1. OPENING REMARKS ON FUNCTION AND FLEXIBILITY
Most modern buildings are subdivided into more-or-less distinct compartments, or rooms. In the case of Milstein Hall—an addition to Cornell University's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and completed in 2011—these compartments include design studios, an auditorium, an assembly/critique space (Crit Room), a small art gallery, bathrooms, an entry lobby, and three primary outdoor spaces—an arcade, a plaza, and a vegetated roof.
Supporting the activities corresponding to the various "occupancies" or uses within a building involves paying attention to the intended functions of the various spaces, while also making sure that the building is flexible enough to accommodate changes. Aside from the obvious requirement for things to work—e.g., for mechanical systems to supply conditioned air; for building enclosures to control the movement of heat, air, rainwater, and water vapor; and so on—function in this context is also affected by geometry (size and shape), the desire for privacy, control of light and sound, and circulation (movement around and within buildings, including accessible movement).
Flexibility in this context might enable, on the one hand, changes in function or occupancy within building compartments, even if the boundaries separating such compartments stay the same—for example, a studio space becoming a classroom or an office. On the other hand, the boundaries defining such compartments might themselves change; existing partitions might move or be removed or new partitions might be created, even while the occupancies of those compartments might either change or stay the same. As in building function, both geometry and circulation play an important role in fostering building flexibility. Of course, understanding how change can either be hindered or facilitated is a crucial aspect of flexibility. Much of my discussion of flexibility has been informed by Stewart Brand's excellent book, How Buildings Learn.1 In fact, if you haven't already read it, I suggest that you put this book down and read Brand's book first. Go ahead; I'll wait…
Three especially important and complex building functions do not appear in Part I of this book. Instead, a detailed discussion of fire safety, nonstructural failure, and sustainability in Milstein Hall will follow in Parts II, III, and IV respectively.
1 Brand, How Buildings Learn.