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Island paradise betrays the secrets of societal evolution

There are a lot of shops in Capri. There are probably more bars. There are, with the exception of some municipal buildings, no offices. There are, of course, hotels, health farms and houses. Gracie Fields lived here after all, and the Villa Malaparte was built.

If you knew nothing about the evolution of society and its attitude towards holidays, the Mediterranean climate and free time, you could be forgiven on arrival here of thinking that the population did nothing else but eat, drink, sleep, pamper themselves and buy things. Because the island is beautiful, it has become a place that has evolved from a few people fishing, with some agriculture and viniculture, to a place that serves.

It is, in fact, possible to think of this place as a single-use building. The island is small and its structures are all comprehensible. The small roads are like corridors and the buildings are like rooms off it. The unbuilt is reminiscent of gardens and public open space. Its single use is a hotel.

From this perspective, it is possible to speculate on how it will evolve, as society and technology continue to develop. It was only just over 100 years ago that this place was an exclusive pleasure ground of the nobility.

Buildings have populations like islands, and although the architect's brief often refers to occupancy levels (usually wrong), the vocabulary used does nothing to stimulate the designer to think beyond the simple task of how to provide sufficient space to fit everywhere in. There is no sense of the future, of lifestyle change, or indeed ambience and interaction conjured up with the 'exercise', which is often how the architect sees it.

The habitation of a structure becomes less certain as we 'progress'. The particular has become vague. The architect of an office block is not interested in how occupancy takes place, beyond the idea of being able to demonstrate that the floorplate is flexible enough to provide a range of well-worn and well-understood managerial arrangements of partitions. All that is about clear spaces and modular wall layouts, combined to give as little offence to any future occupant as possible. This is the mundane as offered by estate agents, who are often duller than the accountants.

Buildings might be built to last longer than they do. The basic structure might well be deliberately designed to allow additional light or cantilevered extensions to be added.

The services can be reworked on a more frequent basis, but I am sure that we can predict less services in the building of the future, with a wireless revolution, no air handling and a more robust passive attitude towards Part L of the Building Regulations.

These technical developments will give new impetus to social changes, whereby we might see buildings for work combined with hotels and bed-sits for visiting staff and young graduate living. Public space might be included, to allow people to sit and constructively do nothing. Workshops and schools could be incorporated, so that the whole has the potential to be a microcosm of a town. This demand goes way beyond any brief I have seen; but this is the architect's job - to see into the future and test it out.

The island of Capri will also change. It will be able to accommodate people other than the tourist. It will provide all the culture, working places and interactive occasions throughout the year. This place of monoculture will become the multicultural, multi-use building, as technology and living patterns evolve and adapt. It might even acquire some really useful shops.

WA, from the sun terrace of my hotel in Capri

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