The very idea of transitory, demountable, ephemeral architecture may seem counterintuitive to our usual perception of buildings as enduring spaces in which to dwell. Yet examples of small-scale buildings abound, many of which include delicate, momentary, or briefly inhabited works that illustrate the delight of such places.

In contrast with architecture that is substantial and solid, the designs of these tiny spaces frequently respond to subtle, changing qualities. Often, they encourage us to engage with the environments in which they sit as much as the works themselves. Such built projects encompass the ephemeral in various ways: They frame diurnal patterns of light and shade and mark seasonal change, they move according to varying weather patterns and scenery, and they inspire playful flights of fancy — even if the imaginative works last only a short season. They can also be seen as small weather vanes: registering a broader and changing interest in how we can occupy our environment intelligently, doing more and using less.

Steve Messam’s PaperBridge in Cumbria, England, epitomized the way in which ephemeral works can pique curiosity and draw attention to context. This self-supporting crimson arch was formed of 22,000 sheets of red paper constructed according to ancient principles of drystone walls, without the need for glue, nails, or other adhesives. Assembled for a cultural festival in the Lakes District, the bridge allowed visitors to cross it — often with disbelief —  and was equally arresting for its color, which boldly contrasted with and framed the soft and stony mien of the setting. At the close of the festival, the arch was simply disassembled into the paper sheets from which it came, satisfying Messam’s intent for the work to be fully recycled.

Similarly, the inflatable CristalBubble, designed by Frenchman Pierre-Stéphane Dumas, offers a design approach that responds to fleeting external conditions. With an easily erected translucent dome, the bubble was conceived to engage with daily change. Sharing its pneumatic qualities and mobility is the unusual public meeting room known as Inflatable Space, by the London-based firm Penttinen Schöne. The architects’ intention was to create an accessible place that could be readily moved to give visitors a changing backdrop amid nature. Its arched entry points encourage visitors to enter the pavilion while light through yellow acrylic windows colors the interior.

Ephemeral qualities often refer to things that last but a day. Architecturally, this notion can be seen in spaces that encourage observation of passing moments in seasonal cycles of nature. The design of the Exbury Egg in England is intimately shaped by its environment. Employing yacht-building techniques to create a structure that floats on the tidal estuary of the River Beaulieu, the egg is a temporary workspace for artist Stephen Turner and is part of a public educational program that supports greater connection to river life and to natural patterns of change. Although robust, ample buildings form the bedrock of architecture as we know it, these examples represent an increasing body of diminutive counterparts that offer an engaging way in which to experience the passage of time.

Date Mounted: 5.8.15 | Duration: 10 days