Planned Spontaneity
by Bojana Vuksanović



OVERVIEW


1. Introduction
2. Planning
3. Spontaneity
4. The Issue of Complexity
5. Planned versus Spontaneous
6. Planned Spontaneity
7. Conclusion




“The unexpected has its own force, and there is a beauty in the spaces between dimensions, as can be seen in all art forms. Music is not only a question of time and pitch, but also intensity. Poetry is not only words and thoughts, but also heartbeats. Architecture is not only space and material, but also the special vibration of place and use.”

Gunnar Hoydal, Faroese Architect and Poet




1. Introduction


Ever since human consciousness evolved, the tendency was there to conquer the nature and put the natural processes under control. Today, we can predict with a very high level of certainty if the various things will or will not happen. These processes often follow a very predictable ‘path’ and it seems that the certain direction of movement and change does exist. The entire universe appears to be on a constant roll.

There are certain things in nature and society which require time to develop. They do not instantly happen. This especially concerns communities and the relationships between people. Urban plans, which, by their very essence, are concerned with these, often seem to ignore this. Most of the times they attempt to provide the solution in its finalized form, which is frequently shown not to work.

While in other fields, especially in the areas of the natural sciences, existing processes are employed on a much more complex level, in the design process, urban design in particular, problematic involved is still tackled as if city matter is something static and certain. Time is often completely disregarded and everything is fixed and known before it has even happened.

Our society is becoming increasingly complex every day. Identifying the ‘problem’ is becoming less and less possible. Is it likely that, if the right conditions were created, the ‘solution’ would consequently present itself, representing, by the very nature of its emergence, the ‘right answer’? Do conditions themselves require time to ‘evolve’ in order for the right questions to be asked?




2. Planning


plan /plæn/ n.&v. – n. 1 a a formulated and especially detailed method by which a thing is to be done; a design or scheme. b an intention or proposed proceeding (my plan was to distract them/ plan of campaign). 2 a drawing or diagram made by projection on a horizontal plane, esp. showing a building or one floor of a building 3 a large scale detailed map of a town or district. 4a a table etc. indicating times, places, etc, of intended proceedings. b a scheme or arrangement (prepared the seating plan). 5 an imaginary plane perpendicular to the line of vision and containing the objects shown in a picture. – v. (planned, planning) 1 tr. (often foll. by that + clause or to + infin.) arrange (a procedure etc.) beforehand; form a plan (planned to catch the evening ferry). 2 tr. a design (a building new town, etc.) b. make a plan of (an existing building, an area, etc.). 3 tr. (as planned adj.) in accordance with a plan (his planned arrival; planned parenthood) 4 intr. make plans. □ planning permission Brit. formal permission for building development etc. esp. from a local authority. plan on colloq. aim at doing; intend. □□ planning n. (F f. earlier plant, f. It. pianta plan of building: cf. plant)



In today’s society, planning involves groups of urban designers producing their vision in its final form: through the media of models and drawings, the finalized design is delivered to the client.

Excluding the medieval period, during which cities were not planned as such, this kind of planning has sustained until today. What is shown through the drawings and models is what is expected to became the reality once the proposal is built. In this form planning existed ever since the ancient times. Town planning of the Ancient Roman Republic illustrates this very well.

It was during the Renaissance times that the planning task was again assigned to the group of experts. They would on paper produce the plan of the city, which was than built accordingly. Important revision of planning occurred during functionalist movement in 1930s - the issues of health and equality between people suddenly became of the utmost importance, but, although there were changes in ideology and motives, the actual design methods stayed very much the same – the urban plan was envisaged, finalised and decided right to its end stage by the team of experts long before work on the site was to begin.




3. Spontaneity


spontaneous /spon’teiniəs/ adj. 1 acting or done or occurring without external cause. 2 voluntary, without external incitement (made a spontaneous offer of his services). 3 Biol. (of structural changes in plants and muscular activity esp. in young animals) instinctive, automatic, prompted by no motive 4 (of bodily movement, literary style, etc.) gracefully natural and unconstrained 5 (of sudden movement etc.) involuntary, not due to conscious volition. 6 growing naturally without cultivation □ spontaneous combustion the ignition of a mineral or vegetable substance (e.g. a heap of rags soaked with oil, a mass of wet coal) from heat engendered within itself, usu. by rapid oxidation. spontaneous generation the supposed production of living from non/living matter as inferred from the appearance of life (due in fact to bacteria etc.) in some infusions; a biogenesis. spontaneous suggestion suggestion from association of ideas without conscious volition. □□ spontaneity /,spontə’ni:iti,-‘neiiti/ n. spontaneously adv. spontaneousness n. (LL spontaneous f. sponte of one’s own accord)



There is a certain flow in the Universe and we are part of it. There are things which are not planned - they happen. These are the processes which exist all around us and it is what the Nature’s essence seems to be. Movement and change appear to be fundamental forces in the Cosmos. We are also continuously evolving. There seems to be a continuous adaptation of everything on existing conditions at any particular moment in time.

During the period roughly between AD 500 and AD 1500, the cities were not planned in a real sense. They would appear where there was a need for them, and their form and ‘plan’ was the result of a processes which took sometimes several hundreds of years. The changes which happened during the city history often seem to be ‘engraved’ in these plans. The history of these cities can be ‘decoded’ from them. They show a sort of a time map of events that happened during their past. These cities evolved as a result of current needs of the society and its inhabitants. As a result, their ‘plans’ often work very well. The scale and usage of spaces seems to be very appropriate to the people, and it is evident that a great number of visitors of inhabitants enjoy these cities very much.

Cities behave in a similar manner as organisms do. They are not dead, static places. They are continuously changing and adapting. These changes are not always a result of some fixed preconceived plan. More often these changes are the result of spontaneous processes, which happen as a reaction to current conditions.

If a city is perceived as an alive, dynamic organism, would the design of the initial conditions, which would act as triggers to a process, rather than its final form be more appropriate? Is it possible to ‘direct’ processes which would then start to happen, rather than try to force the final stage ourselves?



4. The Issue of the Complexity


An increase in complexity of society as the time progresses is evident. In some ways, our society is evolving in an almost identical way to that of individual organisms. What starts as a small number of identical cells, splits into more and more units and their function becomes more and more specialized. What starts of as a single cell, develops over time into an immensely complex, but nevertheless extremely well coordinated organism.

It is recognized that the more complex the systems are, as the number of variables to consider increases, the more difficult it becomes to identify the requirements and specify the problems. The cities and the large urban areas are examples of these complex systems. The complexity makes their resulting programs more and more indeterminate. The rules which govern the process became more and more difficult to isolate.

In the Roman times, the city planners had a comparatively limited number of issues to consider. The Roman society was split into a relatively small number of classes which were very clearly defined. Somehow, it was appropriate for a city planner in Ancient Rome to design a city in its finalized form – the problem was identified, and there was the solution to it – the plan.

Since Roman times, the society has greatly changed. People are much freer in their choices and their options and have a great variety of different lifestyles. They move and travel much faster than they used to. The information exchange between them is so much faster and it is done over much larger distances. We are living in times of accelerated change. The complexity of the society increased so much that even defining a problems is a problem in itself. It is hard to tell any more what the requirements are or might be. Although rapid change in the structure of the society’s complexity is evident, nothing has radically changed since the times of Romans as far as the urban design strategy is concerned.



5. Planned versus Spontaneous


While organic architecture involves no or very little planning, the ability to predict situations with a high degree of certainty requires the skills which are much greater than what the ‘instantaneous’ planning requires. In this respect, being able to take the control of spontaneous and living processes in the Universe seems more of a step ahead and it is not to be seen in any case as something in-between planned and organic.

During the sixties, a rare attempt to deal with the issue of ‘growth’ and development over time happened. In 1966. Arup Associates produced the Master Plan for Loughborough University.

The client was neither able to predict the development in teaching disciplines nor to specify with certainty the future requirements of the University complex. It was impossible for them to give any sort of determined brief of their needs. Arup Associates found that the only way to tackle the design of such unspecified Master Plan was to work with indeterminate growth of variable functions and their interrelationships.

The design became a distribution of interrelationships between various parts in the form of a grid, which may or may not happen as a future development. The interrelationships of the individual parts were considered, as well as how the individual parts related to the whole. They were designed with a determined structural space unit (which was possible to identify), with and by the requirement of the vertical circulation and services. The initial ‘entity’ was able to ‘grow’ and expand in a predictable and planned manner, but the extent and the rate of expansion of ‘growth’ itself was left to clarify itself as the time advances.

In the design of larger urban areas, where complexity and indeterminacy becomes even more of an issue, this design approach seems even more appropriate. The grid ‘shape’ of the plan illustrates how the actual ‘shape’ of the plan, i.e. whether the plan is in a form of a grid or whether it has more ‘organic’, ‘fluid’ shape is not the indicator of its deterministic or non-deterministic nature.



6. Planned Spontaneity


“The complex and vibrant ideal: to create an order from which
accidental occurrences can arise” Gunar Hoydal


One of greatest abilities of human beings is inventing/producing things which ‘by their very nature’ are not part of the Nature. We have the ability to imagine things which do not exist yet and are subsequently able to realise them/make them happen.

Simultaneously, there are processes in nature which somehow happen by themselves. There is nothing that we are doing which makes this happen. When ‘triggered’ these processes happen with a great deal of certainty: for a seed planted under optimal condition, it is fairly certain that it will start to grow. Similarly, this process can be prevented if the same seed is kept in the drawer for years. There are uncountable examples of this in the organic as well as the non-organic world. But what is essential to note is that, although we can ‘trigger’ and control these processes, the process of the actual growth itself still happen ‘on its own’.

It can be seen from the nature that the higher the degree of order within the system, the less chance of accidental occurrences taking place and the less chance for spontaneity to happen The more static the systems, the less change is possible. The things that are showing the greatest ability for adaptation and change are in their dynamic states. Liquids and gases (fluids) are the states which are the most flexible. They are able to take a ‘shape’ of what it is that contains them. They are able to ‘mould’ around things. The solids are not.

It is as if the more fixed our designs are, the more resistance they exert on the natural dynamic of things. There is a difference between trying to force things into the shape/state, and allowing something to happen. A lot about human mind is still about control. There is a clear fixation with ‘final and defined’.

There is a certain beauty in uncertainty, this is something which makes our lives amazing to us. If everything was always known in advance to its last detail what would it be to live that life? Love and friendship can only spontaneously happen.

Spontaneity creates a space for things to unfold in the direction that creates a natural balance; the one that would be assumed if not prevented by the fixity of the human mind. Regardless, despite of the rational control imposed, the spontaneity is resumed as soon as the control is released. This is an imminent process and can be seen on every single level of existence.


7. Conclusion


There is no conclusion.

In the Universe which is a mixture of infinitely complex and changeable variables, in the place where everything is constantly changing and moving, apart as a mere Utopian abstraction, can something as final ever exist.




Bojana Vuksanović
written May 2003