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Temporary Buildings, Lasting Lives : The 'instant mall' in quake-damaged Fillmore will be used elsewhere. Multiple uses are planned for some new structures.


Big ticket recycling has arrived. This month a Times special section detailed how it's happening with automobiles, and this week in Fillmore I encountered some examples in the building industry. In both cases, corporations are intentionally building their products to be recycled.

We're not talking about grinding up BMWs or quake-damaged chimneys for scrap iron or paving material--although that certainly is better than landfilling them. This is about building cars or structures that can be taken apart and put back together in new ways, depending on changing needs.

The "instant mall" that has been erected to put the displaced merchants of Fillmore's main street back in business is one case in point.

The project is exciting for several reasons. For one, it has gone up with remarkable speed, and for another, the new site is becoming a sort of tourist attraction--and a commercial success.

But most exciting of all is that the structure, though temporary, will be used again and again. What you see now, manufactured by a company called Sprung Instant Structures Ltd., will be removed intact when the merchants return to permanent quarters and reused somewhere else.

Meantime, to the east of the temporary site, which is at Main Street and Central Avenue, the Fillmore Redevelopment Agency is going to erect some new buildings. Some of them will look like the citrus packing sheds that dot the Fillmore landscape, but will, for the foreseeable future, be used as stores and offices. And an old train depot will be brought over for use as a museum.

The point is that, whether new or old, these are buildings that will change their use as the needs and demands of downtown Fillmore change.

"This city is very practical and resourceful," said J. Anthony Perez, Fillmore's associate city planner. "But we can't predict what's going to happen in five years. It would be very shortsighted to consider only the second or third use of a building."

Second or third use? There was a time when planners and architects didn't think beyond a first use; a bank was a bank, a barn was a barn. Now people like Perez are thinking about the seventh, eighth or maybe, the 20th use of a building.

Which is why the city chose the plan of Main Street Architects, a Ventura County-based firm, in a recent design competition for the site, which is sometimes called The Railroad Promenade.

According to John Deitsch, a principal in the firm, the idea was to create spaces that could be used any number of ways over time.

"Very little of what we build these days is permanently used" for its initial purpose, Deitsch said. "We have to think outside the box--the normal parameters."

(Deitsch's firm led the design effort that brought a group of farmhouses into downtown Oxnard and turned them into offices and stores to give the place a "downtown.")

Another example of the firm's handiwork is the installation of new recyclable structures on the Cal State Northridge campus.

I like to see these manufactured, factory-built structures given more use because they are extremely economical with regard to raw materials usage--the construction process cuts to one-10th the waste of wood.

The CSUN structures will be removed and reused someday. In contrast, at Santa Monica City College, according to its president, Richard Moore, they're hoping to keep their temporary earthquake-replacement buildings for 30 years.

It's sort of getting to be that permanent, new buildings are temporary, while temporary structures are being used for decades.

According to Jean Garth of the architecture firm Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, this trend in flexible building is being considered in the building designs for the proposed Cal State University campus in Ventura County.

"We don't want buildings that are like dinosaurs that don't change," said Garth. By initially designing buildings that can easily be adapted to an entirely new purpose, "we save almost the entire expense of a new building," she said.

In the environmental movement, this is an example of the slogan "reduce, reuse, recycle." In the architecture business they've condensed the idea into one word: rethink.


* FYI: For a provocative glimpse of the future of resource-saving building practices, attend the Workshop On Urban Design being keynoted by William Fulton, editor of the Ventura-based publication California Planning & Development Report. Call (310) 967-4255 for information on the March 21 event in West Hollywood. The first session is: "The Future of Convertibles"--A discussion of temporary buildings, ready-made structures and buildings that change their use and function as needs and demands change.

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