jueves, 9 de enero de 2014

Adhocism. The Case for Improvisation (book)

Adhocism. The case for improvisation, by Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver, first  appeared in 1972, but I had never bumped into it in the texts I usually handle or in anything related to my own work. It must be that I am still far from the design world, where it has been an influential resource. It was republished last year as an expanded and updated edition, precisely at a time when its spirit has gained renovated attention and, in my case, it connects with my interest on a less formalistic vision of the public realm.

As such, it´s an impressive catalogue of the different forms of improvisation design that is implicitly or explicitly used in everyday life, and how it also colonises even the practise of pretended new designs. Improvisation (adhocism) happens to solve problems quickly and efficiently with available resources, systems or situations at hand, but it goes beyond pure utilitarian purposes as it also serves as an inquiry method to cope with product standardization, hierarchical organization systems, mass consumption and production, urban identity simplification, etc. Combination, interrelation and pluralism are core features of adhocism and are set to defy the way space production has been referred in our cities.

The book is an excursus and an explanation of how the traces of the adhocism mindset and practices can be found in any kind of cultural and social field, from household objects to films, from political revolutionary thinking to architecture. It´s obviously this field, which is recurrent throughout the pages but has a dedicated chapter (Adhocism in the market and in the city), the one that caught my attention:
As an alternative to the inflexibility that has become characteristic of present planning systems, adhocism may work in planning by dealing with real situations and needs rather than hopeful or ideal ones. Inflexible controls frequently become root causes of social discontent when emerging desires and minority purposes are forced to conform to restrictive over-rule. To meet the complex needs of an increasingly pluralistic society, social, economic and physical plans must become contingent and resourceful. Public planners, including legislators, will have to adopt looser methods, and discard the border mentality encouraged by fixed compartments of authority.
From this perspective, the book pages serve as a strong explanation and justification of current movements demanding a more flexible and creative way of using a contingent planning framework  and practice (call it tactical urbanism, adaptive urbanism, advocate planning, adhocracy, do it yourself urbanism,...):
Behind the idea of contingency planning is a simple willingness to take feedback into account: looking, listening, criticizing en route. Feedback (especially from the community) makes it possible to develop new rules that recognize early successes, to improve already existing but less successful things, and to verify a well-tested model for the future.(...)Adhocist convictions lead me to suppose that the great flaw of large-scale redevelopments is its lack of diversity in design choices and differential rates of change. A sensibility of practical adhocism would help by offering choice: more elements included, with ad hoc appropriateness, would thwart a consolidated design method and suit actual purposes.

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