What is Adaptive Architecture?

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Adaptive as the name suggests means changing. Changing according to the needs of surrounding architecture is the essence of adaptive architecture. Adaptive architecture is a framework which changes its structure, behaviour or resources according to request.  It is a multi-disciplinary approach concerned with buildings that are totally driven by internal data and also building those are designed to adapt to their environments, their inhabitants and objects. Because of its multi-disciplinary nature, developments across Architecture, Computer Science, the Social Sciences, Urban Planning and the Arts can appear disjointed.

All Architecture is adaptable on some level, as buildings can always be adapted ‘manually’ in some way. The use of the term ‘Adaptive Architecture’ must, therefore, be seen in this overall context and the following demarcates between adaptable and adaptive: Adaptive Architecture is concerned with buildings that are specifically designed to adapt to their inhabitants, to objects within them and to their environment whether this is automatically or through human intervention.

Design Strategies in Adaptive Architecture

The following are the design strategies under Adaptive architecture:

  • Mobility
  • Levels of prescription
  • Reusability and standardisation
  • Automation – Design for intervention by humans
  • Building independence


Mobility as a design strategy allows buildings to better respond to changes around them. It is seen that mostly, the architecture is fixed to one location. In adaptive Architecture, ideas and inspiration is often taken from related mobile infrastructure such as trailers, boats, caravans to develop building the respond to inhabitants’ needs. This results in transportable and mobile architecture

Levels of Prescription

There is no limit as to what can be prescribed when it comes to adaptive architecture. At one end of the scale, things are left open; the framework is designed in such a way so as to handle the conceivable interior adaptations. At the other end of the scale, we prescribe all possible adaptations and this is done in an effort to anticipate what occupants of such a building might require over the life-time of the building.

Reusability and Standardisation

The building can be designed in a simple way, where every module is made to fit that particular building. In most buildings, some form of standardisation exists. In the case of pre-fabricated buildings, almost all components are standardised. In this case, components could be switchable, which should lead to more adaptive design.

Automation – Human Intervention

Adaptive buildings are explicitly designed for inhabitant intervention. Inhabitants will be able to revolve, reposition and move from one place to another, the architectural elements that are specially designed for this purpose, through assisted power systems or manually. Many times it also relies on automation.


Finally, the design space also incorporates a dimension or strategy that addresses the level of autonomy of a building from its inhabitants. Adaptations in most Adaptive Architecture are in some way related to inhabitants, adapting to their requirements, even if this is indirectly by, for example changing to the environment or objects.

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Vaishali Kawalkar

Vaishali Kawalkar

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