The idea of architecture as a neutral framework or scaffolding has emerged at various time throughout history, particularly at times of significant technological or social change.
The Crystal Palace, built in 1851 for the first World’s Fair, was a revolutionary structure both for its exclusive use of glass as building enclosure, as well as for its utilitarian supporting structure. The regularized iron scaffolding created a neutral framework for the numerous and diverse exhibitors at the fair while using the least amount of material that available knowledge and technology allowed. In an era when technological advances in industry far outpaced understanding of its social and cultural implications, a reliance on the logic of industry led the way forward. In the case of the Crystal Palace, the concept of architecture as scaffold emerged out of just this sort of utilitarian approach to construction.
Cedric Price’s Fun Palaces proposes an altered vision of architecture as scaffolding that reflects the radical technological and social shifts occurring in the early 1960s, the moment of high-modernism’s decline. The highly conceptual project envisions the city of the future as a massive open scaffolding within which an infinite number of spaces and activities can be accommodated. The ultra thin gridded structure enables unlimited freedom and malleability, with the forms and programs of the spaces housed within shifting daily or even hourly according to the desires of the inhabitants. The “building” contains no permanent walls or roofs, only a flat ground plane which contains the mechanical systems that support the ever changing activities above. The only components which remain relatively unchanged are basic necessities such as bathrooms and elevators, though even these are allowed to shift positions according to activities. The Fun Palace can be seen as a thoroughly modern concept that combines the utilitarian structural simplicity of the Crystal Palace with the social implications of the high-modernist free plan, extended vertically into the third dimension, as well as into the fourth dimension of time. However, its cybernetic logic can also be seen as a provocative vision of a new technological era, focusing on the social implications of the freedom and malleability offered by emerging digital technology.
The Cellophane House, by Kierantimberlake adopts the idea of architecture as scaffolding in order to fully harness the technological capabilities of contemporary industrial fabrication technologies. The extruded aluminum structure used in the building is an industrial framing system manufactured by Bosch Rextroth for use in machinery enclosures and armatures for factory equipment. The aluminum struts come in numerous profiles which incorporate grooves that allow for the attachment of specialized equipment. In the Cellophane house, building components and technologies are attached to the aluminum scaffolding with reversible mechanical connections, allowing for easy replacement or upgrades of modular building components.