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Temporary can be misleading

22nd May 2014

I was interested to hear the other day of plans to auction the original pencil design drawings of the Mulberry harbour used for the Normandy invasion in the Second World War. Using these temporary floating harbours meant that troops and supplies could be landed to support the invasion without having to breach the fortified defences of the enemy. The concept and design of these temporary structures is acknowledged as a brilliant feat of engineering, even by Albert Speer, the German minister of armaments. It is interesting how this temporary innovation solved a problem, but sometimes the temporary can be more long lasting than anticipated.

From temporary to permanent

It seems to happen quite often that something intended as a temporary measure achieves unexpected longevity. Take income tax for example; brought in by Pitt the Younger as a “temporary” way of raising money to fight the Napoleonic War, it has since become (as we all know) a major revenue generator for the government. It is always a worry when any government talks about taking temporary measures as they have a tendency to linger rather longer than expected.

Another example of a temporary solution to a short term need was the prefab houses built after the Second World War in response to a serious housing shortage. These houses were built from a variety of materials including, steel, aluminium and concrete and were expected to last for 10 years, but many lasted for a lot longer and some are still in use today. Although they were not the prettiest of houses, they were popular with many residents and attempts to demolish them in favour of traditionally built houses were often resisted. Some of these buildings are now Grade II listed, preserving them for future generations.

Sometime a temporary structure may be built for purely aesthetic reasons. I am thinking here of the Eiffel Tower, built for the 1889 World’s Fair held in Paris and intended to remain for 20 years before being dismantled. We all know how that turned out and it is interesting to note that, as with a lot of new structures, whether a building or a statue, it was not originally universally popular. Indeed the famous writer Guy De Maupassant always took his lunch in the restaurant of the tower as it was the one place in Paris where he could not see it!

Does a name matter?

There are many examples of temporary objects or structures designated as temporary which carried on; the Atomium is Brussels built for the 1958 World’s Fair and to be dismantled straight after – still there, and the London Eye which only had planning permission for 5 years – still there.

Designating something as temporary does imply a finite life that is not always the case as we have seen. In the same way with Aganto buildings, we call them temporary but there is no reason, given their potential longevity, that they cannot be considered as a legitimate alternative to a more permanent structure. I suppose, as in the cases above, history will decide.

It is interesting that of all the examples above, perhaps the most important temporary structure is the one that I started this blog with and is no longer with us, the Mulberry Harbour designed by Hugh Lorys Hughes in 1942.

Do you have any examples of something temporary that lasted longer than expected?

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