Unfinished architecture: urban continuity in the age of the complete

Temple, Nicholas (2015) Unfinished architecture: urban continuity in the age of the complete. In: The material imagination: reveries on architecture and matter. Studies in architecture . Ashgate (Later published in October 2017 by Routledge), Farnham, Surrey, pp. 237-252. ISBN 9781138573512


'How can anything ever present itself truly to us since its synthesis is never completed? How could I gain the experience of the world, as I would of an individual actuating his own existence, since none of the views or perceptions I have of it can exhaust it and the horizons remain forever open?' (M. Merleau-Ponty, 'Phénoménologie de la Perception (Paris, 1945, pp.381).

Merleau-Ponty’s meditation on incompleteness provides an important reference in this investigation of the unfinished in building. His argument that it is impossible to gain a complete ‘picture’ of the world, on account of the inexhaustibility of our perceptions and experiences, prompts us to question the assumption of architecture’s 'closure', with respect to its creative processes and its experiential presence. The transformations of the city are perhaps the most visible and pervasive demonstration of this condition, with their multiple systems of management and control. Drawing upon Merleau-Ponty's argument in a series of investigations of built examples from the both historic and modern settings, I argue that the unfinished in architecture is a crucial 'barometer' of the life of cities, serving as a material expression of continuity and collective memory. At the same time, I demonstrate how unfinished work has enriched the creative imagination of architects by offering found situations for urban and cultural renewal ('renovatio urbis').

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