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“A sustainable building is not one that must last forever, but one that can easily adapt to change.”

Peter Graham, Environment Design Guide, 2006, Royal Institute of Australian Architects

In an age of sustainability focused on the short term of carbon reduction, it is important that we maintain an understanding of the broader characteristics which make places sustainable over the longevity of time (Croxton, 2003).  As society has progressed through economic prosperity and technological innovations our personal understanding of time has grown increasingly shorter (Lawson, 1999). The disparate realities of these two perspectives on time are at the crux of shifting mindsets towards the design of a more sustainable built environment.  It encourages a more dynamic and long-term understanding of the built environment placing architecture in context and making it susceptible to its temporal reality – change.  How then, does one design for time?  Adaptability as a design characteristic embodies spatial, structural, and service strategies which allow the physical artefact a level of malleability in response to changing operational parameters over time.

The Adaptable Futures group at Loughborough University is finishing a four year research project on designing for adaptability. The project unpacks adaptability in detail looking at the complex web of dependencies that induce, hinder, and accommodate change.  The research asks what can we learn from history – how have buildings been designed for adaptability and how have they been appropriated?  It highlights layers, time, and context as primary dimensions regarding adaptability.    As a stakeholder – what strategies, tools, and guidance can one use to supplement their motivations?  The instruments provide a finer grain when thinking about adaptability clarifying how different types of change occur over different scales of time and within different layers of the building.  The unravelling of change begins to provide insights for imagining plausible scenarios when building for an unpredictable future.  Several questions must be asked to thoroughly investigate to what extent they are relevant in the given project and context – allowing different building types to change in different ways.