Tag Archives: self-organization

Thoughts on Complexity

The observation of nature, both living and inanimate systems, reveals a beautiful complexity that operates at every scale from macro to micro. To touch on how the philosopher Whitehead put it, patterns of activity are constantly interacting with each other producing organizations of relating systems that are in constant flux, change and adaptation to each other. In every case, behaviors are present that are irreducible in their parts and revealed only in the top level hierarchy of their development when all the participating agents are present and active. This can occur in many overlapping layers with each level of relationships creating a more complex organization than the preceding level. At any level, the organization of the holistic system is more than the individual components that form it. The more sophisticated systems are present only when upper levels are complete, and are untraceable and unpredictable at lower levels of component groupings.

This phenomenon is around us in the natural world everywhere, the patterns on the surface of a body of water, the bark and branching of trees, the way the leaves react when the wind influences them. Complexity is found in dynamic manmade environments, such as the walking patterns on a crowded city sidewalk, or a packed freeway. When the manmade world blends with the natural, the potential for more and more complexity and unpredicability is presented.

Searching for complexity in working systems of the built environment offers a sophistication that can push architecture beyond the presence of form or function. It has the potential to create a living organism that can be in a symbiotic harmony with its natural environment and its biological hosts. And with this comes a changing, unpredictable architecture that offers new perception through life.


Blue to Green

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

-Cree Indian Proverb

We see the signs in weather patterns. Catastrophic storms, rising ocean levels, melting polar ice caps, shrinking forests, all are effects of global warming. The term ‘sustainability‘ has become a heroic catch phrase within the discipline of architecture…and rightfully so.

 But can ‘green design’ be more than just the latest trend that corporate architecture paints onto its facade to promote business? What can architecture do as a social catalyst that changes the living patterns of the human race? Building construction and the growth of cities is one of the leading producers of waste, greenhouse gases and energy consumption. Can emerging digital processes and manufacturing technologies push architecture and construction practices away from the tradition of consumption and into a future of healthy stewardship of planet earth?

The automobile industry has moved in this direction with the development of hybrid and electrical vehicles. The recently completed ford factory has made a statement in green building techniques and production. Architecture is following, but there needs to be more than simply using recycled materials, reclaiming water, and planting an array of photo-voltaic panels on the roof.

Prefabrication of architectural components that are implanted with data intelligence can be designed to reduce on site construction waste. Factories themselves can become smaller and more mobile, producing and assembling these components through robotic computation. Architecture can become more fluid in flexible in how it is constructed leaving less of an ecological impact on the blue planet.

H two O

The underlying attraction of the movement of water…is biological. If we look more deeply we can see it as the basis of an abstract idea linking ourselves with the limitless mechanics of the universe.

– Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe

Water…one of the most fundamental elements of life on this planet. It has the ability to transform states between liquid, solid and gas. It has the potential to form and shape earth and stone with complex beauty. It has the capability to cleanse or destroy, to sustain life or drown it. It has a magical effect on the mind and spirit. It has inspired architects for millenia.


Humanity, like all life, flocks to water. Civilizations have risen or declined due to its availability. Coastal cities have grown through the centuries due to maritime ports. Beaches and lakes draw visitors from dry land seeking an oasis. Vacationers flock to island seas, or snow-capped mountains for recreation. Water has an amazing draw, it is essential to our life and lifestyle.
75% of our planet is covered by the odorless, tasteless and colorless element, of that 97.5% is salty. 40% of the earth’s atmosphere falls to the surface through precipitation each day. This feeds the plant life, which feeds the animal life, and makes its way into lakes, rivers, ice caps, groundwater etc. before eventually draining to the oceans. As the sun heats the ocean surface, water evaporates again replenishing the atmosphere. The earth’s continuous water cycle, through flows in the sky and currents in the sea is what sustains life.
70% of a tree is made of water, 80% of corn, 90% of a tomato, 70% of a chicken, and 70% of an average human. All from a simple combination of two small hydrogen atoms bonded to one large atom of oxygen. The hydrogen bonds that connect the atoms into water molecules forms an unequal distribution of electric charges which allows the electrostatic shifting of electrons. Each hydrogen atom is thus attracted to the oxygen atom of a neighboring molecule and bonds to it with the tenacity greater than the molecules of some metals. The hydrogen atoms form an infinite string that is configured as a structural lattice that constantly shifts from one configuration to the next every fraction of a second.
In architecture, water is often used as another material, collected in pools or fountains. It has directed site design and planning, orienting a view, collected for sustainability, or utilized for power generation. It has ever had an incredible influence on the human psyche, mesmerizing the eyes and ears with its soothing undulation and refreshing acoustics. These are valuable uses for this fundamental element of life, but is there something more that we, as architects, can learn from this amazing molecule?
Can we learn to build in a life-sustaining way, that offers unending fluidity and flexibility through deploying a simple ‘molecular’ unit? Is it possible to achieve the emotional, physical and structural attributes of water in architecture?
Can we build liquid architecture?
The future is wide open…
H20 The Beauty and Mystery of Water. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 2001.
Wikipedia: water. http://www.answers.com/topic/water website access 02/2007
Pacific Institute. http://www.worldwater.org/ website accessed 02/2007