We feel that the word ‘informal’ has now become another catchword that can be affixed to all kinds of terms to give them a superficial edge: informal settlements, informal networks, informal cities, informal design. The term has not been adequately thought through and glosses over many dimensions of lived reality.
If we want to describe the cities of today, especially the parts that fall out of the grid or creep through it, we need to invent new terms that express not so much their form but rather the way they evolve. That is why we would rather describe MG Road as being constantly ‘in-formation’ rather than informal.
Saying that a habitat is ‘in-formation’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is incomplete. Instead, the term echoes Kevin Lynch’s description of cities as “evolving learning ecologies” (1981 p.115) and seeks to capture the capacity of certain urban spaces to evolve continuously and adapt to the context. The hyphen between ‘in and ‘formation’ is there to emphasize the dynamic production of urban forms and its perpetual incremental improvement and conservation.
The terms in-formation also invokes the word ‘information’ in its systems-theory sense as “any type of pattern that influences the formation or transformation of other patterns” (Wikipedia). If urbanists, architects, policy-makers, self-helpers, users and commentators, can stop describing some neighbourhood as ‘informal’ (and therefore in need of formalization) and understand how economic, social and cultural patterns influence the formation of physical habitats in planned as well as unplanned neighbourhoods, we will be that much closer to solving some of the most important challenges of our urban world.
Examining and learning from the way fellow humans use space across geographies and histories is without any doubt the most exciting trigger for creative intervention and architectural innovation.