Innovative architectural typologies are vast and varied and have exponentially pushed the boundaries of design in their continuous redefinition of space and experience. Through a unique selection of different case studies, as well as analyses of different architectural morphologies, concepts of innovation, renewal, and redefinition shall be explored in answering a vital question: How may new, innovative typologies allow for novel architectural experiences? And so, prior to establishing innovative architectural typologies, it is relevant to define an architectural typology in and of itself. A typology is, by essence, often defined by its physical and spatial characteristics, o

Innovative Architectural Typologies: Redefining Spaces for New Experiences - Sheet4
“Photon Kite” illustrated by Lebbeus Woods, deemed “The Architect Who Dared to Ask What If?”_©Lebbeus Woods

n both an architectural and urban scale: it also depends on “their association with different categories, such as intensity of development, degrees of formality, and school of thought” (archdictionary). Innovative typologies that allow for architectural breakthroughs emerge for numerous different reasons: technological progress, sociocultural evolution, and financial growth, as well as a pure interest in design, architecture, and urbanism, among many others. 

Innovative Architectural Typologies: Redefining Spaces for New Experiences - Sheet1
Diagrammatic Analysis of BIG’s Via 57 West, in which the high-rise typology is redefined_©BIG

This multidimensionality in reasons behind innovative architectural typologies is fully manifested when analyzing the open plan, as well as its architectural morphology. A commonly cited innovative typology, the open plan is notable for its spatial relevance as a highly multi-functional, organized space. As per its definition, “an open-plan house flows from space to space with minimal barriers between the living areas or no barriers at all” (Elliot, 2021). The spread of the open plan and its application was directly proportional to different periods of economic growth- notably, periods of Industrialization. A second point also deemed relevant is the expansion of social attitudes, which thus, translated into a physical openness in planning. From an American-centric perspective, Frank Lloyd Wright translated this spatial and programmatic openness into many of his buildings, notably, his 1909 Robbie House, in which he was further aided by innovative building materials and techniques: “The novel building materials of the 20th century made the open plan even more practical”. And so, The Robie House, with its fluidity of interiors, spatial and programmatic interconnection, and openness in façades through different windows became a reference point for innovative architectural typologies. Innovative typologies also extend to ones that challenge different sociocultural quos. This concept also extends to contemporary co-living spaces, such as “The Collective” in London. This newfound, innovative architectural typology extends to residential living. In their continuous attempts to challenge the notion of the traditional private apartment, a newfound definition of daily living is made- most notably on an architectural and urban scale. In essence, architecturally, this new typology promotes the use and application of common areas and shared amenities, and, on an urban scale, it defies the current, established urban trend of suburban land expansion in cities.

Innovative Architectural Typologies: Redefining Spaces for New Experiences - Sheet2
The High Line” project, in which urban typological innovation is exceptionally evident._©edc.nyc

Another relevant architectural- and, in this case, even urban- innovation can be experienced through The High Line project. Initially a disused railway track, The High Line redefined the old, misused space into a new urban project and elevated park. Designed by Diller Scofidio and Renfro, this urban park transcends past the conventional notion of a public or green space. In its elevation above street level, this Industrial space was reestablished into a multilayered urban environment. Blending Industrialism, urban renewal, architectural innovation, and nature, the space is a multidimensional one that engages the public and the urban landscape and hardscape of NYC. The essence of this redefined architectural-urban typology is both an urban reclamation- an industrial-park-made urban space- as well as its physical, multilayered nature, thus allowing it to transcend past a mere urban renewal project, and into the realm of innovative typologies.

Another prime example of architectural innovation is fully manifested and idealized through starchitect Bjarke Ingels and his architectural approach, and, most notably, through his concept of “BIGamy”, defined as “taking multiple designable elements that may not seemingly fit together, and merging them together to create a new creation or genre” (bolidt). Stripped to its very essence, the bigamy merges two building types, or typologies, into a new hybrid space. This has been applied in many of BIG’s projects- in which a primary reference would be the “CopenHill Energy Plant”. A dual energy plant-ski slope, the project blends these two otherwise unrelated programmatic typologies, blending human recreation with energy management. And, in doing so, the essence of CopenHill is in its “transforming social infrastructure into a landmark” (Shakeri, 2022). This concept is further applied in another one of BIG’s projects: VIA 57 West. “Named “The Best Tall Building in the Americas” (Shakeri, 2022), VIA 57 West essentially redefines the traditional high-rise typology as a linear rectangle. In its design, the building promotes an internal courtyard that fluctuates in height.

Innovative Architectural Typologies: Redefining Spaces for New Experiences - Sheet3
”CopenHill” is a dual energy plant-ski slope, blurring the lines of contemporary building typologies._©ubm magazine

To conclude, architectural design, at its very core, is inherently innovative- and this may also exist in urban-scale projects and redefinitions. And so, through a continuous attempt to redefine user experiences, spatial organizations, and massing typologies newfound architectural typologies come about. However, it must be important to note that architectural and typological innovation is not limited to the physical, but also to theoretical projects, thus reiterating architecture’s relevance as both theory and practice. One of the most relevant theoreticians was Lebbeus Woods, deemed “The Architect Who Dared to Ask What If?” (Wallace, 2013). Often considered fantastical, Woods blends post-war brutality with architecture, promoting a newfound ideology towards restorative architecture: he is quoted as saying, “But what interests me is what the world would be like if we were free of conventional limits. Maybe I can show what could happen if we lived by a different set of rules” (Wallace, 2013). And so, concepts of boundaries, limits, and regulations are ones that have no place in the realm of design, in which a continuous metamorphosis of innovation, creativity, and exploration takes place.

References:

Old House Journal Magazine. (2010). Evolution of the Open Floor Plan. [online] Available at: https://www.oldhouseonline.com/interiors-and-decor/evolution-of-the-open-floor-plan/.

Shakeri, S. (2022). 10 Remarkable Projects of Bjarke Ingels (BIG). [online] Parametric Architecture. Available at: https://parametric-architecture.com/10-remarkable-projects-of-bjarke-ingels-big/.

Wallace, L. (2013). Lebbeus Woods: The Architect Who Dared to Ask ‘What If?’ [online] Wired. Available at: https://www.wired.com/2013/02/lebbeus-woods-conceptual-architect/.

www.archdictionary.com. (n.d.). typology definition – Architecture Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.archdictionary.com/typology.

www.bolidt.com. (n.d.). Bigamy: Bjarke Ingels’ Philosophy. [online] Available at: https://www.bolidt.com/en/bjarke-ingels-philosophy.

Author

Elham Al Dweik is a Jordanian-Palestinian architect based in the United Arab Emirates. Alongside an architectural background, she maintains a keen interest in reading, writing, and literary reflection.