One of the things that “architectural” practice has been obsessed with is with the idea that every project should be designed to the T. On the other extreme of this spectrum are architects who argue against form itself and often use architectural thinking from the side of the processes that produce forms (for some it is the craftsman and some it is the social organization of people and institutions and even other it is the computational codes and parameters). Is there another way to practice architecture that operates at a meso level of these extreme ideas of architectural practice?
This is a long standing tension between form and process. For most architects the complete objects are of utmost importance and for the process-oriented architects there only processes everywhere and all forms mere temporal blips. Sometimes you get a beautiful description by someone like Levi Bryant who see these blips in flows as a process of origami emerging from the plane of existence, only to fold back into the plane of existence. The former group often is in favour authorship and the later does not hold authorship so dearly. Of course, this is an over simplification -one often finds reverse positions on authorship on both sides of the spectrum also.
This distinction and often extreme position also emerges from the general assumption or understanding of the terms form and process. What if we understood form differently? What if understood processes as forms? Forms in the sense of what Manuel de Landa refers to as assemblages or what Graham refers to as compounds. In this understanding objects or forms are neither necessarily complete nor incomplete, instead they are complete at every phase of emergence -either in their coming together or coming apart -a seed, a sapling, a plant, a flowering plant, a tree, etc. These phase changes are not simply processes but rather very specific forms of coming together of very specific things for a very specific duration -even if it is as momentary as the air bubble in soda that is just poured in the glass.
Even if you consider the case of published books as complete objects / forms, it should be worthwhile considering the numerous and substantial revisions some of the books go through by their authors in the following editions of the book. For architecture students, especially in India, Sir Banister Fletchers ‘A History of Architecture’ is one of the simplest case at hand which has been on a constant update, revision and expansion mode since 1896 and which is currently standing at 21 editions as of 2019.
What does this idea of form or object mean for architectural practice? This means that architectural practice can move in an avenue that is neither obsessed over the completeness of form nor obsessed about the absolute processes. This avenue can be that of which where one can acknowledge a peach for a peach, a seed for a seed and peach tree for peach tree -even if a peach tree fails to bear any fruits in its process. To put it in architectural terms it should be possible to think of architecture incrementally whilst acknowledging the objecthood or the form of the building at every step of its making, even if there is an overall plan already conceived or worked out.
Incrementality is not a new idea for architects and architecture. It’s histories is filled with cases which have demonstrated incremental mode of making and thinking about buildings, both as intended and unintended practices. Think of the various iterations for St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican by various architects, the various experiments on the Hagia Sophia’s building, the addition of the dome on Florence Cathedral, incremental housing projects in the 1970s and 80s, the Dutch structuralists’ ideas of open structures, projects by Cedric Price (the champion of temporal architectural thinking), even the planning for Jawahar Kala Kendra (JKK) by Charles Correa-which today is present in its more or less fully intended plan- and numerous other projects are a testimony for this form of practice
Perhaps it is worthwhile to add a small anecdote on the process of incremental design decisions that Correa had to take for JKK. As Correa himself writes that although he had sketched out the complete plan for the project, he was not sure if the project would be built entirely. For those who are familiar, the plan for JKK is made of nine squares with one of the squares tilted and placed outside the grid -inspired by the plan of the Jaipur city. Each of the squares has a unique plan in itself which accommodate distinct programmatic requirements -there by drastically increasing the palette of spatial experience in the project. However, since Correa was not sure if the entire project will be built, the strategy of the square plan came in as a handy tool during the building of the project. Correa phased out the project in such a way that every stage of construction, at least one square gets built as fully as possible -the project was built using state funds and state agencies which have a reputation of abruptly ending projects or changing terms of contracts, budgets, team of contractors and many other uncertainties. Correas office released the construction drawings one square at a time.
This means that JKK as we know today could have possibly been built as only one of the squares, or two squares or may be even four, five or six. But that does not mean that the JKK would have been neither be a complete project nor a building which is constantly and endlessly in process of becoming. It would have been a building nonetheless at any of stages.