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ADS1: The Cave and the Tent

Tutors: Douglas Murphy & Andrea Zanderigo

This year, ADS1 will turn its attention to architectural ecology. Hearing the call to declare architecture‘s commitment to a future of climate justice, we will centre our investigations not on technological or futurological speculations, but on questions fundamental to the core of the discipline: history, form and culture.

Left: Climat de France, Fernand Poullion. RIght: German Pavilion Montreal '67, Frei Otto
Left: Climat de France, Fernand Poullion. RIght: German Pavilion Montreal '67, Frei Otto

Donald Trump‘s nihilistic hostility to ecological matters is well known, but on the other hand Xi Jinping has recently been espousing his ‘two mountains‘ theory, arguing that 'the green mountain is as valuable as the gold one'. That all sounds very good, but is it nearly enough? Shouldn’t the green mountain be bigger than the gold one? It is hardly a new idea that compound growth within a finite system is an impossible contradiction.

Our desires – in the form of lifestyle projections – also play a significant role. Is the crisis a question of population? Or is it a question of consumption? Is the American dream of an individual house in the suburbs definitively dead? Does everyone deserve to eat beef? Should humans live yet more densely, creating pockets of mega-density that leave the rest of the world’s crust as the terrain for automatised food, energy and biodiversity production? Or is the answer a form of disurbanism, in which the town–country relationship is transcended, with nature evenly distributed between the city and internet-based social interactions?

In architecture, the production of urban form is still hopelessly trapped in cycles of investment and return – temporalities that make a mockery of the material intensity of the construction industry and the centuries-long impacts of atmospheric pollution that are locked in by human activity.  What are the alternatives? Should there be a return to constructing buildings that are able to stand for centuries? Or should the notion of spatial permanence be consigned to oblivion, with architecture only being as permanent as the immediate activity taking place? Should architecture return to the cave and the tent?

Left: Basilica of Maxentius. Right: Pao II, Toyo Ito
Left: Basilica of Maxentius. Right: Pao II, Toyo Ito

The Cave

Any building project consumes vast amounts of material and economic resources. In order to become sustainable, it has to last. A large proportion of current spatial production is represented by buildings with a lifespan of little more than 30 years, which is a catastrophe for energy consumption. As such, do we have to design and realise buildings that are able to survive, stretching their life through centuries?

Such a building is unique from a technological point of view, demanding massive construction and mono-materiality. Fragile multi-layered walls whose components are designed to fail after mere decades are out, instead a logic of mass, inertia, and surface compactness has to be adopted. To create a cave-building we have to understand what is going to be changed in a decade, in a lifetime, and what is going to potentially last forever.

Buildings like this must be beyond fashion, they cannot appear outdated after ten years, they must improve with age, which suggests a certain classical timelessness. Such a building cannot be fully determined by its program because program will necessarily change during its life. It must be ready to receive new functions and cultural activities. A certain generalness has to be pursued. The type has to acquire a new centrality. 

The cave is wall-architecture, an architecture of obstacles, Roman in character.    

Ricola Kräuterzentrum, Herzog & de Meuron
Ricola Kräuterzentrum, Herzog & de Meuron

The Tent

The opposite archetype is the tent, a light, endlessly re-mountable and potentially re-configurable architectural device. Its origin is linked to cultures of nomadism and temporary needs, of movement and change. As such, the tent belongs partly to pre-history and partly to our unfolding future.

The tent is undemanding of material resources. Thermal control is achieved through light and ventilation management, rather than by mass. Sometimes air is used as insulation. To be truly sustainable, the tent must be barely installed as well, flirting with a certain nomadic austerity and the existenzminimum.

Ideally, the tent leaves no traces on the ground after removal. It is without history and tends towards being an anti-architecture. As such, it was a primary form for the counter–cultural architecture whose idealistic first-wave ecology was eventually recuperated into the high-technology movement. It is the evident incarnation of the Semperian idea of the textile origins of architecture. It is all about roofing.

Mausoleum of Hadrian / Castel Sant'Angelo
Mausoleum of Hadrian / Castel Sant'Angelo

The Studio

ADS1 investigates intellectual and cultural ideas through the medium of the architectural project. We believe a culture can be read through its buildings and the close reading and careful study of architectural history can illuminate the various methods by which form contributes to society. We believe the crises we face not only pose questions technique and organisation, but also of architectural form, culture and expression.

Through our studies of the cave and the tent, we will invite architectural projects that suggest new forms of life, or brand new forms for old traditions. Projects may be on the global scale, or the scale of a single human body. We invite projects in which the material, social, formal and temporal qualities are worked out in detail and speak to ways humans might live in these difficult times.

At stake here is the possibility for architecture to survive as a discipline. The term ‘project’ literally means to throw forward into the future. Therefore, a project (of architecture) is only possible if a minimum amount of optimism about the future is still present.


Douglas Murphy is one of the foremost voices in architecture in the UK. Author of Nincompoopolis, Last Futures, and The Architecture of Failure, and a regular contributor to publications such as The Guardian and the Architectural Review, his work combines architectural practice, writing and broadcasting, and academia. He has been a tutor at the RCA since 2016.

Andrea Zanderigo is a partner at Baukuh. He studied architecture at IUAV in Venice, where he graduated with honours. In 2002–4 he was teaching assistant at IUAV for Stefano Boeri and a Visiting Professor at PUSA in Aleppo (Syria) from 2006–7. Since 2009 he has taught continuously along with Kersten Geers at various universities, including Mendrisio Accademia, TU Graz, Columbia University and EPFL. In 2010 Zanderigo founded the magazine San Rocco with a group of architects, graphic designers and photographers.