The “Power of Now,” first introduced in Eckhardt Tolle’s book of the same title, has emerged as the leitmotiv of stress management, organizational change, and global consciousness. But from a nuts and bolts perspective, how do we build for the ever present Now? That is to say, how to we build for durability and yet meet the current market trends?
Stewart Brand, who has been dubbed “Environmentalism’s pithiest polemicist” and the originator of the discussions about the Long Now. How can we design for the ever-changing now? Brand offers us one approach of identifying the pace layering of the building, and facilitating the changes when updates are needed. For example, on the shortest end of the trendy cycle is stuff. Furniture, curtains, rugs are all subject to the whim of the owner and the latest Architectural Interiors magazine. That is easy, remove and replace.
At the other end of the slow to change spectrum is the structure, which may never need to change if built in a durable manner. However, as the use of the space may change, this structure would ideally be easy to adjust. For example, building two adjoining rooms with a continuous floor , separated by a demountable partition wall. This can be configured as a large master bedroom and a study, as two equal size kids rooms, or as one large yoga studio. This type of partition is common in commercial fit-outs, no reason to not adapt it to residential use.
In between the two outer edges of change are the many layers, for which change can be expected somewhere between its predicted service life, and the whim of the owner: paint, lightbulbs, heating equipment, kitchen and bath. This is where design thinking for adaptability comes in. Recognizing that the life of the building begins when the construction is complete will help make provisions for remodels or upgrades. Even something as simple as applying colored caulk over a painted surface, instead of the other way around, takes into consideration that caulk will generally fail before paint. Or that vinyl flooring will fail before cabinets get replaced, but true linoleum will generally outlast all will influence the decision to place cabinets on top of the flooring, or flooring up to the cabinet.
Finally, buildings with good design seem to hold a timeless appeal without ever falling prey to trendiness. When a building is empty, devoid of all the “stuff,” does it make you happy? Good lighting, spatial flow, interesting but not overwhelming architecture, and visible craftsmanship are the tools of the long now of the built environment.