Planned Spontaneity – Bojana Vuksanovic argues for new approaches to design and planning that allow for more spontaneity and change rather than the rigid, preconceived approaches that are favored in current architectural practice. While her arguments are strong, I take issue with her unqualified use of the terms organic and complexity.
The organic is not truly opposed to the orderly. Her use of the organic is in line with its commonly conceived usage, but that usage favors too heavily the conception that the organic is somehow special in architecture. Architecture by its very nature is inorganic and though it can be a useful metaphor to compare certain aspects to the organic qualities, the organic metaphor can also be abused when not qualified in its usage. Like many in the architectural community, the term organic is as a judgment rather than a quality or characteristic. It is something that is favored and good for architecture without qualification.
Complexity is a more recent term filled with baggage in architectural discussion, however as in this essay, there is little qualification as to what makes up something that is complex and what does complexity actually do for the design. To state the obvious, complexity isn't a simple subject that many architect's seem to think it is. I am similarly troubled by her use of complexity without a discussion of the very real pitfalls of the “random”. Yes, current architecture can use more spontaneity or noise in the decision making process, but to argue that more complexity improves that process is not necessarily true. As Murry Gell-Mann argues in his book the Quark and Jaguar, effective complexity, that complexity that contributes to the behavior of a system, actually is highest and richest at some indeterminate mixture of order and randomness. Too often today, randomness, which is complex, is thought to be effective. Her example of fluids being more complex than solids falls into exactly this pitfall. Yes, there is more room for the random in a fluid, but its ability to interface with other systems and behaviors are not that much more complex than a solid when you consider all the different ways solids can form.
Despite these few discrepancies, the essay is very good and shows a careful and thoughtful approach to the problem of spontaneity in design. Vuksanovic’s critique of the conventional design practices that sacrifice richness of experience for the safety of certainty is a powerful one. I highly recommend reading the article.