Showcasing innovation and sustainability in temporary structures

In this article, Olivier Schoenmakers explores differentiators between temporary constructions and permanent buildings, while highlighting the advantages of transient structures that naturally adapt to meet evolving needs. Whether for events, corporate branding, trade shows or urban planning, temporary structures can be powerful tools for innovation and sustainability. How so? Read more below to find out…

Our world is ever changing, and the needs of our societies and our economies are just as fluid. These shifting requirements impact the way we work, the way we travel, and the way we interact with one another, as evidenced by the 2020 global pandemic and the resulting transformation of life and business across the globe. Architecture and construction are just as heavily impacted by these sorts of changes, and while permanent buildings may end up being stuck in the past, temporary structures embody the opportunity to try something new and adapt to the requirements of our ever-changing society.

Adapted to the requirements of our constantly changing society

As we slowly emerge from lockdown, global events, conferences, and trade shows are having a revival, and the transient structures that are specially built for these occasions offer us the chance to embrace creative freedom and experimentation. The norms, rules and building codes for permanent structures don’t always apply to transient constructions, and, unlike permanent buildings, which are designed to last long term, temporary structures by their very definition fulfill a temporary need that lasts days, weeks, or in some cases a few years.

Temporary buildings play a major role in shaping events, corporate branding, and even urban planning, where cities can use “signature structures” to reinvigorate their local districts. These temporary constructions serve many purposes, which range from offering customized shelter or space during events, to showcasing sustainable materials and innovative building processes through unique immersive experiences.

A showcase for sustainability

Temporary structures are an essential part of special event infrastructure, whether that be for trade shows, congresses, sporting events like the Olympics, or corporate events. And while everyone knows that event structures serve obvious practical purposes, it’s also important to highlight them as powerful channels for innovation in sustainable construction.

At Expomobilia, we believe that the design and construction of transient buildings should embrace architectural innovation and technological advances.

When the focus of a structure’s design and construction shifts from building eternal structures to building temporary-yet-sustainable structures, something incredible happens: Ecological concepts and ecologically driven materials – like fabric, wood, clay, or other compostable mediums – naturally become the better choice. Whereas permanent structures are classically built out of concrete, steel, or possibly wood, temporary structures offer the chance to shine the limelight on other sustainably sourced and bio-based materials.

Expo 2020 Dubai

These concepts are being brought to life right now for Expo 2020 Dubai (now taking place in 2021-2022), an event that aspires to deliver “one of the most sustainable World Expos ever.” Expomobilia was mandated as an implementation partner to build the country pavilions for Finland, Norway, Switzerland, and The Netherlands, with each pavilion embodying the flagship character of its host country.

For the Netherlands, we took the challenge of building an innovative and sustainably sourced structure head-on, and the Dutch Pavilion stands out for its response to global issues like food security, water scarcity, and renewable energy. Every detail of the pavilion takes sustainability into account. The structure itself is being built with locally sourced materials, all of which are either biobased, biodegradable, will be repurposed, or will be locally recycled after the Expo. The Pavilion’s circular shape minimizes its ecological footprint, while its thick, fully recyclable walls serve as a main load-bearing structure and also provide significant insulation. Other organic materials, like mycelium-based tiles and a biopolymer curtain, are also being featured in the finishing.

In addition to its exceptional use of sustainable materials, the Dutch Pavilion takes the concept of sustainability one step further by acting as its own biotope with a self-sustained climate system. The Pavilion generates its energy from the sun and extracts water from the desert air, so that food (like mushrooms) can be grown within the pavilion’s cone-shaped vertical farm. And while this biotope functions on a small scale for the Dubai Expo, all of the solutions it presents have the potential to be developed on a larger scale, making the pavilion an ideal embodiment of sustainability.

Interim solutions during renovation or conversion

While a focus on sustainability is quintessential, there are also other reasons temporary constructions may outshine permanent buildings. From a purely practical standpoint, one enormous advantage of temporary buildings is that they’re an ideal interim solution when a permanent structure is undergoing conversions or renovations. A perfect case in point of this is the temporary replacement building (TIC) that has been built for the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva, which will be used for conferences over the next five years while the main Palais des Nations building undergoes extensive renovations.

Expomobilia was responsible for the overall planning of the TIC building, as well as the building’s entire interior construction and related technology. And even though there was only a ten-month window for the project’s planning and construction, Expomobilia’s extensive network – and our team’s ability to find suitable partners and subcontractors to meet the extremely tight deadline – made the handoff a success. So, despite the renovations taking place on-site in the permanent building, the UN can continue to host their conferences in a temporary structure that meets their needs and high-quality standards.

Temporary constructions as a growing trend

Of course, as live events return and people begin to gather again post pandemic, we expect to see a rise in event-based opportunities for showcasing innovation and sustainability. Temporary construction is a trend that we expect will continue to grow and will likely have a lasting impact on the way we approach permanent constructions moving forwards.

The world is curious about new materials and innovative construction techniques, and every event, company, or urban planning organization is looking for a way to stand out and communicate their unique selling points.

“In architecture and construction, I truly believe the key to this is to stay focused on conveying authentic emotions and striking the right balance between people and their environments.”

Oliver Schoenmakers

That balance can be beautifully achieved through a skillful interplay of innovative architecture and sustainable materials, for any and every occasion.