Flexible. Maybe.

Architecture Book launches like exhibition private views tend to fall into two categories; those in which you happen to know people and those in which you don't. For me at least tonight's launch at the RIBA bookshop of Robert Kronenberg's new book Flexible: Architecture That Responds To Change was the latter. I'm on their email mailing list and the subject seemed interesting enough to spend some time listening to the accompanying lecture.

Inevitably I was the second person there. After taking a glass of white wine and a crisp I sat down and flicked through a brochure. Within about ten minutes an impenetrable phalanx had developed of people greeting each other -- the handshakes, the hugging, the cheek to cheek kissing, the kind of group in which its intensely difficult to make an impression because everyone is catching up with each other's lives.

In the past this kind of thing has really bothered me and bad things happened, but then I just didn't know how to interject coherently. But this is an older version of me, the one with the higher self-esteem and with a bit of effort I could have made some substantive small talk but on this occasion I simply chose not to.

Which is different. Maybe.

Instead I browsed through the books and found a small volume of photos of people with their favourite rooms in houses and stumbled upon a picture of someone's impressive collection of Doctor Who videos (yes, sorted into transmission order). Its funny how people who can say which year Pyramids of Mars was broadcast, who directed it and composed the music are called geeks. People who know the score line of a football match played by their favourite team that same Saturday, who made the goals and even who was sent off isn't.

Kronenberg's book is a survey of architecture designed with flexibility in mind - in other words it can be moved relatively easily, or constructed in unusual spaces or has the ability to be transformed in situ. The author presented photographs of apartments in which the internal walls are entirely shift able, so that the dweller can change the internal configuration to suit their needs - a giant lounge and master bedroom or a lounge, a study and two smaller bedrooms? It's the occupier's choice.

There was a giant glass community centre in a relatively minor town in Japan with four or five large, initially empty, floors (looking not unlike the Pompidou Centre in Paris) and it was up to the local people to utilize it just as they wanted to. Within a few years it had developed exhibition spaces, a library, classrooms for further education, an internet café and simply spaces were people could gather which were outside of their houses, private but still amongst people.

But there were also portable exhibition spaces using the inflatable technology of a bouncy castle or a new material as flimsy as polythene but as strong as stone and with a surface that could be manipulated to aid whatever it's purpose is; warehouses constructed from the kinds of containers used on ships that are a portable as their cargo; huts and houses created swiftly in disaster areas and designed using found materials such as beer crates and the cardboard tubes found at the centre of giant rolls of carpet.

The geographical placing of these constructions revealed cultural differences. Most of these structures could be found in the Far East, predominantly in Japan and generally, especially in relation to the houses they expected the householder to have a more relaxed attitude to privacy as the walls are made of glass or Perspex and the primary light source within the spaces is the sun.

The suggestion throughout is that most simply wouldn't work here because we value the fact that we can shut out the rest of the world - in these houses there's a totally different relationship between the interiors and exteriors which reflects that culturally there's more of a community spirit even in the giant megalopolises of Tokyo or Shanghai.

As I walked to the bus stop afterwards, having not stayed on for more drinks and doo-dats I wondered if my attitude before the lecture was a sign of me turning into a misanthrope - not in a psychopathic, I hate the human race kind of way but that embraces social alienation by not even trying to make small talk. I'm turning into a reflection of a society that doesn't tend to like glass houses.

Really, I was over thinking things. I'm really not like that. I can talk to anyone. There was the man who sat next to me thirty seconds before the show began and shook my hand and we swapped names and job titles and the time of day (literally). It was just generally on this occasion I felt like a bit of an interloper.


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