From Obsolescence to Sustainability: A Century of Architectural Change

Obsolescence as a model of impermanence in architecture emerged a century ago with advances in technology and society causing even recent buildings to be rapidly devalued and made expendable. As demolitions increased, expectations of building lifespans grew shorter and shorter – the US tax code mapped out increasingly brief building lives for depreciation purposes and planners applied the concept to whole neighborhoods and cities.

In response to this erosion of long-held beliefs in durability, many architects envisioned flexible, short-life, even expendable architecture that could accommodate rapid change and obsolescence. But there also emerged, in response to the ephemerality of obsolescence, other efforts to reinstitute permanence and slow change, from a vitalized historic preservation movement and concrete brutalist monumentality to adaptive reuse, architectural postmodernism and green design. Sustainability, in all these guises, has superseded obsolescence as a dominant paradigm for comprehending and managing change in the built environment.

From Obsolescence to Sustainability: A Century of Architectural Change traces the concept of obsolescence in the built environment through its evolution in architecture, economics and culture and the subsequent development of sustainability. It consists of an extended timeline with images, photographs and text, and seven thematic panels focused on Factory Sheds, Megastructures, Indeterminacy, Expendability, Brutalism, Preservation and Sustainability.

Curated by Daniel Abramson in association with Gary Van Zante