Comments on Planned Spontaneity

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.

One thought on “Comments on Planned Spontaneity”

  1. The term ‘spontaneous’ is not referring exclusively to organic processes. There are chemical and physical processes of dead matter going through spontaneous changes. As you say, organic is not truly opposed to the orderly. May I also add, there are countless examples of spontaneous processes (in organic and also non organic world) that follow a very predictable path, and I write of this in the paper.

    It seems that there are some misconceptions (also in the discussion following the entry of Lebbeus Wood ‘Worlds Apart’) of terms ‘random’, ‘spontaneous’ and ‘organic’. There seem to be an equation of ‘spontaneous’ with ‘organic’, likewise equating the meanings of ‘spontaneous’ with that of ‘random’, and also of terms ‘random’ and ‘organic’.

    The spontaneous processes are not necessarily random. There seem to be forces that, looking at mathematics of their interrelationship with other occurrences, appear to be following a very definite sets of rules. For many processes, there seem to be a structured path along which the change is happening (e.g. growth of organism, ruled by the DNA information code), yet, they do have reactive and adaptive capabilities.

    Complexity (you are right in saying that there was not much analysis of it, perhaps something to try to include), is used only as a descriptive quality. It is stating the tendencies in the evolution of the society, and organisms, to move from simple, low class systems, with a small number of variables, to complex specialization that is evident.

    There was no argument in the paper suggesting that more complexity improves the process. The solution suggested a neutral configuration (which for that matter, could have very simple/or complex formative rules) but of such an order, that its major characteristic would include the ability to act as ‘cast’ of the existing conditions and change/therefore to act as liquids. In this sense, suggesting indeterminacy at the initial stages.

    The liquid states are the systems with rules governing their overall ‘form’ and behavior, but within it there is an individual freedom of movements of particles. As you quote Murry Gell-Mann, the “indeterminate mixture of order and randomness”.

    Therefore, I have argued for indeterminacy, but not necessarily for random. I have argued for spontaneous, but not necessarily for organic.

    I feel that there was a misreading of the paper in one important point, interpreted as favoring organic. Organic, in my view, involves no planning. My argument was that the next level of planning should aim for the level of technology and the knowledge, where we could consciously (rationally) use these processes of spontaneous change, to our benefit. Perhaps through giving the design in such a configuration, where this ‘flow’ of change, that is evident, could be used to ‘run it’ for us – in the direction, and taking it to the destination that we envisage, in other words, plan.

    Bojana Vuksanovi?

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