A Necessary Incompleteness

A Necessary Incompleteness

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A necessary incompleteness

Late one afternoon, I was walking with a local friend in the small border town of Anse-à-Pitres, Haiti, when we reached what looked like an impromptu public square. “You see the mosaic promenade?” my friend said. “And the benches over there? We know every great city has a public square, so we decided to build one here.” In the center I saw a concrete column with rebar protruding from the top, surrounded by a spiral concrete wall.

“And all great public squares have a monument with a statue, right?” he said. I demurred, but he continued: “Everyone in town can agree about that. But whenever we discuss which historical figure should go up on that column, it turns into a fight. We can’t come to a consensus. So we’ve decided to leave it empty. One day, this person will come. And when they do, we will have a place waiting for their statue. This will bring great pride to Anse-à-Pitres.”

You find examples of this typology all around the world: buildings and structures that are activated or inhabited even though their construction is not complete. [1] For the past several years, I’ve been collecting photographs, video and anecdotes of cases in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, the United States, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Turkey. Instead of attempting to explain these approaches to construction or indulging in obvious generalizations, this investigation asks: How can we read these objects in a different way? This is not a study of the “creativity of the poor” or an attempt to improve design practice; my research is motivated by an impulse to produce understandings for which we may not have immediate use.


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