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The 4th dimension

Time-based Architecture by Bernard Leupen, Ren Heijne, Jasper van Zwol [eds.] Paperback, 248 pages 010 Publishers, Rotterdam 2005 ISBN 90-6450-536-5 25.00

Attempts to link the time factor to architecture go back to the first half of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, many of the proponents who recognised the need of putting the three dimensional effort of shaping our urban environment into the context of changing demographic needs came from the Netherlands, a country that fought severe geographical limitations with human inventiveness. The Dutch not only pushed back the sea but also produced some of the most innovative schemes of accommodating a growing population within their restrictive boundaries. The editors Bernard Leupen and Jasper van Zwol from the Delft University of Technology and Ren Heijne from the Ruimtelab, Rotterdam follow this tradition and present their research under the title Time-based Architecture. Here they have gathered a collection of essays from different contributors taking up themes on adaptable housing that had previously been pioneered by figures like J. Brinkman & L. Van der Vlugt, Van den Broek and Mart Stam during the interwar period. The architectural response to the new socio-economic order of post war Europe found new momentum in the 60s in England with Cedric Price or the pop inspired Archigram group and with state subsidised housing schemes built across Holland by a new architectural avant-garde. Polyvalent buildings, a term borrowed from French and put into the new context by the prolific Dutchman Herman Hertzberger, describes a model of putting the same space to different use that would otherwise be occupied for only part of the day or the week. Half the volume of this attractive book is given to thirteen essays dealing with the subject of flexibility and time from different angles. The second part of the book features 29 recently completed projects of exemplary housing schemes from different countries. Many appeal for their aesthetic qualities rather than relate in any particular order to the specific criteria that had been established in the theoretical part of the book. One light-hearted example, a take on Jacques Tatis comic film Mon Oncle from the 50s, represents perhaps the most literal interpretation of polyvalence. More to the point, if the book attempts to fill a gap in the current debate around new models for urban housing it largely fails to put the time factor into the context of the all important procurement and production method of modern day housing supply.
Bernhard Blauel is the principal of Blauel Architects, London 1 February 2006 for DETAIL, Review of Architecture (386 words without italics)