Architectural Affordances – Typologies of Umbau

Gennaro Postiglione (POLIMI) & Andreas Lechner (TU Graz)

Four cases studies illustrate the project's approach to “typological affordances” and accompany a “Call for Papers (by Drawings)” launched at the end of March 2023

Affordances of Architectural Typology1 is the concept for a design-driven research reflection that seeks to explore and further sustainable design strategies that are aiming at resilient building structures but are quintessentially architectural in nature.

Cooperative Research Project at DAStU - Politecnico di Milano


Thymos Books, Naples 2024/25

Scientific Committee

Matthias Ballestrem
[Bauhaus Earth]

Marco Bovati
[Politecnico di Milano]

Antonio Carvalho [Politecnico di Milano]

Lorenzo De Chiffre
[TU Wien]

Victoria Easton
[ETH Zürich]

Andreas Lechner
[TU Graz] 

Angelo Lunati
[Politecnico di Milano]

Gennaro Postiglione
[Politecnico di Milano]

Paola Scala
[Università di Napoli, Federico II]

As material composition, buildings are mediations between forms and functions that belong to different timescales. Considering the “shearing layers” of a building, the primary structural system can last for hundreds of years, while non-bearing walls, surfaces, furnishings, etc. are – like the harbouring of a specific use – of a more temporary character. 

The wiggle room resulting from these timescales produces a gap that architects bridge “designerly” – i.e. through different techniques of abstraction that grant us both the possibility of envisioning past and future forms of inhabitation and alteration2 and thus reveal a vague and unaltered character underneath – the building type.3 A resilient structure seemingly coincides with the type – as formal structure or notion of organizing forms that confers a recognizable order upon architectural elements. This coincidence is evident in the strong footprint of historical buildings – load bearing elements, building volume and rooms overlap structurally and allow, along with generous dimensions, for centuries of different uses and adaptions (cf. the yellow/red indicated demolitions and additions in the historical plans, fig. 1-3). With modern building technologies and the separation of the building envelope this coincidence becomes rare. Convincing transformations of modern structures necessitate both more interpretation and more self-determination (fig. 4-7).

Along these considerations the project examines affordances of architectural typologies in two directions that follow the authors’ expertises: Firstly, affordances are being illustrated with adaptive reuse projects that show: beyond tailoring towards a specific functional requirement, aiming at typological clarity is a key to both architectural quality and wiggle room for future transformations. Secondly, for an innovative approach in resilient architectural design, we need to update the post-functionalist critique of “type” as an epistemology of the architectural discipline that renews, reuses and recycles – knowledge and buildings.4 

Our thesis thus states that by enhancing existing structures with and through architecture’s expertise, affordances that are able to support and welcome a variety of occupations and uses over time (spatial resilience) are guaranteed and give us the opportunity to rethink the collective versus the private realm and its defining borders and connections.5 

For exploring the deeply circular relationship of “typological” qualities and affordances as a way of organizing, relating and illustrating architectural knowledge, a “Call for Papers (by Drawings)” was launched that collects three categories of adaptive reuse projects as contributions from practitioners and scholars for a publication that we will be published with independent publisher Thymos Books in 2024: 


Monuments or “palazzo types” are undisputed, culturally significant and highly charged buildings. In this category, we are looking for changes in use and occupation over a long time that maintains (or enhance) the typological integrity of the building. Case studies that have undergone more than one transformation are mandatory in this category. As an example, we provide the complete history of Palazzo Gravina in Naples (fig. 1-2) from private Palazzo to Housing block, Public Building and finally to the School of Architecture). Another example of this category could be one of the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa.

Fig. 1 Palazzo Gravina in Naples

Fig. 2 Palazzo Gravina in Naples, Details


Institutions, civic or public buildings, mainly from the 19th century, are culturally charged buildings based on classical compositions. In this category, we are looking for conversions or adaptive reuses of former industrial, infrastructural, military or health structures. Cases that have undergone more than one transformation are preferred but not essential in this category. Also, in this category, interventions change the use of the building but may also change its typological integrity by adding and/or subtracting structure. Well-known examples of this category could be the Biblioteca de les Aigues in Barcelona or the Tate Modern in London. As an example, we provide Pousada de Viseu Hotel (former Hospital de São Teotónio) in Viseu, by Gonçalo Byrne (fig. 3).

Fig. 3 Pousada de Viseu Hotel (former Hospital de São Teotónio) in Viseu, by Gonçalo Byrne.


In the third category - 20th-century monofunctional buildings - we are looking for examples that were not initially culturally charged and that manage to transform their generic character - commercial, retail, office and warehouse buildings - into new spatial qualities that add a degree of generosity that was never intended and that now makes a convincing case for even further changes in use in the future. One example is the Roskilde Festival Folk High School offices, designed by MVRDV and COBE. As an example, we provide The ED.G.E., a mixed-use multi-tenant complex (former Hotel Aerhotel built in 1973) in Milan, by Onsitestudio (fig. 4).

Fig. 4 The ED.G.E., a mixed-use multi-tenant complex (former Hotel Aerhotel built in 1973) in Milan by Onsitestudio.


Fig. 5 Stefano Sartorio: Orceana Park shop & fun, Orzinuovi 2004, Workshop „Counterintuitive Typlogies“, PhD Progam AUID - Architectural Urban Interior Design, DAStU, Politecnico di Milano 2023.

Fig. 6 Filippo Opimitti: S.I.A.G. factory, Marcianise, 1962, Workshop „Counterintuitive Typlogies“ – PhD Program AUID - Architectural Urban Interior Design, DAStU, Politecnico di Milano 2023.

Fig. 7 Francesca Ripamonte: Centro Commerciale Brianza, Paderno Dugnano, 1975

Workshop „Counterintuitive Typlogies“, PhD Program AUID - Architectural Urban Interior Design, DAStU, Politecnico di Milano, 2023.

Submitted projects will not exceed an urban scale comparable to that of a palazzo -  neither a full perimeter block or neighbourhood nor a pavilion or folly. With the collection resulting from the call, we aim to reveal affordances and thus illustrate design aspects that help to future-proof building designs by inviting and welcoming change. These intrinsic qualities of design can be methodically applied in design education contexts that aim to produce resilient and sustainable architectural design solutions.

(1) James J. Gibson, “The theory of affordances” in: Robert Shaw, John Bransford, eds. Perceiving, acting and knowing, (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1977), 67-81.

(2)  Gennaro Postiglione, “L’intervento sull’esistente come riscrittura dello spazio”, in: Francesca Lanz, ed. Patrimoni Inattesi. Riusare per valorizzare (Siracusa: Letteraventidue 2018), 31-40.

(3) Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City (Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1984; Orig. Ed.: L’architettura della Città, Milano: CLUP, 1966); Carlos Martí Arís, Variations Of Identity - Type In Architecture (Paris: Cosa Mentale, 2021; Orig. Le variazioni dell’identità - Il tipo in architettura, Milan: Città Studi 1993).

(4) Liliane Wong, Adaptive Reuse in Architecture – A Typological Index, (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2023).

(5) Nadin Augustiniok, Bie Plevoets, “Editorial – Sharing places. Articulating collectivity in the existing fabric”, in Trace – Notes on adaptive reuse, Vol . 3 (2020): 7.


Maike Gold (TU Graz)
Francesca Serrazanetti (Politecnico di Milano)

Counterintuitive Typologies
Research & Teaching Lab

Associate Professor
Dr. Andreas Lechner

TU Graz / Faculty of Architecture
Institute of Design & Building Typology
Lessingstrasse 25/IV
A-8010 Graz, Austria

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Last update: 27/08/202

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