Scaffolding: The Ultimate Flexible, Modular and Ephemeral Building Material

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CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter/ Scaffolding from outside Center for Architecture

A show at the New York Center for Architecture looks at the usually ignored but omnipresent scaffold.

One of the big problems with traditional building is that it is fixed, often inflexible, and expensive. That’s one of the reasons shipping container architecture has been so popular. But there is another technology of building that is even more adaptable, and we are all surrounded by it every day: scaffolding. An exhibition at New York’s Center for Architecture celebrates this mundane material:

Despite its indispensable link to architecture, scaffolding is often maligned as a necessary nuisance; however, due to its flexibility, modularity, and ephemerality, various architects have utilized it as a performative tool to design novel forms of inhabitation and urban access. Considering its supportive role and adaptive qualities, it is unsurprising that the word “scaffolding” is commonly invoked as a powerful metaphor by many disciplines.
scaffolding from lower level

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It’s a fascinating tour of how scaffolding is used, and how it has been turned into theatres, restaurants and more. It goes together quickly, can be covered in anything (living walls are popular these days), and is gone in minutes.

scaffolding show

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It has been used by people who cannot afford other materials. Cameron Sinclair and Pouya Khazeli built a school in Jordan out of it. Apoorva Tadepalli wrote in Untapped Cities:

scaffolding detail

Lloyd Alter/ Scaffolding detail/CC BY 2.0

These projects and others were all implemented out of some necessity to use space and materials in a more efficient and human way, to better address community needs. As the show’s curator, Greg Barton, noted from his experience in architecture school, temporary architecture is usually marginalized, having less market value in this world of skyrocketing city real estate than a permanent, private ownership-based, design-oriented structure.
Scaffolding in China

Lloyd Alter/ Scaffolding in Changsha, China/CC BY 2.0

In Asia, almost every building is encased in it no matter what the height, to work on the exterior and to hang netting that protects the public.


© 1025 architecture

We have shown a lot of it in TreeHugger; I wrote earlier about a restaurant in Paris that was touted as shipping container architecture but really wasn't.

...It is built of my favorite materials for temporary buildings, namely scaffolding. You can build almost anything out of the stuff; the late Mark Fisher used to build the most amazing rock sets for Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones; here, the architects use it to create the kind of larger spaces that are hard to do with shipping containers. It is raised to provide views and a little architectural drama.