“Our choice of informal, therefore, was very careful studied. But it, too, requires definition and contextualization to ensure that our meaning and use are clear. Consider, first, its emergence from related terms:
FORM – shape and structure; outward appearance; essence. Note the apparent contradiction in the definition – appearance vs. essence – which becomes more distinct in the verb to inform, meaning both to give form and shape to something (exterior) and to pervade, animate and inspire (interior).
FORMAL – pertaining to customary form or conventionality; rigorously observant of forms; lacking in ease or freedom of outline or arrangement. Consider such uses as the formal dinner, formal manners, formal attire. As certain forms become norms, they are codified and become standard, accepted rules. Vitruvius gave us The Ten Books on Architecture. Grammarians give us the rules for a language. The underlying presumption in every case is that there is a right and a wrong way of doing things. Hence the need for:
INFORMAL – not done or made according to a recognized or prescribed form; not according to order; unofficial, disorderly. In choosing to call the subject of our study the ‘informal city’, we are both embracing and rejecting the standard definition. The barrios of Caracas on which we focused are, indeed, not made according to any standard prescription, and they are certainly unofficial. But are they, in fact, ‘disorderly’? Do they lack form?
If one looks at the barrios at a distance – in person or in an aerial photograph – one sees sprawling, rhizome-like shapes; one searches in vain for an ordering principle, a clear beginning and end, for ways to separate the whole into comprehensible elements. But close up, patterns begin to emerge and a certain logic – unlike that taught by conventional architecture or planning – can be discerned. Like the scientists who study chaos theory, we rejected the notion of infinite randomness and assumed that there is a discoverable, as yet unidentified, logic.
Informal does not mean ‘lacking form’. It implies, for us, something that arises from within itself and its makers, whose form has not yet been recognized, or is unfinished, but which is subject to rules and procedures potentially as specific and necessary as those that have governed official, formal city-making. Our work sets out to identify and describe that particular logic, to locate the orders within the apparent disorder, so as to open up a productive dialogue about the relevance and the role of the informal city in the world.”Brillenbourg, A., Feireiss, K. & Klumpner, H., 2005. Informal city. Caracas Case. München: Prestel. p 18.