 edition of arcCA Digest Mark Miller, FAIA


JUST WONDERING ABOUT this lens of typology for architecture. Reading the room circa 2021, does that framework still make sense?

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FOR A LONG TIME IT HAS, or at least it’s been the dominant convention. It’s often how clients organize architect selection … how firms organize practice … how awards and publications are assigned … how we orient our architects’ education.


But, hey, should the idea of designing to building types always be fundamental?

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REALITY CHECK: BUILDINGS LAST A LONG TIME – THEIR DESIGN BASIS OFTEN DOES NOT: the changing patterns of life are much faster than the functional lifespan of its architecture. Consider …


… climate change requires architecture to reverse its net climate impact in less than 20 years and possibly as soon as 5 years …1

… the duration of a job averages just over 4 years…1

… technology lifespan averages under 1.5 years …2

… business results are measured in quarters …3

… and in just a matter of days, COVID-19 required us to vacate over 95 million gsf of commercial typology-based architecture for well over a year 4… with a latent lack of confidence in many of our building types and urban systems affecting the return and reuse of these buildings for an unknown period of time.

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THE GAP between design intent and reality of need risks quick and visible obsolescence … COVID “broke” wider markets revealing that our office, restaurant, hotel, and retail types (and locations) are not as appealing nor resilient 5 … our urban transit systems, road patterns, parking rules, and sidewalks seem misaligned with user interests and tech developments 6 … even hospitals have struggled to adjust to the demands of the pandemic and its rippling impact. 7

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COULD THERE BE MERIT in a new “type” for a new age? … an architecture with purpose based on meeting the common framework for a range of uses … inspired by its ability to adapt and change … that serves a market that values usefulness of service over time and across need … that embraces diversity and equity for access, function, and service … an architecture that responds to more universal design requirements, measured over time, and stays out of the way of future responses to changing needs.

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ONE MAY ARGUE that’s mixed-used architecture, is it? … not-so-much: that ‘type’ seems to mix different architecture types adjacent or on top of each other. That does not solve the core challenge. 8

What about adaptive reuse? … I am a fanboy for this “type,” but that only offers intensive rework of obsolete architecture to accommodate a changed world.

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WHAT IF SPACE IS … SPACE? Could a new architecture type explore what is shared rather than what sets buildings apart? Start to define this type:

… open architecture with obstructive systems and features

… horizontal and vertical servicing strategies to support rapid and inexpensive change of use

… multimode and manageable environmental systems to always provide healthy spaces …

… ground and second floors that provide a pedestrian scale site and public interface …

… introduction of natural features and ecosystems throughout for transcendent quality …

… operational and leasing expectations to support and encourage greater multiplicity and hours in use …

… updated (and perhaps less) zoning to enable flexibility at the pace of needs.

Please share ideas …?! 9

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SHIFT PRIORITIES, SHIFT RESULTS?! … encourage improved and fresh design, support urbanism and create healthier placers? Buildings certainly would more effectively and efficiently meet user needs … sucking up a lot less resources for construction and operations. Cost for renovation would also be less. Thoughtful architecture based on a typology of agility and life cycle value would create valuable utility10 and conservation contribution for a longer period of time.


Perhaps we architects can encourage a new typology, one that’s more about responds to urban context, density … one that promotes density, resource efficiency, improved utilization and the ability to adapt to the needs as they are presented. An architecture that realizes change is a constant … and is inspired accordingly.

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Mark R. Miller, FAIA, is CEO of the award-winning companies MKThink and RoundhouseOne. His professional efforts are dedicated to creating intelligent places that improve the human condition, sustainably. In addition to founding and leading these companies, Mark founded and led the venture-back high performance green modular building company Project FROG. He is a member of the arcCA Digest editorial board.

FOOTNOTES FOR MMM


1. … the duration of a job averages just over 4 years…1

https://www.fastcompany.com/1802731/four-year-career

https://www.bls.gov/ (Search press release 10 a.m. Sept 22, 2020 )


2. … technology lifespan averages under 1.5 years …2

https://siliconangle.com/2021/04/10/new-era-innovation-moores-law-not-dead-ai-ready-explode/


3. … business results are measured in quarters …3.

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/measuring-long-term-performance


4. and in just a matter of days, COVID-19 required us to vacate over 95 million gsf of commercial typology-based architecture for well over a year 4…

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/27/office-real-estate-back-to-normal-in-2025-cushman-wakefield.html


5. COVID “broke” wider markets revealing that our office, restaurant, hotel, and retail types (and locations) are not as appealing nor resilient 5 …

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-covid-broke-times-square-the-heart-of-new-yorks-economy-11601656831


6. our urban transit systems, road patterns, parking rules, and sidewalks seem misaligned with user interests and tech developments 6 …

http://carfreeamerica.net/2017/05/23/shared-mobility-complete-streets/


7. even hospitals have struggled to adjust to the demands of the pandemic and its rippling impact. 7

https://emag.medicalexpo.com/covid-19-reshapes-the-future-of-hospital-design/


8. no-so-much: that ‘type’ seems to mix different architecture types adjacent or on top of each other. That does not solve the core challenge. 8

https://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2020/07/24/will-pandemic-kill-sf-appetite-for-mixed-use.html


9. Share ideas …9

( link to comments / feedback on the Digest portal ?)


10. Cost for renovation would also be less. New architecture would have practical utility for a longer period of time. 10

https://www.cbre.com/agile-real-estate/the-financial-benefits-of-agile-real-estate?article=%7B0b866dfc-ec78-4bd2-a4a4-3f067d55fb7c%7D