Stásis: A Critique of Flexibility in Architecture

Eftaxiopoulos, Georgios (2020). Stásis: A Critique of Flexibility in Architecture. PhD thesis The Open University.



Flexibility, nowadays, constitutes the canon. From street advertisements and the provision of services to mobile contracts and employment relations, it permeates everything around us. The term’s omnipresence in today’s life and culture resonates with the same intensity across the entire architectural profession and industry. Design briefs, competition proposals, built structures, and architectural texts, are only a fraction of the areas within the discipline that have adopted the word, repetitively emerging as the sole principle used to describe and define every architectural project at any stage. Its qualities aim to present a solution to our contemporary precarious lifestyle and condition of flux. Thus, to make users feel empowered and achieve living spaces able to accommodate a series of different needs, flexibility has become a positive notion for any architect at any level in his career. Simultaneously, the term is employed as the inescapable keyword able to convince clients and developers to initiate or further develop an architectural project. It is utilized as an argumentative tool, which stresses the capacity for change while conveying a feeling of reassurance. It has become the ‘magic wand’ that architects adopt both spatially and rhetorically to celebrate and ultimately realize their projects. However, no matter how frequently the term is used in the architectural domain, it has never been thoroughly addressed and studied.

This thesis investigates flexibility and sets forward a critical reading that moves beyond its association to the concept of form, arguing that the only way to make final sense of the term in architecture is through its link to the economy. Yet, rather than addressing flexibility as a contemporary notion and concentrating on the pivotal moment after which the term was widely adopted—the shift from the industrial to the post-industrial economic model—, the thesis constructs an archaeology of the concept. It addresses the moment in history when flexibility emerged as a key concept through the presentation of four paradigmatic case studies that lie at the intersection of the architectural and economic shifts of their times: the West India Docks (1802), the Crystal Palace (1851), the Fun Palace (1964) and the MPK20 (2015). It is via these examples that this research-by-design project unveils flexibility’s strange paradox: on the one hand, enabling change and potential, and on the other, dictating it. In this sense, the work unfolds flexibility’s ideological myth and re-establishes its contemporary understanding by means of its conceptualization through the idea of stasis. It claims that, within our constant flux, the term emerges as a technique to achieve a state of stillness and stability, relinquishing change and fixity as a mutually exclusive condition. Without distinguishing between ‘bad flexibility’ and ‘good flexibility’, this project suggests that flexibility can neither act nor represent the potential and refuge from today’s production and exploitation. It proposes a new condition and presents an architectural grammar: a new system that rethinks the city as storage.

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