Current Call for Papers

ZARCH is currently accepting the submission of articles for their consideration, following the external Peer Review process as described on this website. They should address the topic for the upcoming issue.


Issue #13: "The Traces of the Ephemeral"

Deadline for submission of articles: June 7th, 2019
Expected publication date: December 2019

Call Text:

«Modernity is this inconstant element, the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is eternal and immutable»

Charles Baudelaire

“Modernity”, in The Painter of Modern Life (1863)

In his presentation of modernity, Baudelaire conceives the imperishable beauty associated with monuments in parallel with the ephemeral beauty of the city of the industrial age. Despite the passing of time―and although ephemeral architecture has always accompanied lasting and ‘permanent’ architecture―the truth is that conventional architectural and urbanism historiography still fails to pay enough attention to the former, relegating it to a lesser position.

However, major research is being conducted into the nature, role and traces of the ephemeral in the fields of architecture, urbanism and cultural studies. Evidently, we refer not only to the ‘physical’ footprints of temporary constructions but also to the intangible legacies that remain in the cultural landscape and in the social imaginary, our architecture and our cities.

One of the traditional aspirations of architecture and urbanism is that of timelessness, permanence, the obsession with eternity (Aaron Betsky). However, it is also true that good architecture, both cultured and popular, is one that has known how to adapt to its time, to understand what in German is defined as Zeitgeist, the ‘spirit of time’. Ephemeral architecture has always been a reflection of its historical context: from Antiquity, passing through Baroque or Modernity, to the present. Much has been written about ‘occasional’ architecture associated with public celebrations, religious acts, political or cinematographic scenographies, festivals, temporary markets, nomadic housing, emergency architecture in the context of natural disasters, war conflicts, etc. The field of the ephemeral goes, however, even further, particularly regarding the proliferation of provisional architectures, from those associated with the great events of modernity―such as the Olympic Games, International Exhibitions or football championships―to those that deal with cultural capitals and other events (John Gold). Many of these architectures can become permanent, although it is often difficult to distinguish between those that were planned as ephemeral containers and those designed with the will to remain. In a way, the difference between temporary and permanent structures is, increasingly, only a matter of time (Robert Kronenburg). Therefore, it seems reasonable to question the nature and quality of the ephemeral in history, at present and―why not―in the future of our cities.

It is commonplace to counter the architecture of the ‘ordinary city’ (lasting) with that of the ‘extraordinary city’ (ephemeral) that manifests itself through large or small events. It can also be argued that it is precisely what happens in that city of exceptional moments that makes urban life vital (Schuster). Celebrations or events of all kinds allow us to experience other forms of architecture and urbanism that often become paradigms of each historical and cultural moment, as is the case of the Serpentine Pavilions in London.

Some of the best examples of architecture and urbanism have been associated with temporary events. The Olympic Games and International Exhibitions are probably the best known. There are many exhibition pavilions that have become key pieces in the history of architecture, such as Bruno Taut’s Glass Pavilion in Cologne (1914), Le Corbusier’s L’Esprit Nouveau in Paris (1925) or the German Pavilion in Barcelona by Mies van der Rohe (1929), including Patio & Pavilion by Alison and Peter Smithson (1956), the Philips Pavilion by Le Corbusier in Brussels (1958) or the Spanish Pavilion in New York by Javier Carvajal (1964), or more contemporary ones such as the Portuguese Pavilion in Lisbon by Álvaro Siza (1998), the Swiss Pavilion in Hannover by Peter Zumthor (2000) or the Blur Building in Neuchâtel by Diller & Scofidio (2002), to name but a few.

Exhibition pavilions have very unique features that allow them to turn their apparent fragility into strength. Their ephemeral nature, their great programmatic freedom and their origin in architectural competitions are opportunities that favour their understanding as true architectural and urban laboratories. Many of these events respond to strategies that promote and catalyse large-scale operations in the host cities. The impact of projects linked to Olympic events and international exhibitions is demonstrated; the urban transformations of Paris cannot be understood without taking into account the impact of its successive exhibitions, as well as the impact they had in consolidating the cultural centres of London, the opening up to the sea in Barcelona in 1992 or the mutations associated with Seville Expo that same year, in Lisbon in 1998 or Zaragoza in 2008 (Expo Cities - Urban Change, BIE 2018). The planning strategies of the urban pieces made up of the exhibition sets and the sports and cultural facilities correspond to visions and paradigms of the international urban culture of the moment―not only as a ‘reflection’ or a mechanical translation of the principles of each historical period, but as forerunners of what comes next (Stephen Ward). Whilst it is true that there is also a proliferation of what Daniel Boorstin calls the ‘pseudo-events’―created and structured by the media in the face of ‘spontaneous’ events, ‘festival markets’, etc―these are ‘less authentic’ proposals that deal with competition strategies between cities associated with globalisation (David Harvey).

Alejandro de la Sota said that the legacy of modern architecture is not so much that of physical footprints as that of ideas. This statement is, undoubtedly, extendable beyond the limits of modernity. The current issue of ZARCH, which is entitled “The traces of the ephemeral”, aims to collect those traces crystallized in ideas, vindicating their ability to conquer the physical reality of the architectural or urban fact and transcend time, moving beyond the immediacy of their existence and achieving immortality among future generations.

Many questions are open to reflection and can be included in this issue 13 of ZARCH. All of them should favour a broader debate to understand the value and potential of the ephemeral, as well as the nature of temporary events and their ability to produce relevant and lasting changes in the architecture and urban shapes of our cities.

Javier Monclús, Enrique Jerez

Print edition ISSN: 2341-0531 / Digital edition ISSN: 2387-0346. Copyright © 2016 ZARCH. All Rights Reserved