The word ephemerality comes from Greek εφήμερος – ephemeros, literally "lasting only one day". Ephemerality is a concept for things that exist only briefly, things that are in transition, things that change. If we see the built environment as an equation, buildings and street furniture are constants and people and events are variables. Variables, or people and events/purpose change. Variables often play in a regular pattern, like the everyday route from home to office, or annual Christmas celebration. Constants remain as it is for a long time, not affected by variables, but play an important role in terms of allowing for a flexible variable at any given point of time.
Ephemerality is a concept for things that exist only briefly, things that are in transition, things that change.
Permanent vs Temporary, India © 2013 Dinesh Mehta
Rom Hoop Market, Thailand © Soranart Sinuraibhan
To understand the concept better, let’s take an example of Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival and pilgrimage, celebrated in a cycle of 12 years when the flood plains of Ganga are no more underwater. It becomes an urban agglomeration, every 12 years, attracting tens of millions of pilgrims. In the book, “Kumbh Mela, January 2013: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City,” Architect Rahul Mehrotra helps understand the functioning of the festival through an infrastructural perspective. Kumbh Mela is a classic example of an ephemeral city, a city that exists temporally.
Aerial View of Kumbh Mela held in 2012 next to the city of Allahabad © Jiva Gupta
Ephemerality is an important aspect to understand from an Urban Planning and Design perspective. It allows a place to transform into variable cases as a product of space and time, resulting in efficient space management.