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Technology acquires a provocative charge in different ways, one arising from observations of ‘transience’ in the built environment, particularly of the life and performance of buildings over time, their conception and construction, use and performance, inevitable failure or decay. Technological systems can be particularly thought provoking when human expectations and actions are implicated in the performance of buildings - which, of course, is always. This paper discusses how building technology (its conception, operation and valuation) is mediated by an ethical imperative aimed at managing change and the uncertainties it poses and from which an understanding of identity, character and values may be derived. The concept of operational ‘tolerance’ draws our attention to the capacity of building technologies to articulate change and perform according to varied physical and aesthetic expectations. Expectations might be said to include those for a certain kind of structural soundness and integrity or visual clarity. A failure to fulfil these serves to draw our attention yet further to particular environmental and even social circumstances which characterise, inhibit or enhance the operation of architectural medium – like unstable soils, pervious or defective building materials, poor workmanship or even extremes of weather and neglect. The concept of tolerance is related to the governance and normalisation of habitable space in modern times though has precursors in other times and varied modes of construction. Here it is cast as a useful analytical tool for understanding transience and the built environment in terms of technology and for describing the patterns of sensibility and self-awareness arising from an experience of technological systems.
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