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Adaptable Building Solutions the Answer to Change

By Salvador Rivas - S*ARC
Director General


By Salvador Rivas | Director General - Tue, 02/07/2023 - 10:00

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“It is not the strongest, nor the most intelligent of the species that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

With change being the only constant, it is truly amazing how Nature's systems, from the simplest to the more complex, have developed a capacity to change in its internal and external environments. For many years, I have been fascinated by the capacity of natural, and now artificial systems, to evolve and optimize their capabilities to better respond to their surroundings. And building systems, responsible for most of the energy consumption on our planet, during their production, construction and operation should not be an exception. 

Other industries like automotive, aerospace, and technology have already taken gigantic steps toward the optimization of their systems and products, not only to satisfy consumer preferences but also to contribute with more sustainable solutions. It is just enough to look around and notice how cars, aircraft, or cell phones have evolved in only one decade. And since the start of my career as an architect, I have been passionate about the possibilities and opportunities that a similar evolutionary process can bring into our built environment. 

I am constantly referring to the need for our industry and buildings to be adaptable  to the changes in the environment, some completely radical and unexpected, as proven by the recent pandemic. What does this adaptability really mean? And how can this be applied to our buildings? I developed my first adaptable building solution back in 2000, as the thesis for my Master in Architectural Design program at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, which was the start of my vision for the development of adaptable buildings.

This first project was for the design of a pavilion building that would physically change, like an organism, reconfiguring its structure and skin in response to the changes in the environment, such as  solar exposure and the tide levels of the River Thames in London. I then developed a project for a photokinetic house that would also respond to the changes in lighting levels in the environment, adapting its skin to provide different levels of comfort to its users. Incidentally, both projects received important design awards in the UK and Europe. 

Today, with close to 25 years of experience as an architect, this recurring theme of adaptation has become the foundation of what we do at both s*arc salvador rivas architects and neoxspace for the development of adaptable, innovative, and sustainable projects. Last November, I had the opportunity to discuss “Build-tech: modular buildings, design of a sustainable future” at an important real estate forum, where we talked about how technology can help us to optimize the way we design, build and maintain our built environment, sharing some of the following examples.

At s*arc, our first project was the design of a building prototype in the UK that would easily adapt to different site conditions, of circular shape, to redevelop former industrial infrastructure into mixed-use communities. Our solution was to design a segmented construction system that would allow the construction of concentric buildings around an inner courtyard of varying diameters The vertical cores and the floorplates were strategically designed to provide the required flexibility for future changes to the building, in both plan and section.

The next project was the design of a mixed-used building in Toluca, Mexico, with a flexible structure that could be reconfigured for changes in the future. With the support of our clients, we designed the building so the levels initially considered for an automated car park would have sufficient internal height for these to be converted into office spaces in the future. These criteria also applied to the building envelope, where elements from a prefabricated façade system could be easily replaced in the future in response to different building uses.

The following project was a large-scale urban master plan in Mumbai, India, where we had to integrate a long-established community with a new mixed-use development. Our solution was the design of a modular building system that could accommodate different residential configurations, acknowledging the cultural traditions of Indian culture. We also considered the use of a sustainable building system by incorporating the use of prefabricated panels from recycled materials, thus creating a truly integrated building system.

Another project was the design of a mixed-use building in Mexico City on a constrained site and with a level of uncertainty for its predominant building use. Our design solution was to provide a flexible structure that could be reconfigured for changes in the future, mainly from office to residential or executive suites. We addressed this by providing a spatial and façade grid that would accommodate the standards of various uses and strategically positioned vertical services' ducts to provide the required flexibility for changes in the future.

Our more recent project results from the need for real estate developers to optimizse their resources. Initially contemplated for low to midscale residential buildings, our design solution, developed with the support from a modular building manufacturer, considers a flexible building structure and services that would allow the reconfiguration of internal spaces to convert a studio apartment into a two or three-bedroom apartment within a short period of time. This project is already in the advanced stages of design and our goal is to have a built project this year. 

And the materialization of all that we do is a project that was first conceived in 2019 and which was the starting point for the foundation of neoxspace as a company focused on the research and development of new solutions for adaptable, innovative, and sustainable building systems. This project considers the optimization of ergonomics, structure, and systems to transform the current perception of modular construction into what new technologies can provide for the development of integrated building design solutions with the required flexibility for the future.

All these examples are the result of our passion and belief that the architecture, engineering, and construction industry is at the threshold of an unprecedented revolution that, supported by experience, can open up exciting opportunities for the development of innovative design solutions. These will address some of the pressing challenges that we have to achieve the environmental goals set to secure a better future for new generations and our survival as a species through our evolution and adaptability to that only constant in life: change. 

Photo by:   Salvador Rivas

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