But Soft! Fabricating Adaptive Urbanism

Document Type

Thesis, Senior




Spring 2019


hard architecture, soft architecture, New York City, fabric, tensile structure, technology, design






We contend that a performative fabric that combines strategies of comfort and adaptation and deployed as large-scale soft architecture can challenge the approach to urban infrastructural issues currently only managed by hard architecture. We are investigating both soft and hard architecture through the human scale and experience, the urban scale, materiality, adaptability, and temporality. Soft architecture produces comfort and ergonomic design for both physical and mental benefit and affects the built environment through its tactile materiality, its ephemeral temporality, and its swift adaptability. Hard architecture resists environmental and human adaptation through its rigid materiality, its lasting temporality, and its reluctant adaptability.

In his Ten Books on Architecture, Vitruvius defines the three elements of architecture as firmitas (firmness), utilitas (function), and venustas (delight). When speaking of firmitas, Vitruvius describes durable materials selected according to their strong qualities. This description exemplifies our definition of hard architecture, that of skyscrapers, pavement, and urban furniture such as metro entrances, which are made to last. Soft architecture, temporary, flexible, and material-driven design such as photovoltaics and inflatables, poses a different way to approach Vitruvius’s latter two elements, which describe dynamic phenomena. Soft architecture has the ability to accommodate these urban changes. Furthermore, Marc-Antoine Laugier, in An Essay on Architecture, explains the origins of architecture as emerging from the primitive hut: a construction of natural materials developed for security. With the technological enhancement, soft architecture can address an adaptive sense of security that Laugier was intending.

We propose an intervention that negotiates with static city structures located in areas affected by dynamic events, such as extreme weather. Their effects on societal and urban infrastructures would be better suited to soft qualities. Performative fabric that combines strategies of safety and technology will positively affect the human experience with its flexibility. This agile fabric can also address the lag that exists between design and implementation, which leaves the city susceptible to ever-changing human, built, and climatic environments. We question whether only hard architecture can address perpetually developing urban needs. We intend to explore the activation of fabric in the form of soft architecture as a means to address urban infrastructural issues.

Additional Information

Thesis Advisors:

Britt Eversole

Julie Larsen

Sinead Mac Namara


Local Input

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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