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Fleeting architecture

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This is due in part to the fact that attitudes toward physical space in the developed world have altered dramatically, says Roberta Feldman, who teaches a course on the psychology of space at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We used to place a huge value on permanence and place, but that's gone," she says, adding "we want the novel, the next, and we're happy to throw away and move on in order to accommodate that." At the same time, growing populations of refugees, disaster victims, and homeless around the globe (the United Nations currently estimates the number of internally displaced persons at 25 million worldwide), are bringing home the increasingly urgent need for creative solutions for impermanent communities.

"We need both the experimental and the useful practitioners at a time like this," says Charlie Hailey, author of "Camps: A Guide to 21st-Century Space." The festival and art circuit have become rich birthing grounds for inventiveness, says Mr. Ball, who recently supervised provisional structures for the Coachella music and art festival, a three-day event in the California desert. The architect worked with a team of students at Southern California Institute of Architecture (Sci-Arc), a professional school in downtown L.A., to brainstorm artful but practical answers to the needs and wants of festivalgoers. "Elastic Plastic Sponge," an elaborate confection made of lavender- and khaki-toned PVC piping, was both an illuminated sculpture that lit up the night sky with a soft purple glow and also a misting station for parched patrons as they reveled in 100-plus degree F. heat.

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