Architecture and Complexity: “Binding Together”

Dominique Coulon & Associés

‘When I speak of complexity, I use the elementary Latin meaning of the word “complexus” — “that which is woven together”. The constituent parts differ, but the overall effect is as in a tapestry. The real problem (with reforming thinking) is that we have learnt too well how to separate things. It would be better for us to learn how to bind things together. “Binding together” is more than creating an end-to-end connection: it means establishing a connection that forms a loop. Indeed in French the word for “binding together” (relier) includes the syllable re, meaning “return”, which represents the loop turn­ing back on itself. A loop is autoproductive. Life orig­i­nates with the creation of a kind of loop, a kind of natural machinery that loops round on itself and produces increasingly diverse elements that make up a complex being that will be alive. The world auto-produced itself in an extremely mysterious fashion; knowledge today has to have instruments — fundamental concepts — that are necessary before any binding together can be possible.’ [1]

Alexandra Pignol.

Edgar Morin’s definition of complexity could serve as a good starting point [2].  The view of complexity that philosophy has is definitely not the same as the view architecture has. Perhaps you could start by giving your definition of complexity?

Dominique Coulon.

For me, complexity is an approach, a method for producing a project. For centuries, architecture tried to eliminate complexity: it almost had the role of a simplifier. Architecture was expected to solve everything, and above all it was expected to provide simple answers to complex situations. Architecture used to set aside a whole series of arrangements in order to achieve this simplification, but I don’t think that’s the principle nowadays.

Freyming-Merlebach Theatre by Dominique Coulon & Associés © Eugeni Pons
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[1] Edgar Morin, ‘La stratégie de reliance pour l’intelligence de la complexité’, in Revue Internationale de Systémique, vol. 9, no 2, 1995 (quotation translated for the purposes of the present publication).
[2] Cf. Bernard Dagenais, ‘Edgar Morin et la pensée complexe’, in Hermès, La Revue, 2007/2, no 48, pp. 179–84, Paris: CNRS.