Architecture has consistently provided usable spaces throughout the ages to the populace. While most of the construction industry has fixated on permanent architecture, there has been an ever-long exploration of the temporariness of architecture as well. The idea of impermanence in Built Forms is not one that has its genesis in recent times, but in fact, dates back to the earliest forms of architecture. Humans were nomads, and consequently, their residences had to cope with this constant shift. Their shelter needed to be easy to assemble and disassemble, and once taken apart, it needed to be unobtrusive during travel. Although the design of spaces and forms has hence evolved to that of a more permanent nature, temporary architecture design has always existed at the fringes of this change.

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In recent times, as also what can be foreseen of the future, society is undergoing radical change. The relationship between people and built forms finds the need to take a responsible turn towards alternative techniques. Although a portable structure is a part of Architecture in general, its realization does not always originate from conventional circumstances. Designers recognize that not all activities require a permanent structure to support it. Cities undergoing extreme migration and density of infrastructure acknowledge that many available land expenses cannot be allotted a single function. They need to have a multipurpose usage to create the optimal quality of life for the residents. Places subjected to crises and disasters recognize the need for speedy construction. People surviving in a world of unaffordable shelters realize the importance of healthy and cheap alternatives to living a comfortable life. These and many more underlying factors contributed to a shift of attention to the design of Portable Architecture

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The term Architecture is included in Portable Architecture in relevance to the fact that most portable buildings have a significant impact on the permanent and static built spaces surrounding it. Also, there is scarcely a field of human activity that is unsupported by these portable designs. This particular field of design has contributed to almost all typologies and needs be it housing, commercial, industrial, recreational, military, educational, and so forth. The creative process and executive process of the conception of Portable architecture is inherently collaborative. The design needs to pander to the internal planning and form design of the structure, ensuring comfort conditions with a balance of aesthetics and ambiance. But it also needs to heed to the portability and miscellaneous technicalities involved in the mechanization of the structure.

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The modern thumb-rules that govern the design of portable architecture are based on objectives similar to those of the nomadic humans. Portable Architecture comprises structures that are intended to be erected with ease at places distant from its place of manufacture. The material and technology available at hand for the creative design of such temporary architecture is expansive. The scale of construction has also widened in recent times.

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The simplest examples of Portable Architecture are structures that can be transported as a whole to various destinations and used immediately. Some forms of portable architecture incorporate the means of transport into the elements that make up the structure. Caravans and RVs (Recreational Vehicles) would be a suitable example for the aforementioned type of portable architecture, though the latter is more heavily inclined towards automobile design. These types of structures are often limited in their size because of their need to conform to the capacity and dimensions of the vehicle. A few other forms of portable architecture use modular parts that are prefabricated and easy to put together. They are transported as individual, discrete parts that are then assembled in minimal time. Portable Architecture has explored construction with collapsible elements, recycled material (for e.g: Container boxes) and automobile mechanisms that have expanded this design from small structures to spaces of large proportions.

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Portable Architecture ranges from simple portaloos and camping tents to mobile homes and trailers, but also exploring larger exhibition spaces, medical units, and pop-up stores. Renzo Piano’s IBM Travelling Pavilion, Shigeru Ban’s Japan Pavilion, and Nomadic Museum are examples of three different kinds of large-scale portable buildings. The IBM Pavilion is a structure that is taken apart and put together as it moves to various sites, conforming with topography and site characteristics while carrying a strong sense of identity and function depicted by its design and exterior. The Japan Pavilion steered towards the concept of temporary architecture more than portable architecture. The basic elements of design were reused in other structures after the museum was taken down. The Nomadic museum transports only certain parts of its design to various sites, relying on the availability of the other parts at each site (Metal Containers).

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Portable Architecture has also played a pivotal role in disaster-affected areas, with temporary medical facilities and residential provisions for the affected. This field of humanitarian architecture makes use of design and material simplicity to bring instantaneous relief and help to the people suffering in these areas.

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This concept of Portable Design has been a crucial part of past generations and will keep evolving to solve the problems faced by the people of the future. Simple, easy, quick, and qualitative; portable architecture exhibits endless possibilities for the upcoming architects with green and healthy alternatives to permanent construction, as is the need today.


Kriti Shivagunde is a hopeless list-maker. She makes lists more than she breathes in a day. She writes too much, sings too much, and loves hummus too much. She is passionate about sleeping and helping animals. An architecture student from the unfortunate 2020 graduating batch, she hopes to one day call herself an Architect.