Centre for Natural Material Innovation, Cambridge University

Ephemeral: Natural Flexible Living

‘Ephemeral’ showcases a new concept of living – natural and flexible – in a home that transforms with you. ‘Ephemeral’ enriches the relationship between the planet and people, where rigid systems transform into adaptable ones, where houses become homes.

The climate crisis is at the forefront of the architectural agenda. There is an urgent need to create a new way of living sustainably and responsibly that cares for and adapts to the changing needs of humans. Through ‘Ephemeral’, the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at the University of Cambridge and PLP Architecture show the research taking place in natural materials and flexible systems for a future that we can grow.

Climate and forests are the starting points. The world faces a climate emergency, in part because the built environment accounts for 40% of global carbon emissions. By using timber from sustainably managed forests for homes, we can leave behind an era of extracting building materials from nature and move towards a future of growing them with nature. Next, policies for housing, people and the environment need to be improved. The visitor will be immersed into the world of timber construction, materiality and flexible systems – a playground to explore and learn. The last section of the exhibition explores new technologies for natural materials – innovative ways of using earth with digital technologies and the world of mycelium. Last, the audience can enter the home – a natural area for flexible living. ‘Ephemeral’ proposes the apartment as an open space with fixed services, where residents can add or subtract moveable walls according to their needs.

The design team behind ‘Ephemeral’ investigates ‘soft flexibility’, where residents customise their space organically. The ephemeral walls made with engineered timber and digital tools are low-cost, modular and sustainable and can be placed anywhere within the apartment. The need for flexibility within housing coincides with the need to involve residents in the design of their living spaces. Housing should be a process where residents can actively create their spaces based on a simple principle: every human has a right to decent and affordable housing that has its own originality and character.

1 of 3


The Centre for Natural Material Innovation in the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge is a cross-disciplinary centre, bringing together people and research in plant sciences, biochemistry, chemistry, fluid dynamics, engineering and architecture. Through innovative research and experimentation, they aim to transform the way we build to achieve zero carbon emissions.

PLP Architecture is a London-based group of architects, designers and thinkers who value the transformative role of ideas. They envision spaces that enrich and inspire society. The firm has created some of the world’s most innovative buildings which redefine what it means to live and work in today’s cities.



Centre for Natural Material Innovation, Cambridge University

PLP Architecture


Arts and Humanities Research Council

The Laudes Foundation