First Hard, Then Soft House Architecture and the Future-Ready Value of Plan Flexibility

Main Article Content

Erika Brandl


This text-based essay conceptualises uncertainty in architectural interiors as ‘plan flexibility’, with a normative focus on its future-oriented qualities. I concentrate on one specific typology: housing. In this context, a ‘good’, future-ready plan refers to the quality of conserving options and resources for coming generations of dwellers; it builds from principles of architectural resilience, or exaptation, where design ambitions link to preparing for an increasingly vague future where ecological, economic, political, and socio-cultural conditions of human life are difficult to anticipate. Despite risks of temporal agnosticism, I argue that focusing on housing allows me to discuss the forthcoming architectural needs of individuals without fully committing to an era-bound programme. My contribution focuses on asserting the longterm value of dwellings’ flexibility in terms of programme indeterminacy (multipurpose use of space; hard-then-soft) rather than formal indeterminacy (adaptable elements; soft-then-hard). I define the notions of programme indeterminacy and formal indeterminacy, which I briefly tie back to the modernist history of alternative models of flexible domestic dwelling. I then comment at length on the interiors of Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira’s Wohnhaus Schlesisches Tor (Berlin, Internationale Bauausstellung, 1984–1987), making the case for some of the abovementioned design principles. I contextualise Wohnhaus Schlesisches Tor’s interior design ambitions and effects in light of contemporary characterisations of housing adequacy and argue for the potential of the ‘extra room’ as one possible manifestation of the desired plan flexibility: this, inter alia, develops into a broader reflection on measures such as the ‘bedroom tax’ policies, and into a celebration of future-ready attitudes in planning houses.


Article Details

How to Cite
Brandl, Erika. 2023. “First Hard, Then Soft: House Architecture and the Future-Ready Value of Plan Flexibility”. idea journal 20 (01):44–61.