Defining Flexibility

by Margie

Should operational space be seen simply as a capital cost or can it be considered as a strategic investment? Flexibility is the key.

“Flexibility” has a variety of meanings. It’s often a requirement in design briefs and has become somewhat of a buzzword. Unfortunately, when it comes to designing space, it can be extremely ambiguous!

Research conducted in the USA at the Centre for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation (CADRE) has developed a useful framework for defining spatial flexibility from the simple to the complex.

Versatility is defined as “the ability of a space to be used for different functions, requiring no physical change to tangible building attributes.”
In office environments, the staff kitchen has become an increasingly versatile space. It’s now being designed as a central hub for staff to eat lunch, give presentations, hold small meetings or work away from the desk, even to host events.

Modifiability involves a physical change to the space or object that can be made by any user with relative ease.
Switchable glass that can be changed from clear to opaque to provide privacy when required, or an operable wall that can divide or enlarge spaces both modify space.

Convertibility is the ability for the space itself to be changed to accommodate a new purpose.
“Adaptive re-use” or converting an existing building to a new use is an example of this kind of flexibility. Designing new buildings with ample space between structural elements (floors, walls, columns etc) is one way to ensure future convertibility.

Scalability is the most complex form of flexibility, as it involves the ability of a building or site to expand or contract, responding to changes in demand.
Buildings most often scale up due to growth rather than down. Costs will usually be higher to implement this kind of flexibility due to the uncertainty of future demand and the capacity of structural and building systems needed to meet it.


At Edmiston Jones, our design approach focuses on our clients’ current and future activities. We strategically identify where and when to utilise various types of flexibility. It also encourages our clients to see their spaces as strategic investments rather than just a capital cost.

Leave a comment