Complexity and Mess

"Only an arrogant man would believe he could plan a city. Only an unimaginative man would want to."  (John Kay)

I'm always intrigued by the view from the Ashridge London offices in Fenchurch Street.

It's such a lovely mess.

I've been reading John Kay's 'Obliquity' and he argues that the nature of complexity means that we should approach our goals indirectly.  A designed response to life, he claims, leads to inappropriate results.  Brasilia, a 'designed' city is, he says, dull and soulless. Paris, in comparison, which has grown and adapted over the years is lively, compelling.

To be fair, the book gets a mixed response from the critics and for serious complexity fans there are better places to go. But, as I look out towards Norman Foster's Gherkin at 30 St Mary Axe, it's easy to appreciate an aesthetic response to the life, vitality, energy and mess of complexity.  

No one could have designed this kind of liveliness into the organisation of the city. It grows as we engage and learn to respond, then we adapt and make small, improvisational shifts that ultimately make up our landscape.

Something that the designers and policy-makers in soulless organisations might remember?

Steve MarshallComment