Time for space : typologically flexible and resilient buildings and the emergence of the creative dweller

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


There is apparent tension between the continual social changes and the fixed and homogeneous solutions in present day housing production. It can in the long run, jeopardize the resilient development, if people in the future cannot accommodate their needs and aspirations within the built environment produced today. Basing the spatial production on assumptions of predictability and a mechanistic understanding of the world, which is geared towards universal housing solutions, cannot necessarily guarantee the longevity of the building stock. To promote the best possible way the use of natural, economic or mental resources, the thesis puts forward the significance of spatial conditions as a prerequisite for long-term resilient development of the built environment, as well as the enhancement of people’s wellbeing. The focus of the thesis is in design and its context. The main research question is: how could spatial criteria for resilient spatial conditions be perceived, defined and developed from strategic starting points in design? The thesis emphasizes the creative process of design and its more autonomic character in processes as prerequisites for the emergence of new ways of living. This can be attained by means of buildings that are responsive to proactive changes throughout their whole life span. The approach is both theoretical and practical. Housing has become a consumer product in which people are seen merely as objects of design. Instead, spatial production could be seen through the concept of lived space that promotes people’s proactive role as creative dwellers. This concept takes into account the self-organizational potential of buildings and space that can spark the emergence of new social and spatial conditions in a resilient manner and understands human activity as important resource in societies. The systems thinking and resilience thinking connected to design thinking are the key approaches used in the thesis. They emphasize the long term view and the constant responsiveness of systems to change, which are accomplished through their intrinsic characters of adaptability and flexibility. A strategic understanding of cities and their self-organizing potential is already being applied to urban environments in cities as emerging planning practices. In this thesis the strategic understanding is taken beyond the urban approach as integral character of buildings as well. This also stresses the inseparable connection between urban and building contexts. To better understand the uniform context of prevailing housing production solutions, the thesis examines the viewpoints and presumptions prevalent in Finnish planning, guidance and building culture. The thesis highlights the path-dependencies and systemic context that have evolved into a non-developing system. The process of producing built environment emphasize efficiency and optimization of parts, rather than being holistic and open to new typologies and adaptive solutions. To be able to better define the resilient objectives and contexts for adaptability and flexibility of space, existing approaches and architectural theories relevant to these concepts are examined. These are studied through the key concepts of multi-usability, as objective of all building, and transformability, as assisting concept to fulfill this objective. The conclusions emphasize resilient spatial solutions as an important criteria of sustainability that promote the advancement of resilient buildings. This demands a strategic dimension in design that understands the buildings as processes in evolutionary terms. The context of strategic dimension in design is developed through the concept of typological flexibility, which also recognizes the architectural character as a whole to promote meaningful interaction between people and space. The strategic understanding of buildings is based on abstract modularity inherent in typological flexibility. The concept interlinks all scales of conduct as in resilient systems that promote diversity and is based on space unit logic connected to abstract modularity. The thesis proposes box within a box –thinking to design, which originates from systems thinking. All aspects inherent in buildings from mental to physical can be covered in nested concepts and interlinked conceptual levels and scales of buildings named as: type, spatial configuration, space part, space unit and room. The characteristics of typologically flexible buildings are breathability, dynamism and elasticity. They are interpreted as the means and ends of typological flexibility that the nested concepts give rise to, and that promote resilient building stock in the long term. The metaphor of breathability (as the ends) relates to metabolism, to the breathing that enables the “organism” to stay alive and “breathe in” and “breathe out” different uses. Dynamism (as means) is the way of bringing about adaptability and flexibility in the building. Elasticity establishes the link between breathability and dynamism and refers to how breathable – and thus multi-usable – the space actually is. The more transformations the building or dwelling needs for changes, the less elastic it is. A valuation table is introduced comprising all these above mentioned attributes of typological flexibility to assess whether the building fulfills the criteria of resilient building, and can promote the emergence of the creative dweller.
Translated title of the contributionTime for space : typologically flexible and resilient buildings and the emergence of the creative dweller
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Joutsiniemi, Anssi, Supervising Professor
  • Ahlava, Antti, Thesis Advisor
  • Huttunen, Hannu, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7398-9
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7397-2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • building design
  • dwellers
  • typological flexibility
  • resilient buildings


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