Stating the problem

Starting a text by stating the word problem is already much more ambitious than what someone could fulfill as it implies that we need to frame a part of the reality as if we already know and can take for granted what should be considered as a problem. Apart from the fact that a problem is always about a fragment and not a totality there is also the parameter of time. If the problem we set as problem is really one, can only be known in the depth of time. The problem of today is only to be revealed tomorrow, and what we consider as a problem today, tomorrow might be considered as a bless, not a curse. Therefore, fragmentation and temporality in defining the "problem" as such is already a problem in itself and certainly I could say that one of the problems I would like to solve with this text is the wrong perception of the term problem.

On the other hand the word problem rather implies the need for a solution but I am not sure yet if the aim of this text is to solve a problem or to create more problems opening up a set of questions and relating them, I guess it is up to the reader. Additionally, a solution is something final, conclusive and in a text about informality what is critical is rather to avoid the end. So instead of the word problem I prefer the word phenomenon because all a phenomenon seeks is to be understood and by understanding it one could frame a context and describe a situation in a way that is not aimed or closed but open and flexible. Through understanding changes will come unhurriedly and naturally, they will establish a line for communication and constant negotiation, or better, a symbiosis among the text and the phenomenon of informality.

The whole project is an attempt to transform my aesthesis for the things into a gnosis, into a knowledge that can be transferred, communicated, questioned. Somehow it is an attempt to formalize the informality of my intuition in a smooth way. This is why I don't start by aiming at the end, I just start writing, hoping that the way I write, and the content of what I write could teach me how I think.

Three Little pigs

"One day the big bad wolf came and knocked on the first little pig's door and said, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in." And the little pig answered, "No, no, I won't let you come in, not by the hair on my chinny chin chin." "Well," said the wolf, "then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in." So he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down"[1]

The famous fairy tale of the three little pigs[2] and the big bad wolf is a story that intends to be didactic and teach children the value of consistency and hard working but I would like to inverse this and attempt to see it the other way round. This is probably because I never considered the first little pig as lazy or less smart and also because I consider the story as a good start for a discussion about the architectural practices and in general the technical world. In the story, the little pigs build small houses for their protection and what is noticeable is that while building takes place, every single little pig solves practically only one problem disregarding others. The first pig considers as a major problem the spending of time so sets as his main goal to build fast and finish in a short time. He really solves the problem and brings his goal to an end by building the house with the use of hay which is a light material therefore easy to carry and manipulate quite fast with the use of the minimum power. In that sense the little pig has succeeded. But then the wolf blows and the wind comes and demolishes the house. The same happens in the case of the wooden house, the aim is fulfilled with the use of a material which is more stable and can resist wind but it is easy to put on fire and this is how the wolf destroys it. The pigs finally hide themselves in the third house which is the most stable and safe because it is made of bricks and this is how they get saved. But the brick house took more time to be built and the story unfortunately doesn't tell us what would have happened to the three little pigs if the wolf had decided to come earlier before the brick house was finished or which pig would have survived in a case where the houses would collapse during an earthquake. On the other hand I cannot avoid mentioning that there was also the possibility that the wolf would never come which would mean that the first pig would be the most successful. What I mean is that the problem of the fairy tale is that it takes the overall context for granted and sets the conditional problem as something fixed while in reality it never is.

Taking the context for granted is also what the pigs did and it is what happens in all technical practices. Every pig set his own problematic and worked according to that and eventually all of them came up with solutions that suited them and achieved the goals they had set. What they did wrong was that they failed to consider the totality therefore what they initially defined as problem was only a part of the totality and was solving only one of the possible problems. While building, they imposed a goal and brought things to an end by giving a material form that as they thought would serve the goal. But every single house had a different end and it was build to serve one singular purpose, not all possible purposes. When the wolf appeared, his presence revealed (or activated) several needs and dangers (e.g. the wind) that the pigs had failed to predict and consequently hadn't designed possible "solutions" for them. This is why their houses didn't manage to survive, because their processes had concluded. But this is how it is in real; there is always an "outside" that we fail to examine, the other (l'autre) which we fail to predict and to design for, there is always the unknown and the unpredictable (which certainly is not random).

Therefore, if we look at the reality in total, or the totality of certain processes, we understand that it is rather impossible to define a singular thing as "problem" and certainly there cannot exist something that we can clearly name "solution". Problems and solutions exist only within fragments, as constructions or conventions that serve the better understanding of the world but they are not the world. Reality is a complex continuum where infinite sets of problems and solutions are interconnected in ways we often don't know and cannot predict. Within this complexity any kind of interference alters the system in ways that are not necessarily singular or fragmental therefore what we consider as solution to a problem might often deteriorate other problems in ways we hadn't predicted. Therefore what we tend to consider as solution to a problem, is rather a negotiation among several problems.

[1] Source Wikipedia:

[2] Published versions of the story date back to the late 18th century, but the story is thought to be much older. The phrases used in the story, and the various morals which can be drawn from it, have become enshrined in western culture.

The formal - Technical

The inherent problems of technical practices

Nowadays, technology and technicality is the new metaphysics. After the collapse of political utopias and since god had already been killed by Nietzsche what remained for the people as a field to project their hopes is the technological utopia. Technology offers to human beings what in the past an ideology or a god was offering to them, the hope for safety and preservation of their being. This becomes so dominant that eventually technology becomes our being. People believe in systems and not only connect themselves to them but they grow attached to them. This is certainly because of many plausible reasons but on the other hand this belief has several side effects. Technology becomes an extension of ourselves and also a formative device, becoming itself a scope, in such a way that we often cannot see further than the "formal".

Descartes' rationalism introduced a model of thinking which apart from the contribution it certainly had to the history of humanity, was followed by dichotomies (the body and the mind, the natural and the technical), fragmentations, centralism (the 0,0 and orthos logos itself) etc. The critique to Descartes from the scope of the architects focuses mainly on the Cartesian space but a discussion about that is rather reductive because we always end up discussing about forms which rather underlines the way how, as architects, we tend to perceive our practice, as a "form making". In reality the things we should be critical about Descartes, apart from the Cartesian space, are much more essential and they refer to the mechanical way of thinking rationalism introduced together with the various dualisms. One really important dualism that originates in Descartes is this of natural and technical, where the nature is hetero-defined through the technical and it is really interesting to see that the nature is being referred as a "machine" as something purely technical. Apart from that Descartes' goal was to reach truth in order for the humans to become ‘masters and possessors of nature' and this is a concept upon which the whole technical world (and also capitalism) is been based still until today. But the idea of reaching the truth (apart from the truth itself) and mastering nature is rather problematic. In the first place because the existence of truth is questionable, but apart from that, because of the fact that reaching the truth takes place with the use of technical media and conventions. The word truth itself is a technical word, it refers to our ability to perceive and describe phenomena that are not true or false, they just are. The concept of truth refers to a reason and an imposed goal, a why things are and not merely to a how they came to be. No matter if this "why" has an answer or not, or if there is a goal, a logos, the way technical practices function is deeply influenced by it.

What is inherent in technical productions is their mechanical perception of the "end", in the sense Heidegger uses the word, meaning the fulfillment, the completion. Any strategy that has its origin in the realm of the technical (which rather means all of them) has to focus on a goal, an aim and a targeted fulfillment which is always singular. This technical end always refers to only one particular think or set of things selecting always a specific resolution of analysis, which is usually defined by the method, the tools and the particular definition of the context which is different every time. It is this idea of focusing to the particular (usually in only one spatiotemporal variable) and defining a specific resolution that makes technical productions to fail to be holistic and encompass the associations of particular but not individual or independent ends with the totality which is full of relations and relations among relations.

The spatiotemporal reality constitutes a continuum which is extremely complex and certainly not fixed, balanced or stable. On the other hand technical practices in order to be effective (especially in the frame of a capitalistic economy) they tend to be reductive and regard planning and production as linear practices that need to have a starting point and an end, therefore they follow patterns or methods that are often prefabricated, they follow the "formal" way. Formality then "executes" a production considering as fixed and stable things that are not, such as the idea of the end which in the case of technical productions becomes an artificial completion, an imposed conclusion, a fixed fulfillment of a prefabricated goal. In the technical world, something needs to be finished and execute the function that it was planned for, no matter that the need for another function may appear since necessities of any kind are not fixed and they emerge in ways that in general are not predictable (there is no accuracy in any kind of deterministic approaches that attempt predictions). Technical productions then fail to be open-ended and even when they attempt to be open they fail again because they define openness in ways that leave a predetermined degree of freedom but they cannot predict everything and cannot encompass everything (Japanese ideas of metabolism is a good example). This is why the "formal" technical productions fall short in the long term and one could pose that the degree and the impact of failure increases with their scale. The reason is that they frame and they name and by this way they formalize. We could distinguish some basic characteristics and actions that take place within formal systems and structures:
  1. Definitions. The aim is to have nothing left undefined, nothing ambiguous. Concerning space even the last square meter of land is recorded. You name it therefore it exists, by naming it you bring it to the realm of the known, the recognizable (the predictable) but once naming takes place it is not certain that it is what it was before being named. It is not singular any more, it is not unique, it is a unit in a category, it is not self-defined and autonomous but hetero-defined and heteronomous.

  2. Categorizations. Naming imposes purposes and characteristics, it positions things and practices into general categories (sets, genres), this does this, the other does that, creates an identity which doesn't only refer to a category and an origin but also to a purpose, an "end". This is end is usually pre-constructed unless the name is new, not predefined but then it is not recognizable; it is not serving the aim of the action of naming.

  3. Distinctions. Naming defines borders by categorizing and classifying. "This belongs here, this cannot do this and this can do that."

  4. Relations. The aim is to define how individual ends meet and connect or oppose, how they interact, how they are being articulated but because of the fact that things through naming lose uniqueness and become general conditions, any kind of connection within a system is rather mechanical. Systems function mechanically as points and connections, definitions and relations, general categories and general conditions that connect them. But a mechanical system fails to encompass particularity and uniqueness, therefore is not a continuum as it would be if we were not thinking with abstract general conditions but we took into account the exceptions. Everything are exceptions. When the connection is linear, like a bridge, what it achieves is to make more distinct the ends that it connects, to signify the differentiation, the bordering, the discontinuity, the dichotomy.
What becomes obvious from the above is that technical practices and their productions cannot be holistic; they are mechanical, therefore fragmented, and because there is always a field outside of them they leave gaps between different scales, gaps between different strategies, different practices, between the general and the particular, the society and the individual, the total and the singular etc. In all the above there is in between space. The problem is inherent in the concept of the detachment of the terms described above; technical practices are detached enclosures that are mechanically connected. For example the ways we practically link the universal and the singular, the general and the particular is by drawing lines that are either borders or linear, one to one connections between them. This is a reductive practice since apart from the two poles of the dipoles there is always an in between space and this is why there are always exceptions, or to be more precise, everything are exceptions. Taking this into account it becomes highly critical the how we deal with these exceptions when we decide to "form" a rule, a canonization, a system or a method in order to go forward towards a production. How can we canonize a complex continuum which consists of infinite unique elements, relations, relations among relations etc? Isn't it a fundamental problem to negotiate among the individual ends of our rules and the needs that emerge constantly and without being predefined?

These negotiations, the "how" things relate to each other and grow associations with each other being in states of symbiosis, are to be found in their most compact form in the realm of the natural where these continuous negotiations become also the key for evolution. The main difference of natural practices from the technical ones is the fact that no matter that they tend towards an end they don't conclude, they are continuous interrelated and this is perpetual while the ends are multiple and, contrary to technical practices, inherent in the processes, not imposed by an external factor. This is what Aristotle describes with the term "entelechy" (εντελέχεια).

The mechanical perception of the end in the technical world is what I believe that creates the major dichotomy among the natural and the technical, the ecotopia and technotopia creating a polarized dipole while in reality technotopia should be regarded as a part of ecotopia. If the technical world manages to perceive and encompass the "end" as it exists in the natural processes, as "entelechy", then there could be a much smoother transition among ecotopia and technotopia, the human nature and the human techniques and their products. Concerning architecture in particular, the "naturalization" of the architectural processes, the smoothening of the boundaries between the natural and the technical is something I regard as a necessity since architecture is the technical expression of a fundamentally natural condition, this of habitation.

The growth of informality as a natural condition

Nature hates gaps. These gaps (described above) in the technical world that "formality" leaves open are there to be filled in by the natural consequence which is informality. As Gilles Deleuze poses, no matter how close one will lay the stones of the pathway there will always be gaps for the grass to grow.

Informality is the child of the coexistence and the relations between technical and natural ends and it shouldn't be considered a side-effect but rather as a natural condition. The informal is immanent in the fields or the connections between different particular formalities, expressed in any material or immaterial way, pending for activation and emergence (later in the text I describe the term). Once it grows, informality becomes the link connecting individual formal ends, altering them or creating new ones. It is almost natural the way how informality emerges and flourishes. The idea is that since informality is almost a natural phenomenon we should use it as something that is in a state of a symbiosis with formality. This symbiosis would smoothen the artificially imposed boundaries between the technical formality and the natural informality, technotopia and ecotopia. These terms are not detached no matter that often the policies and strategies of today still regard them as such.

Emergence – Becoming (informality as a natural process)

The term emergence is critical for understanding informality as a natural phenomenon. Informality emerges, in the beginning as something undefined and it wouldn't be inaccurate to say that the term emergence resembles to the term genesis. Both these terms seem to imply that an output is not the outcome of a process where a creator or a set of creators produce something from scratch but it is an innate property of things (therefore also of space) that preexists in the realm of he possible pending for activation before being actual. Therefore, any kind of informal practice is to be considered as an activation that brings informality from the realm of the possible to the realm of the actual. To make it clearer, it is as if in the story of the three little pigs the causes that made the houses collapse and the danger were already there; the wolf merely activated them and made the potentiality of the collapse to become a reality.

What is critical to understand is that the phenomenon of emergence takes place in an evolutionary way because emergence is a cumulative process and I dare to say that this is not something detached from the formality itself. The combination of formalities and certain necessities is the activator for the growth of informality.

Emergence, no matter that is taking place in the field of the informal is touching both the formal and the informal and seems to be the active connection of the two fields as if the one is the cause and the other the effect with these two roles changing all the time, which means that the cause could be a formality which would have as an effect a particular informality and vice versa. Certainly, there could be a huge discussion about this interrelation and how it works practically, meaning, how formality perceives informality in real and in what extend formality allows informality to grow and inform the formal. But contrary to the actual situation where the formal excludes the informal, formality and informality are in true connected, at least this is how it should be.

Evolutionary dynamics are not an exclusive property of informality, but informality seems to be much more into this process of evolution because of the number of "agents" that participate and also because of the active roles they play. In general, informal emergence is a rather decentralized autopoetic process while formal development is much more centralized which means that any kind of formal production has to go through the filters and controls of an authority or processes of decision making that reduce the number of the active participants and impose technical ends (goals, aims). During the process of the emergence, everything that happens, exists, is or has been produced, no matter if it is formal or informal, function as a latent origin, as a genotype that informs the particular development of the thing, the phenotype, in a dynamic way. The output itself functions then as a possible new origin for a new production. It is as if there is a tank of characteristics that informs every new production and is in turn informed by the new product.

In order to make it more tangible, when talking about the term emergence we need to distinguish three "moments" that are being described below.

a) Origin, Phylogenesis refers to the origin and the evolution of it. Or to be more precise, the origin of the "product", or better, the output of a creation and the origin of the creation process in the same time. The term origin here is not exclusively referring to a historical origin, but to anything that functions as a defining factor, as a data tank that informs the production, or if you prefer the "becoming", of a thing.

b) Activation, Pathogenesis is the reason, the cause that activates the origin and the process of the growth.

c) Growth, Morphogenesis is the form generating process, the result of the activation of phylogenesis by a pathogenesis which creates a topological growth within the active materiality.

The words above are being placed in what could be conceived as chronological order (what happens first what follows etc.) but what actually happens is that the terms are embedded into each other in a way that nothing happens first or second but all together interact simultaneously with each other in a formative way meaning that the one is feeding the other constantly. Somehow emergence is a wave of constant activations of phylogenetic characteristics and a filling in of the phylogenetic tank with new ones.

What follows bellow is an attempt to define more analytically the terms, find their origins.

Genesis (Greek: Γένεσις, having the meanings of "birth", "creation", "cause", "beginning", "source" and "origin") is the first book of the Torah, the first book of the Tanakh and also the first book of the Christian Old Testament.[1]

The word genesis has been connected with the idea of a prefect and ultimate creation. Apart from any kind of metaphysical approach that relates the specific word to a concept of "creation" where idea is considered to be superior to its material representation or where the creation is regarded as the reflection of the omniscience and omnipresence of a creator, the word is absolutely related, if not tied together, with the materiality itself.

Genesis, before any other meaning, means birth. In this text the word is being approached as a singularity that carries other singularities. Therefore, Genesis is followed by the other terms presented in this text (Pathogenesis, Phylogenesis and Morphogenesis). All of them are related to the process of creating not in the sense of constructing by a strict absolute plan but in the sense of giving birth; in the sense of creating the seed for the conception leaving it to grow as a result of a process of becoming rather than making or constructing. Having this "process of becoming" as the main common property the terms below share, all of them consist of the term "genesis" and each of them defines a different stage of the birth giving process.

Phylogenesis (or phylogeny) is the origin and evolution of a set of organisms, usually a set of species. A major task of systematics is to determine the ancestral relationships among known species (both living and extinct).[2]

If we attempt to detach the term phylogenesis from the context of biology and to broaden it we will find its properties extending in any process of formation or "becoming". Phylogenesis as "the origin and evolution" is the concept which helps us understand the relationships between different parts in the formation of a continuum that consists of singularities. It is about the relationships of the general and the particular, the whole and its parts or in the Deleuzian way the universal and the singular and their evolutionary mechanisms.

In essentialism there are general types or fixed categories (such as animal species) and the particular members in each of them share common properties. In the Deleuzian philosophy these fixed categories or types are being replaced by bigger spatio-temporal individuals so that a given species is as singular, as unique, as historically contingent as the organisms that belong to it. "The relation between organisms and species is not one of tokens belonging to types, but one of wholes and parts: singular individual organisms are the component working parts of a (larger) singular individual species."[3]

Here the idea of singularity is rather topological than geometric. One could regard the connection between the origin and the evolution in such a way. The way the origin participates in the evolutionary process is like a genetic algorithm which exists as topological algorithm and not as geometric. What happens is that the process of making or becoming (e.g. the growing of an embryo) of something is taking place in an energetic materiality that consists of spatio-temporal singularities, implicit forms that are rather topological than geometric[4]. Once this something is produced, no matter that the process is never finalized, its extensities and qualities will hide the process under the product and the product in turn will possess and develop a set of new capacities, for example by interacting with other individuals or the environment in creating the preconditions for the evolution.

In that case, an example outside of biology that one can draw is the map of Charles Jencks for the history of Architecture where history is not presented as a linear arrangement of historical facts but is being mapped as a flowing continuum where certain historical periods are interacting with each other, flowing into each other and overlapping, depending on each other, being formed and deformed by each other in a process of perpetual evolution.

Pathogenesis is the mechanism by which a certain etiological factor causes disease (pathos = disease, genesis = development).[5]

The term pathogenesis (παθογένεσις), in its broader sense outside of biology, refers to the mechanism that produces the connections between a cause and an effect, the matter and the form connecting the realm of the potential with that of the real or activating the virtual, in a Deleuzian way.

In the ancient Greek philosophy "potentiality" and "reality" belong to two separate realms. For Plato the ideas exist prior to their representations, prior to form and praxis and they derive from a superior, perfect world.

In the Aristotelian philosophy and in particular in Aristotle's Metaphysics the idea about the relation of cause and effect is illustrated in the concept of substance (ουσία) which is conceived as a combination of both matter and form, or in other words, of potentiality (δύναμις) and actuality or entelechy. The term entelechy traces to the Ancient Greek word entelechy (εντελέχεια), from the combination of the words enteles (εντελές = complete), telos (τέλος = end, purpose, completion) and echein (έχειν = to have). Aristotle coined the word, which could possibly be translated in English as, "having the end within itself." According to Aristotle, entelecheia referred to a certain state or sort of being, in which a thing was actively working to be itself.[6]

The Aristotelian idea of entelechy is connected to the concept of the final cause (τελικό αίτιο). For Aristotle in the concept of the final cause the reason which gives the purpose is the end (τέλος), in the sense of a fulfillment. The end as purpose pre-exists, is being embodied in the things and is being revealed by the process of working towards that end. In order to make more clear the concept of the final cause I will give an example; in the question "why is it raining?" thinking of the natural causes would result to the answer "because water evaporates and creates clouds and they become cold and it rains", while thinking of the final cause might lead to the answer "it rains for the flowers to grow". Aristotle defines his philosophy in terms of essence, saying that philosophy is "the science of the universal essence of that which is actual"[7].

The ideas of Gilles Deleuze about the matter and the form have as fundamental difference the fact that the purpose doesn't preexist, is not predetermined or predominant and is not being conceptualized as an "end" or a "fulfillment". Instead of the "purpose" there is a matter which in the process of working towards the goal is in the same time forming and being formed because of interacting with an entire energetic materiality in constant movement[8]. Contrary to essentialism, for Deleuze the form doesn't preexist to its material realization and the matter is not functioning as a fixed mould that is able to produce forms from the outside. In order to make it clearer I will draw an example from his essay "the society of control" where he clarifies the differences in the formative processes of today's "social control" and the "enclosures" that were taking place in the "disciplinary societies" as he says:

"Enclosures are molds, distinct castings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point"[9].

What is important here is the distinction between the mold and the modulation as two different processes of connecting matter and form. The mold could be conceived as analogous to essentialism's idea for how formation acts on things while the modulation, the continuously self deforming cast, illustrates the idea of Deleuze about the same issue. Therefore, for Deleuze, the pathos, the etiological factor, is not something fixed.

Morphogenesis (from the Greek morphê shape and genesis creation) is one of three fundamental aspects of developmental biology along with the control of cell growth and cellular differentiation.[10]

Morphogenesis (also referred in biology as ontogenesis) refers to the process of form generation, while something takes "shape" or "becomes". Several points that concern the issue of morphogenesis have already been referred above which is an indication that borders between the terms phylogenesis, pathogenesis and morphogenesis are not fixed points but rather degrading spaces where the terms are merging together. This gives me the step to say that morphogenesis should be regarded like that, as a process that contains and is being contained to both phylogenesis and pathogenesis. This concept is partially supported but the "recapitulation theory":

During the late 19th century, Ernst Haeckel's recapitulation theory, or biogenetic law, was widely accepted. This theory was often expressed as "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny", i.e. the development of an organism exactly mirrors the evolutionary development of the species. The early version of this hypothesis has since been rejected as being oversimplified.[11] However the phenomenon of recapitulation, in which a developing organism will for a time show a similar trait or attribute to that of an ancestral species, only to have it disappear at a later stage is well documented. For example, embryos of the baleen whale still develop teeth at certain embryonic stages, only to later disappear. A more general example is the emergence of what could develop into pharyngeal gill pouches if it were in a lower vertebrate in almost all mammalian embryos at early stages of development.[12]

Morphogenesis is the result of an origin which is being activated and actualized through pathogenetic factors. What needs to be made clear again is that the relationship of origin and form is rather topological than geometrical and I will draw an example from DeLanda's "Deleuzian ontology" to describe this concept and how it works in terms of form generation.

There are a large number of different physical structures which form spontaneously as their components try to meet certain energetic requirements. These components may be constrained, for example, to seek a point of minimal free energy, like a soap bubble, which acquires its spherical form by minimizing surface tension, or a common salt crystal, which adopts the form of a cube by minimizing bonding energy. One way of describing the situation would be to say that a topological form (a singular point) guides a process which results in many different physical forms, including spheres and cubes, each one with different geometric properties. This is what Deleuze means when he says that singularities are like "implicit forms that are topological rather than geometric."[13] This may be contrasted to the essentialist approach in which the explanation for the spherical form of soap bubbles, for instance, would be framed in terms of the essence of sphericity, that is, of geometrically characterized essences acting as ideal forms. Unlike essences (or possibilities) which resemble that which realizes them, a singularity is always divergently actualized, that is, it guides intensive processes which differentiate it, resulting in a set of individual entities which is not given in advance and which need not resemble one another.[14]

One could also draw examples from biology and the genotype - phenotype distinction. We consider the origin to be the decisive factor for the genotype of an organism, or to be more accurate, we assume that the genome of an organism is formed by its phylogeny. The genotype is in a certain degree determining the phenotype, which represents the physical characteristics of an organism such as height, weight, color etc. Similarly to the example of DeLanda with the soap bubbles, the concept of phenotypic plasticity describes the degree to which an organism's phenotype is determined by its genotype.[15] A high level of plasticity means that environmental factors have a strong influence on the particular phenotype that develops while a low would mean that the influence was not strong. What this means, wide and large, is that a genotype has probably more than one possible phenotypes. In that sense morphogenesis should not be conceived as a closed, one way form generating process but rater as open-ended and interacting multiply with its surroundings.

Evolving architectures

The process described above where the origin, the activation and the growth meet in the evolutionary becoming of a reality or multiple realities could be the strategic starting point for an extensive discussion about the evolution of building types, as if they were species. Wide and large we could attempt to consider the concept of "building type" as a genotype that informs the production of multiple phenotypes and in the same time is in turn being informed by them (epigenetic) and evolves. Somehow, the "type" (typology) is the epitome (accumulation) of the history and the evolution of a function or a form since the origin is something inscribed in the things in a rather natural way. What I need to make clear is that I refer to the type as the minimum sets of relations that constitute a think and not as if type was a form or a function.

Type is the epitome of formality and its evolution which relies largely in the accumulation of the active dialogue with the informal which deforms the multiple "biased" phenotypes. Of course this attempt to link the concept of type with this of evolution demands extensive research in the fields of the history of architecture, the history of civilization and technology in order to be valid and usable. Additionally, we need to understand that the nature of the evolution of building types is unique and no matter it may seem similar to this of animal species, the establishment of straightforward analogies might be misleading. It is useful to use it as a concept and select some terms that help the understanding of the concept but extracting tools and trying to project the whole theory of evolution on a theory of architecture is wrong and would only lead us to false transpositions.

On the other hand, the problem is that the discussion about evolution of building types architects start the parametric design (programming), producing flowing forms with the use of scripting and tools that are "generating" the final output, using "randomness" in order to simulate the enormous complexity of the topological growth. But topological growth is not something merely random, is the result of multiple causes and effects that are just too complex to observe and to simulate but still play a major role in the process of evolution because they bring the "otherness" (which is the same that informality does). Believing that this is an architecture that "evolves" is rather ambitious.

The proposed "evolution" in that case is rather an arbitrary (αυθαίρετη) parametric "development" of forms or diagrams of functions but not really an evolving architecture since these simulations lack the most important factors of real evolution which is the interaction with the active materiality and the active dialogue with the "type" as an origin. In reality, the natural evolution is the result of the interaction of an origin with an active exteriority which results not only in the morphogenesis but also in the evolution of the origin (the genotype) but in these cases the script doesn't evolve. In all these computer simulations, in the one hand the genotype, which in that case is the script, remains the same and on the other hand the exteriority (which is only the interiority of a fragment) is determined by parameters and interaction settings that are also defined by the script and do not evolve. Therefore, the only way we can consider this processes as evolving is when we regard them as fragmented closed systems that evolve within themselves and in relation to their previous phases. This means that they might be useful as research tools or instruments for analysis but not as methods for synthesis (at least not yet) because once their outputs are decontextualized from their original, artificial environment (this of the simulation) and recontextualized in the reality, this transposition is not valid. The reason is that they were not made through the interaction with the reality, the origin and the particular context.

Additionally, this preset system, no matter its complexity, doesn't allow the appearance of the unpredictable, the "otherness" (l'autre) therefore it is not really evolving. It is rather a simulation of an evolution and this is how we should consider it. Maybe the only way it could be considered as actually evolving is in the manner that all things have evolved and continue to evolve. But this is something outside of the simulation itself, it is rather a part of the spatiotemporal reality. The evolution is to be found in the co-relation of multiple simulations and sets of scripts that become more and more complex through the knowledge we accumulate and through constant re-assessing, reprogramming and the use of combinations (hybrids) of smaller "scripting routines" for the making of more complex ones trying constantly to achieve better results. But isn't this already happening in architecture and any kind of science and literally everything?

Architecture has already been evolving, in the same way that history does, and its actual evolution is taking place within history and in the same time contains the whole history of architecture, the evolution of technology, materials and tools, not merely a fragment of time where a form flows while forming and deforming into a simulated environment. Architecture already has origins that participate, and apart from that has also external conditions that direct its development in evolutionary ways. What is predominant in these evolutionary processes is the involvement of the subject (of multiple subjects). Evolution is not something outside of the subject, the society or the various metaphorical or literal "ecosystems" we live in. The contrary, it is the outcome of the various modifications and alterations of things because of the interaction with the external factors that are to be found in these "ecosystems". This variety of interactions, alterations, transformations and modifications presupposes the existence of multiple subjects (call them agents if you want) that interact with things, alter them and drive it to new unpredictable ends as in the chaos theory. This is where informality is to be found, not only in the notion of participation, but in the active feeding of history with data and new origins through this autopoetic development. The cumulative dialogue of formal and informal is the bridge that connects the origin with the innovation and offers a constant feedbacking that leads to development.

To make it more clear, a formality like a building type, is often nothing more than the result of an informality that has persisted in time and has established itself as a state or a situation because it fits with the external conditions. Once the conditions change the type will evolve and change in order to fit to the new conditions but in order to change it needs to interact with the new conditions. The carrier of this interaction, or better, the mediator between the thing (in the particular case a formality) and the new condition is the subject or multiple subjects. Based on the above I believe that an actual evolutionary architecture is not to be found in parametric design or simulations. It presupposes participation and engagement of multiple subjects (not parameters) into all the levels of the design and production processes. Participation is the key for informal autopoesis which is the carrier of the "mutations" that are beyond programming and this is the key for evolution.

Therefore, the idea is not merely to draw inspiration from nature, but to attempt and really understand it and instead of simulating the natural processes to try and apply them in order to reestablish the lost connection between the realms of the natural and the technical, not merely technicalize the natural or naturalize the technical in a mimetic way. The overall discussion obviously draws the attention towards informality and reveals the need for a further attempt to understand its nature and its role as a bridge between the natural and the technical.Understanding informality sounds misleading and self contradicting in the sense that the informal is not something fixed or stable and the understanding of it, in the traditional sense, is like trying to stabilize something unstable or trying to solve an equation where there is nothing else but variables. Therefore we cannot seek for a final, holistic definition but we can attempt a hypothesis that could remain open for constant reconsideration and development by trying to find the relations of these variables.

[1] Source Wikipedia:

[2] Source Wikipedia:

[3] Manuel DeLanda, ‘Deleuzian Ontology: A Sketch'. presented at New Ontologies: Transdisciplinary Objects, University of Illinois, USA, 30.03.02

[4] Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. p. 408

[5] Source Wikipedia:

[6] Source Wikipedia:

[7] Source Wikipedia:

[8] Manuel DeLanda, ‘Deleuzian Ontology: A Sketch'. presented at New Ontologies: Transdisciplinary Objects, University of Illinois, USA, 30.03.02

[9] Gilles Deleuze, Society of control, L'autre journal, Nr. I, Mai 1990

[10] Source Wikipedia:

[11] Source Wikipedia:

[12] Source Wikipedia:

[13] Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. p. 408

[14] Manuel DeLanda, ‘Deleuzian Ontology: A Sketch'. presented at New Ontologies: Transdisciplinary Objects, University of Illinois, USA, 30.03.02


Relations of Formal - Informal

While attempting a hypothesis on the phenomenon of informality, it almost instantly becomes obvious that because of the nature of the phenomenon the definition is not going to result in some clear general answers or some fixed categories. According to Pierce, the only definition that can be valid is by indexing. The empirical observation is enough for someone to claim that the phenomena of formality and informality are always interdependent and context specific, depending on the given time and space (situation), therefore should be treated as spatiotemporal variables. To be more precise it seems that formality is being considered as an established condition (while it's not) while informality is a dynamic phenomenon, highly related to the established formalities but also our subjective perception.

This is why we need to realize that any definition of informality should be relative, not absolute, and should remain open-ended in order to preserve the necessary flexibility that would allow the positioning of those different, interdependent variables which are the formal and the informal. The investigation of their correlations within several different contexts could result to an index that could function as an "equation" or a set of "equations" that are able to describe the relations between several terms that are connected to the dipole informal - formal (e.g. social - natural). By various combinations of those equations it will become clearer not what informality is but what it is not. What might emerge as an outcome could be a field of possible definitions rather than a single answer. Therefore the definition is the investigation, description and establishment of those relations that in several cases might also be variables for other relations. The definition is mainly about the "how", not about the "what", the "how" will help us understand the "what". The definition is latent in the relations.

Informal - formal (the terms)

The term "informality" itself is a contradictive construction because once something is being named as informal it is being formally considered as informal, it is formalized while it attempts to encompass everything that escapes formality. But this is a necessary condition of communication that cannot be avoided because language itself is a form. The term informal is obviously the carrier of a hetero-definition; informality is not self defined but always in relation to what is considered to be the particular "formality", which is the other edge of the dipole. One could claim that the term seems like an attempt to literally formalize informality itself since it is always defined and exists through the comparison to an established idea of formality, often in ways that treat informality as the opposite.

This is something I consider as a false polarization. Informality is not merely the opposite of formality but rather the absence of formality, encompassing everything that is not formal. This doesn't imply that the opposite of formal is not informal but that the term "informal" contains both the field of the opposites of formal but also the field of the non defined as formal and are still pending for characterization. As Derrida would pose, "meaning is not a presence but a generalized economy of absences". Something is certainly not perceived at once and straightforward as informal but rather as an absence of formality. Before something, e.g. "a general condition", became formal has previously existed in the field of the informal.

Informal and formal are in a state of constant dialogue, flowing into each other, triggering each other and interacting all the time. There are several examples of informal practices that are being triggered or stimulated by formal ones while in the same time there are several examples of informal practices that in different scales they seem to be parts of formal mechanisms. On the other hand in different contexts there are several different kinds of formality because of different social structures, constructions, ideas which means that formal things are context specific therefore also informal things are. This why I consider that informality is context, time and scale specific and depends on the perception, the scope we use and the multiple definitions of formality.

Technical - natural (on perception)

As it is mentioned already above, the term informality is a construction; it is a spatiotemporal variable that takes different values depending on the context and also the person that perceives it. The distinction between informality and its perception is not valid since it seems to presuppose that there is an "essence" of informality to be found exclusively in the nature of the objects, as if informality is something "objective", which is not true. The definition of a thing as "informal" lies in the relation between the object and the perceiver, it doesn't preexist in a pure form in the objects themselves but it becomes in the moment (which is a duration) of the perception. Something is not informal per se, but it is informal because it is perceived as such by a subject. Therefore, the question "what is the informal" should rather be "how a subject perceives something as formal or informal".

Perception is never something innocent or detached from the cognitive mechanisms which are based on a social construction / formation of the subject and the tools and forms of communication and representation. Perception is the result of a both projective and retrospective process, we project everything we know, think, have seen, heard or read to the reality and we receive back as a result of a reflection a subjectively seen image, not by perceiving straightforward what something is but rather what this something is not. This is what probably Derrida means when he says that "meaning is not a presence but a generalized economy of absences". This process is not exclusively or necessarily visual and is not momentary. In that sense perception and therefore perceived meanings have origins therefore are never detached from the processes of social construction.

Therefore, informality is neither exclusively innate in the nature of things nor the mere result of an external projection (of a social construction), it is both. Something has the innate recognizable capacities to receive the external projection and reflect back those properties that make it to be perceived as informal or formal in a specific context.

This is why informality is to be found in the realm of the technical, not in nature since it presupposes a structure, an authority or a system that defines (constructs) what is formal through which informality is hetero-defined. Of course there are things that are not defined as formal or informal but this is because they are outside of the realm of the technical, they belong to the natural. Wide and large one could say that anything could be perceived either as formal or informal or natural. Of course there could be an extensive discussion about the relation of ecotopia and technotopia to clarify if the technical is a part of the natural (an idea which I support) or they are distinct and detached. What is critical though is to understand that no matter it takes a social context to define and perceive "informality" nature also participates playing a major role. Informality originates in the realm of the natural, it is linked to natural phenomena, needs and often instincts, but something becomes informal once it is named and this always happens in the realm of the technical.

Nature is for the technical a realm of possibilities and one could say metaphorically that technotopia occupies more and more space inside it through constant activations of possibilities. This is why informality could be considered as the state of the constant negotiation between the natural and the technical, this space of negotiation is the realm of the social.

What informal is cannot be taken for granted and is never something fixed because this would mean that we take the subjective perception as something static. There are various and different scopes that are being developed in different social contexts by different and multiple social structures. What might be taken as more stable but still not fixed are those things that derive from the natural no matter that certainly in many cases it is really difficult to distinguish between the social and the natural probably because of the fact that their interrelation does not constitute a dichotomy, a nesting or an articulation but rather a continuum. For instance, the act of building or occupying space (territoriality) for habitation is clearly the result of both natural and social necessities. Still, in all cases the characteristics of the natural needs, no matter if they are clear or not, play a major role in the emergence of informality.

The context

Discussing about the phenomena of formality and informality is a discussion about formal and informal as actions or practices informality refers to actions and practices with or without material traces. Informality is in the perception of both the action and its traces (perception is a relation).

But perception apart from being subjective is also situation or context specific. Since informality is in the perception it should also be considered as context (includes time) and scale specific because it is not only something that a thing carries within itself but also something projected to it from outside by a perceiver. In that way informality becomes a spatiotemporal variable depending on the definition of the context. It exists in the very moment of the perception of an action or object and is relative to both the object and the subject that perceives it.

All kinds of informality are context specific. It is the context that defines what is informal and formal. Of course it's never absolutely clear what the context is precisely since any context has a context for itself therefore there are infinite sets of exteriorities that affect what we consider as formal and informal. This is why the definition depends on the scope, the scale and the point of view which is defined by the intuition of a subject or a convention. This means that there is the possibility that several practices seem to be informal within a certain context but once we zoom out we often realize that they are parts of broader formal structures. On the other hand practices could be formal or informal depending on their timing (e.g. the day - night cycle often changes the formal to informal and vice versa). This would certainly mean that informality is not something inherent to things but a relative exteriority.

Informal object

As it is mentioned above informality refers to actions, objects are not formal or informal per se; they merely convey formality or informality becoming the tokens for recalling the memory of the action that produced, constituted or situated them. What this action is or how it is perceived according to subjective intuition or dominant conventions is critical for defining the object as formal or informal. Of course then we have to start from scratch since we need to answer the question, "what charges an action with formality or informality"? The most obvious answer is that probably another formal or informal action or maybe a formal or informal context is the charger. Then of course again we need to find how another action or a context is charged etc. The idea is that there are relations and relations among relations. Let's say that everything is constituted by sets of relations. In that case we need to think of the objects and practices as the nodes of these formal and informal relations with their exteriority. Considering a thing or a practice as formal or informal simply means that among the infinite sets of relations that constitute a thing, according to our perception, in a given situation of time and space, what prevails are the informal relations. This doesn't mean there are not formal ones but the informal ones prevail either in number or in strength (or importance if you prefer) or both. This is how then we name it as informal but this is only a convention because certainly, there is nothing like a purely formal or informal thing or practice.

Autonomy - Heteronomy (time)

Concerning the parameter of time, formal processes are, or tend to be linear; we often hear, "this presupposes that or the other". In the formal, the temporal connection of particular ends resembles walking, one step at a time, one end at a time. Even when a formal system is more complex linear processes take place in parallel towards different ends and they have clearly defined relations that do not intersect straightly but only through their ends and after their fulfillment. This is because formality has a predefined superior "universal" end to fulfill and all particular "singular" ends are working towards this fulfillment. It resembles the way how a machine works and how individual parts of it connect and function towards a goal. Therefore, the particular ends within formality are heteronomous, they are constituted by a superior end.

On the other hand informality, no matter that it has a cause, doesn't have a superior predefined end but finds the end during the process and is constantly altering it without ever concluding. This is why it is much more complex, the connections of ends are not linear but they rather resemble to a network where there are intersections, interactions and constant redefinitions of particular ends. Additionally while formality grows from top to bottom, from the general to the particular (universal - singular), according to a generic idea or goal, informality grows in the particular, therefore it is relatively autonomous since it doesn't depend on a generic idea of informality, the contrary. The general "idea" of what informality is, is formed by all the particular cases of informality. Informality emerges from the autonomy and often as autonomy.

To be more precise everything that is defined by an exteriority is heteronomous to it and in the same time is autonomous to itself. No matter if these autonomies or heteronomies are considered as formal or informal there is the tendency for informality to grow. This means that informality could often exist even as the outcome of the collision between formalities, for example formalities of different scales, that have relations of autonomy - heteronomy. Of course the question here is which is the formality that defines it as informal and the answer is that the definition that prevails is usually this of the heteronomy because it is the one that establishes the formality of the higher level and since formalities and their strength are relative to their scale (top to bottom), heteronomy usually prevails over the autonomy.

At this point is necessary to make clear that the formal and the informal are both vital because they offer different approaches that are effective in different scales. Concerning different scales, such as the general and the particular or the universal and the singular (they seem to refer better to the idea of a continuum), formality dominates in higher scales (general) while informality is dominant in the small scale (the particular). The fundamental questions that emerge at this point and need further investigation are three, a) if there is something like an absolute general formality an idea that all formalities are connected to it and defined by it b) if there is something like a minimum informality (element or relation) and in which scale c) in which scale, or field of scales do the informal and the informal merge and if there could be a threshold among the two.


Concerning the material reality the plausible question that emerges as a consequence of the above is if we can really recognize informality or traces of it and if there are some certain recognizable characteristics that could help us. The answer cannot be a straightforward yes or no but it should rather be a huge set of questions that refer to the overall context and need to be answered before. What kind of informality do we refer to, who are we, what we seek for, and what do we intend to recognize, how do we define the formal, who do we refer to etc? The "equation" for defining something as formal or informal is obviously so complex that it cannot really exist in an effective way. Especially when space is concerned things become much more complex since space is the field for the expression of several different kinds of informality (economical, social, cultural, political) that are being expressed in multiple ways (application, appropriation, performance, construction). The answer for the formal or the informal nature answer can only be particular, as particular as possible in order to be as valid as possible without ever being absolute. Informality and its recognition are relational therefore something is informal in a particular scale, in a particular context or situation, in a particular time, by particular people and its informality is a particular one. Something is informal because we recognize it as such or better, it is informal because we don't recognize it as formal.

Since the validity of a generic definition is doubtful, instead for drawing knowledge from the general and projecting it to the particular in order to define it, it is more valid (especially when informality is concerned) to access straightforward the particular, trust our intuition - recognition in every singular case and attempt to understand the particular reason we recognize something as informal. The only definition that we could give would only be indexical, trying to encompass all the particular cases, situations and reasons that make us perceive and name an informality.

Form as the “end” of architectural process

Concerning architecture, it is impossible to approach informality without previously discussing about form. Similar to all technical practices architecture has inherent the problem of the "end" which in the particular case is to be found in the notion of "form" not only as a mere material artifact or as "shape". This is why, no matter that I consider the form as the consequence of establishing a relationship between human beings (Behne), the way I would choose to talk about it in this first part is the one which regards it as a distinct casting, a mould. The form is not something independent from the formal; form is the precondition for the formal. It is the medium for establishing a communicating a convention, therefore establishing and signifying the formal, teaching what formal is and certainly this is not something a-spatial.

Architecture is mainly about form. It is enough to remember the famous quotes that historically attempted to influence architectural practice, "Form follows function", "Form follows this", "Form follows that" and no matter words change from time to time, the term form persists, always remains there and attempts to establish new associations with other terms in order to find definitions for what form is, or what could be. It's not a problem but it is certainly a fact that architectural practice has a tendency to aim towards the form (material and immaterial), meaning towards both formality and formalism, formality concerns both the design practice and the practices that take place in the building and formalism the output of the design, the form. This is because in the practice of architecture form is the end, and in the same time is also the aim from the very beginning.

Formal tools - Formalism

This is something that becomes obvious once we look at the architectural representations and their tools that not only are always representing the space (the building) as a material form (a material artifact) but additionally they use the form itself as a tool, or better, as a language, for the constitution of the representation itself, therefore for the production of space. No matter that architects often claim that architecture is about function (functions are also forms but this is to be described later on), their processes don't represent functions; they rather use symbols (symbols are also forms, formal conventions) in order to represent spatial forms that intend to serve functions but not the function straightforward. Form is the aim, the starting point and the conclusion.

Once something becomes formed it has concluded, it has reached its end and becomes a closed entity. Of course the how much closed it is depends largely on the particular form and the way it has been designed and materialized. In general though, no matter the degree of openness, it cannot negotiate easily with new external ends, because the largest part of its inventory of characteristics has already been set, defined, formed and even the exterior connections with other forms are preset. Often, the future or the multiple possible futures are predefined (in the case of the metabolists).

But form is only an imposed technical end; it is not the actual end. Once the form is being materialized, there comes the occupation, the living, the experience of the built space and all of them introduce new ends that often the forms have failed to predict and cannot accommodate or transform themselves in order to accept them.

In this direction, there seems to be a paradox in the architectural practice and the tools we use. When we design we think of spatial relations and we represent them as forms, but afterwards, when we build them, these forms tend to seek for new relations, spatial, social etc. that we haven't thought of, we haven't predicted and we haven't designed. Therefore, the form becomes an in between stage, a field for projection, an empty token between the creator (author) and the user. Actually, form is really an empty token; it's not the carrier of inherent characteristics that are non-spatial (meaning dimensional) and certainly does not carry an essence that refers to things that presuppose interaction, like function, that is universally recognizable or acceptable. It may convey an idea about a function but this doesn't mean that the user will perceive it or accept it. To express it better, form is a space for active negotiation between the will of the designer and the needs of the user, among different ends. But how can it function effectively as a field for negotiation when it is already formed? Shouldn't it take place before the form is born? What happens then is that informality emerges when and where it is possible, usually in the in between space (here the word space is both literal and metaphorical) attempting to cover the needs that the formal processes failed to predict, to negotiate.


On the other hand, considering the fact that the tools and methods we use for representing are scopes that are formative for our creations it becomes obvious that they have a major impact to our practices. The way we think, we design, we perceive and we practice, the ways how we see, understand and constitute things are formed, or at least influenced, by the tools we use. Obviously form is something excessively privileged in the architectural practices. It is both, architecture's aim and also the tool it uses to put space and the practices that take place into it "into order" and this is not always something innocent; Not only our tools but also what we create with them, the forms themselves, are in turn also formative. As Plato says "even the walls, the fortification, of the city educate me" indicating with these words the fact that forms are formative and they have the power to formalize.

The fact that buildings are more than passive containers of people and activities but are formative as much as the practices that constitute them[1], brings back the question we live and build or we build and live?[2]. The answer should be "we rather do both" in order to indicate that there is a constant cumulative feedback between the experience of living and the practice of building, the formal and the informal, the technical and the natural, the utopia and ethos. But what happens today tends to be the opposite, there seems to be a polarization of the dipoles described above that detaches the formal from the informal (etc) and this kind of feedback that one would expect to take place is stopped by thick borders that have been set between those terms and following they are being set in reality, in space. In the formal world and practices (including architecture) formal is strictly formal and informal is strictly informal, there is no in between space, there is no negotiation between these two, it's either the one or the other (there's no bridge that we call x-formal). This is obvious also in the how formality relates itself with the informal; it either attempts to formalize the informal, in order to control it and use it productively or isolates and excludes it in order to make it extinct no matter that the second never really works. This is the result of the fact that formal is mistakenly being considered as a closed system that has the capacity to find ends within itself and be complete as a closed entity while what is needed is rather a constant dialogue between the formal and the informal, a symbiosis.

Concerning the production of space in particular, the impact of this polarization is that in general architectural practice is preoccupied by prefabricated (or archetypical if you prefer), fixed and non negotiable ideas of what formal is (a prefabricated archetype) that are imposed over space. Through spatial forms architecture signifies and often even defines and establishes what formal is by drawing the borders between the formal and the informal. Once the formal is defined it also becomes formative. This is why architecture has often been used as a vehicle for the establishment of formality. Panopticism, invented by Bentham and analyzed by Foucault, is a good example and certainly not the only one that shows how architecture can function not only as a signifier of a power or an authority but also as a device for social construction. Together with the spatial forms we form the perception of people about what a form is (by defining what is formal), what is their "social role" what is "right" or "wrong" etc. The arrangement of the bodies in space, the various visible and invisible points, the asymmetries of visibility and in general the constitution of space assigns social roles and forms identities. We form people's act of living by applying our formal technical productions on their natural needs and instincts, by imposing artificial ends while there should be emergence of individuality being expressed in ways that not only constitute space but they also transform it to place.

This formalization of space brings, either on purpose or as a side-effect, an excessive control in spatial practices of any kind. It has as a main side effect the growing feeling of insecurity where individuals don't learn how to trust each other, to interact, communicate and negotiate. It seems that we have misunderstood and we take autonomy as isolation and detachment because we are afraid of the other. In reality it should be about interaction and negotiation and about otherness. This is the side effect of the control that isolates informality and finally excludes it instead of using it productively. It is the result of the fact that we give in more and more to a kind of communication which based in the use of closed forms and according to forms, in a binary way. Architecture itself is a form of communication and the question is, not only in what extend we are allowed to participate in the production of new forms, but in what extend we are prepared and willing to trust the participation of others.

[1] Thomas Marcus, Buildings of power

[2] Martin Heidegger, Building Dwelling living

Architecture – Notes on the contemporary history of form

"The architect must be a form-artist; only the art of form leads the way to a new architecture."

(August Endell, 1897)

Any kind of formality has been established by means of material and immaterial forms. As Jean Paul Sartre writes in his Herostratus, "Higher values need to find material symbols or else they fade". If we look back in history of architecture we can trace the term "form" being always in close contact with that of the term "formal" and see how the roles of the architect and the user have been related.


The term form was one of the three terms, the other two were "design" and "space", through which architectural modernism exists[1]. One of the main characteristics of modernity was the excessive formality that was built under the idea of a "universal" truth, a universal architecture which was to be based on the notion of function. But no matter that architects were talking about function they were always approaching and understanding functions with the use of forms, they were starting with forms having as an aim to produce forms. This is exactly what modernity did. The modern utopia, followed by ideals about the man and the society attempted to form and therefore formalize space with the use of models and general categories.

Certainly, no one can question the intentions and historically speaking modernity offered great advances in the way we perceive, design and deal with space. In the depth of time though, and while the ideals and the perception of what democracy is started to change, the problems of modernity started becoming more and more obvious. The ideals, no matter the good intentions, were the basis for the problem. Apart from forming space, or maybe because of it, architecture by regulating spatial forms and spatial relations was forming life, was forming and regulating the relations, like those of the private and the public, the personal and the collective etc. that concerned people and their coexistence.

Modernity failed to generate or stimulate fields for negotiation of those relations because it came with the intention to establish fixed relations that derived straightforward from a superior "idea" (truth) under which models and categorizations could take place. To give a paradigm, the modern era had been largely based on the vision for a society of equality, where all people had the same rights, the same obligations and the same opportunities. That was the foundation of the "modern" democracy, equality. The establishment and preservation of this equality presupposed the existence of a center, an idea or an authority that would set the norms and also the "forms" for regulating and canonizing and finally securing that everybody were equal. All practices, including architecture, were aiming to the "equality" but in that manner architecture became the expression of an authority that was establishing a heteronomy[2]. Additionally, equality was often misinterpreted as commonality and this is how autonomy[3] and self expression were reduced even more to the mere execution of a model for living.

The perception of democracy changed radically and in the position of "equality" as a foundation was put "the right of being different". The date that is considered to be significant for this transition point is the May of '68. The idea of autonomy came in the foreground offering space to the individual to form and express his own subjectivity according to standards and ideas he would decide for himself.

But no matter this change, still, the formal and formative nature of architecture never seized to exist. Architecture remained a heteronomous practice. The reason has to do with a series of facts that didn't change since modernity and rather prove that the practice is being sealed off:

a) An architect (a subject) designs everything, both the practice and the form.

b) The design practice takes place within the frame of an established technical practice that uses specific tools, methods and often ideas.

c) No matter the practical overlaps the roles are clearly defined, the user, the architect, the builder are distinct characters.

d) The communication tool among different participants in the architectural practice is form

e) Origin, continuity are sealed off mediated to the practice through the architect, not through the craftsmen.

Nevertheless, all these described above are contained in the word "Architecture" itself. A rough etymological analysis shows that the word "architecture" comes from the Latin, "architectura" and ultimately from Greek,"arkhitekton" (αρχιτέκτων = architect) which in turn consists of the words "αρχή" και "τέκτων", the latter could be translated as "the one that possesses the technique of building" while the former is a little bit more vague because it could be translated in various ways as "rule, authority, beginning" and in the case of architecture all these words seem to fit. However, an architect then, etymologically speaking, is the "master builder", as the word "αρχή" indicates is the one that has the authority to build, the one who possesses the "rules" of the building practice, the well established techniques. It is more than clear that the term "architecture" itself places the architect in the centre of the architectural practice, making him the "author" of the built environment.

Post moderinty

Modern societies were based largely on the industry of mass production (Fordism) and David Harvey, claims for the transition to post modernity that is a result of what he calls "space - time compression" drawing in this way a strong connection between the post modernity and the "late capitalism". He says that the developments in transportations and communications caused the radical shift of capitalism from "fordism"[4] to the stage of "flexible accumulation" which is what has led to the changes that constitute the entire post modern culture.

As Harvey says, since 1973[5] "the experience of time and space has changed, the confidence in the association between scientific and moral judgements has collapsed, aesthetics has triumphed over ethics as a prime focus of social and intellectual concern, images dominate narratives, ephemerality and fragmentation take precedence over eternal truths and unified politics, and explanations have shifted from the realm of material and political-economic groundings towards a consideration of autonomous cultural and political practices."[6]

No matter that the idea of autonomy prevails after modernity, this idea of the authorship of the architect is something that accompanies architecture in all stages of post modernity. No matter that the role of the architect is questioned and altered, this takes place in a certain way and only up to a certain extend, not radically. Even in the radical philosophical and later architectural movement of deconstruction the architect comes even closer to the role of the "author".

Certainly, one could say that deconstruction was much more interested in the quest of "meaning", therefore treated architecture as a language and gave the architect the role of the author. But the building is not a text, it is much more interactive and the user is not a reader, he plays a much more active and formative role for the text (building), therefore, in architecture, the roles of the architect / author and the user / reader are less distinct than in literature. In that sense, the role of the architect as an author, as the mediator of an idea through a praxis (where in both idea and praxis his own subject is the centre) was never questioned by the deconstructivists. The contrary, it was taken for granted. Of course, this doesn't mean that architecture excluded other subjects (the user) from its processes, certainly not. But during the deconstruction which attempted to "decentralize" and "inverse the dipoles" the architect remains in the centre of the process and this is rather contradicting.

No matter the new complex syntactics that are being introduced into the design process, the role of the architect remains the same it was in modernity, positioned in the center and over the process. The difference is the how, while in modernity he is the centre as a form-giver, in deconstruction he is the centre as the founder of the method or the process (the syntactics). In both cases his authority remains the same over the final product no matter the alterations of the processing methods and the different "how". It seems that architectural deconstruction did something that is in extreme contradiction with the philosophy of deconstruction itself. Deconstruction looked deep inside the architectural processing and gave gravity to the subject of the architect but this was done as if processing was a singular, autonomous, closed, self constituted and self contained entity, detached from the overall architectural practice and as if the architect was a detached creator. Additionally, the roles of the builder (the laborer) and the user (inhabitant) remain the same and in general all the particular roles in the process remain distinct and relatively autonomous, and also detached.

On the other hand, the main medium for representation and communication remains the form which again is the end but also the medium through which a concept is mediated. Deconstruction didn't question radically enough the architectural logos, which is form, as a medium of representation and communication. Therefore the "against logocentricism" of the philosophical deconstruction failed to be adequately transposed as "against morphocentricism" in the architectural deconstruction. Deconstruction was a radical formalism, not a de-formalism and didn't attempt to inverse the fundamental relation of the designer - user which in architecture could represent the dipole object - subject or technical - natural.

Therefore, the boundaries between the technical and the natural weren't smoothened and the "naturalization of the unnatural", which Derrida was claiming to be one of the goals of deconstruction, was something that maybe one could claim that has affected the built forms and partly the design process as a closed system, but apart from that it didn't really affect the foundations of the architectural practice that remained purely technical since the boundaries among different roles and practices weren't smoothened.

The design process remained under the power and the mediation of the architect and it was not treated as a totality that is the result of a constant interaction - negotiation among the architect and external powers or dynamics that depend on multiple subjects (a society). Therefore architecture of deconstruction remained heteronomous.

Of course, in the process of designing and building which is defined by sets of interrelated autonomies - heteronomies, the question is not so much "who builds" or "who is the author", since there seems to be participation from everybody and these questions are rather to general. The question is in what extend several autonomies exercise power over the process and how. Historically speaking the centre of the architectural practice is certainly not the user. If architecture was itself a language we could say that until now the architects were creating both the langue and the parole; the basic elements and the rules of the system, which means the language as a structure, and also as a spoken word. The idea is not merely about the parole, so it is not about giving people the ability to have their own parole with the use of a prefabricated language that someone else created, because this kind of parole already exists and it's a part of informality. Architects create the langue and the parole and people based on these create their informal slang. The idea is not to impose a language or sets of them, but to give people the opportunity to create their own informal langue, both individually and collectively, in order to inform more adequately our formal ones.

[1] Adrian forty, , page 149

[2] Cornelius Castoriades would name it so. Etymologically the term heteronomy derives from the words hetero (έτερο) which means other and nomos (νόμος) which means law, rule. Heteronomous is a thing that obeys laws that have been constituted outside of it.

[3] Etymologically the term autonomy derives from the words auto (αυτό) which means self and nomos (νόμος) which means law, rule. Autonomous is not the one that doesn't comply with laws but the think that constitutes the laws by itself and for itself.

[4] Harvey uses the term "fordism" for describing the emphasis of the modernism to the standardization and mass production.

[5] 1973 was the year the Bretton Woods accord on the control of international capital ended. Both Fredric Jameson and James Mittelman date the start of the postmodern period from 1973.

[6] David Harvey, The condition of post modernity: an inquiry into the origins of cultural change, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990 ( p. 328 )

Habitation – the public and the private

Talking about autonomy and heteronomy definitely takes us to the realm of the social and when it goes to architecture and built environment in particular it is rather impossible to avoid talking about "habitation".

The scope that regards architecture as a social necessity or as a social product is intersecting the topic of habitation and in that sense the link between architecture and the "social" is certainly valid, at least, up to a certain extend. But before characterizing architecture and habitation in particular as the outcome of "a social necessity", maybe we should attempt to regard it as something more fundamental that surpasses and in the same time encompasses the "social" and the "technical". What architecture is in the first place and prior to its form as a notion, is the result of the formalization of something natural, the outcome of the technical approach towards natural conditions. In that sense, we could consider habitation as the epitome of the negotiation between the technical and the natural, as I have already said before, architecture is the technical expression of a fundamentally natural condition, this of habitation.

This is exactly the realm where informality appears, in between the natural and the technical, in between autonomy and heteronomy and in between the subject and the object. All the above "in between" situations are to be found all together in an active dialogue within the praxis of habitation. This is why informality is inherent to it. People tend to occupy space and when there is no planning or legislation that implies or implements an "end" covering particular needs, or when the boundaries of formality are not clear informality emerges.

Certainly, occupation of space, in the sense of "habitation" could be considered as something innate in the human nature, something similar to an animal's territoriality which for the human is transposed to the notion of "ownership", "property" or "possession" and is linked to the idea of autonomy but in order for this autonomy to be controlled and because of the fact that within a social environment several autonomies meet and overlap there is the need to negotiate and set connections and boundaries with each other. There is when heteronomies appear, established by an authority or the society itself (consciously or not) they regulate among other things also the negotiation for matters of space or matters that form space. Therefore, because of this interaction of autonomy and heteronomy one could say that habitation itself is both a natural practice and a social phenomenon and each of these two prevails in a different scale. Autonomy prevails in the small scale is connected to the notion of property and identity and is being expressed naturally while heteronomy, or if you prefer a social contract, is to be found in the large scale as a regulating and also formative factor for space but also for non material things that constitute space. To make it more clear, one could say wide and large that the autonomy (and the natural) is contained in the notion of oikos - house while heteronomy (and the technical) is to be found in the notion of polis - city. Certainly these two concepts are not exclusively spatial but they are the spatial expressions of broader concepts.

The ancient Greek term polis (πόλις), translated as "city" has embedded in its meaning, apart from the spatial organization and the materiality of the city, also the social and political structure, the governing and the civil law and more or less anything that constitutes the city as a community of actively coexisting and interacting people, and also as a notion. Polis is the outcome of the, active dialogue of several autonomies, which could result to overlapping, regulation, canonization, in all the levels of the constitution of the city, (political, economical, social etc.) and is not something instantaneous, it has an origin which is inscribed in the notion of the city itself, as a "collective memory".

"One can say that the city itself is the collective memory of its people and like memory it is associated with objects and places. The city is the locus of the collective memory."[1]

Polis as a permanence is built upon the formalities this memory has constituted through persistence in time establishing them as conditions. These formalities are of any kind (economical, social, cultural) and are to be found in all levels and scales of the city, both in the material reality and the immaterial structures and notions of it.

The word oikos (οίκος), normally translated as "house", signifies much more than the materiality of a built house. Similarly to the term polis it refers to a lot more than the construction's elements such as the bricks, the walls, the windows or the roof. The term refers to the idea of a family, everything that surrounds it, all material and immaterial things that family possesses. Oikos is usually also historically charged by the origin of this family which of course signifies and is being signified by the materiality of the house itself. In that sense the word oikos touches the grounds of both the material space and the social space in the way the idea of "habitation" in general does.

Oikos is an autonomy inside the heteronomy of the city but one could also regard it as a heteronomy that regulates and defines the autonomies of its members (family). Concerning this in particular, Xenophon in Oeconomicus discusses on the relationship of the husband and the wife within the oikos and how a man could succeed in household management. Oeconomicus is one of the first works in economics and a significant source about the everyday life in classical Athens. Michel Foucault quoting Xenophon writes,

"...the main value of the art of "economics" is that it teaches the practice of "archein" (άρχειν = ruling, governing) from which is un-detachable. Governing the oikos means to rule (άρχω); and governing the house is not different from the exercising of power in the city."[2]

As it becomes obvious from Xenophon's words, the ancient Athenian oikos was a field for the exercising of power in a similar way that the city. What we can understand from that is that there are relations of autonomy and heteronomy in between the members of the oikos similar to those in between the oikos and the polis and certainly the polis is in turn heteronomous because of a higher structure etc. Additionaly also in between the individual members of the family and the polis there are relations of autonomy and heteronomy. Taking into account the above, and understanding that spatial singularities (oikos, polis) are connected to the social, it is normal for one to assume that the social is something that is being inscribed in space in many different ways, material and immaterial.

Space is constituted by the relation of the individual to the society and the how this relation is formed according to general and situation specific heteronomies defines also the spatial arrangement of both the house and the city. The way how the oikos and the polis are related is to be found in the notion of public and private and the how they are being interrelated within the social context and finally how they are being inscribed in space. The spatial relation of the public and the private often signifies the relation of the subject to other subjects and the perception, not only for the notion of the city as a material artifact, but also as the body of the social. It is on this borderline of the public and the private where are also to be found the traces of the notions of the objective and the subjective, of the personal and the social, of the autonomous and the heteronomous, of the freedom and power. The strongest and more crisp these borderlines are the more detached are the poles of these dipoles. When polarization comes informality is to be found in all these "in betweens" offering continuity in fields where formality creates merely borderlines and linear connections. Thus, the fields where informality is emerging in various ways is in between the oikos and the polis (spatial - economical), in between the public and the private (spatial - performing), in between the society and the individual (political) etc.

These are the fields that the architect has been given the power to practice and influence, consciously or unconsciously and concerning the complexity of all these relations architecture is rather reductive. In the architectural practice, similar to all technical practices, what prevails is this general condition over the particular, the heteronomy over the autonomy the attempt to objectify the subjective. This formalization that has as vehicle the architecture and the architect creates discontinuities and borderlines in all relations and scales; it is not by accident that informality grows faster when formality is greater and suppresses autonomy, no need to wonder why modern buildings have been the best canvases for informality to grow. Taking into account what Heidegger means when he says that "the house has dwelling as its goal" we can claim that dwelling is the end of the house. But when we design we don't design the dwelling, we design the house.

But the house is much more than its form, it is a lot more than the formative materiality. It is an entire field of relations of any kind and with almost anything one could imagine. Apart from the obvious and dominant relation of the oikos and the polis (the house and the city) there is another relation that is equally, if not more important, this of the house and the subject. The house is more than a cell in the body of a city, the house is the memory of it, the expectation for it before it is built, it is the coziness in English, or what is called oikiotita (οικειότητα) in greek which means familiarity and derives from the word oikos (οίκος) which is described above (means house). Therefore the house and what dwelling is, are up to the user and there is nothing like a method or a knowledge that could be deployed and applied as a general rule for how the house is to be designed. Therefore, every time we design a house it is necessary to start from scratch and design according to the context, the inhabitant, the city, and no matter this still we will possibly fail because the house is more about the experience of the dwelling, the memory of dwelling, the dream for dwelling and this is something total and subjective, therefore impossible to grasp and design it. It is easy for an architect to learn how to design the ideal angle for the seats in an amphitheatre an amphitheatre so as to have the best sound quality and good visibility to the scene, it is easy to learn what material to use for better insulation and corrosion resistance, but it is really difficult for somebody to approach the extreme complexity that synthesize the house and the city and will certainly never find rules for it.

Architects can build houses as forms, but the idea of dwelling, as a practice, as a function, as even more than that, is something indefinable because the form becomes a function, a feeling, a perception once an agent is implemented and this happens only after the completion of the building. More precisely, the house is being dwelled by an individual that has a subjective idea of how he dwells but when we design we do it for a specific need or sets of needs, having archetypes of habitation in our minds and it is doubtful if the individual user has the same needs or complies with our archetypes. Certainly the user may modify the building but on the other hand may also modify his own life and develop the feeling he has these needs and he has the particular, imposed, idea for what habitation is. There is the danger that users of space will learn to live and experience space as if they were mere executors of a prefabricated (formal) idea for what space is and how they should behave and occupy it. The main problem in this case remains that we reduce the inhabitant to the level of the mere executor of a prefabricated idea of what habitation is instead of stimulating him to find what habitation means for himself and build or design accordingly, or better negotiate over a design and a final form.

Together with this through built space and by imposing our ideas for what oikos and polis are we create an image for what the society is. We impose spatial relations that form social relations and create social conditions and in that sense architecture is not an easy task but rather a sensitive one. Experience has shown that especially when habitation is concerned plans tend to fail because the subjectivity of the individuals prevails over the general conditions and objectifications set by the designer which means that no matter how formative a formality is, informality still finds the way to emerge and no matter that the established "archetypes" of habitation are not entirely questioned by the inhabitants there is still an extend of self consciousness and a notion of autonomy that leads to some kind of autopoesis (modification).

Of course, the question that still needs to be answered is what extend of the space we produce is the result of heteronomy (heteropoesis), what is the outcome of sets of autonomies (autopoesis) and how these two different productions relate.

[1] Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City (page 130)

[2] Michel Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité, 2. L'usage des plaisirs, Gallimard, Paris 1984. (p. 179 in the Greek edition, translation mine)