wk5 reading response

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History: Manuel De Landa
Emergence: Steven Johnson

In Emergence, the notion put forth by Steven Johnson in the last page of the first chapter was an incredibly powerful thought: discussing the effects of the game SimCity as a work of culture, not science, aimed to entertain, he says “And with that popular success has come a subtle, but significant, trickle-down effect: we are starting to think using the conceptual tools of the bottom-up systems.”  Further, he refers to the mechanistic thinking of the past and how, because of a subtle awareness of it surrounding every aspect of living, it had become imbedded in our society.  He proposes the same could be true for systems thinking/emergence now and in the future.

I can’t help but wonder, because we are humans and we cannot escape the fact that we literally came from nature, how have we become so removed from our emergent past?  I would imagine that if we were to look back over history we could recognize how, despite our lack of consciousness of it, systems principles penetrated through our society.  It has probably been our fairly recently past where mechanistic thinking and our desire to control has taken precedence in our actions within the world.  But even then, I can’t imagine that systems principles went away.  I wonder if even though our conscious actions in the world didn’t reflect a bottom-up approach, whether human’s patterns of habitation and living did.  It is from this point that I seek to know how architecture, the framework for our living, can be improved upon.

Computer scientists have been thorough in showing us how computers are able to learn and evolve based off of emergent thinking and Darwinian Theory.  This process includes a set of “genotypes” and “phenotypes”, generative rule-sets that are able to combine and recombine in an infinite number of ways in order to produce the best solutions possible for its current context.  The feedback loop then “grades” the performance of any one combinatory system, and allows or disallows its progression.  If we accept that, unlike the computer scientists who were removed from the systems they were studying, we are innately part of our own systems, how do we think about architecture in a new way that allows us to consciously use systems principles to the benefit of humanity and nature?  What are the genotypes and phenotypes that we use in architecture?  How does architecture learn?  Jane Jacobs’ social theory on complexity in street life begins to get at this, but there isn’t a strong connection to how architecture can appropriate these principles to the benefit of society.  Living architecture is a new concept that literally looks at growing architecture from organic material.  Additionally, much research is currently being done in the area of responsive architecture (architecture that responds to its environment).  Historically, architecture as a practice has maintained a focus on process, and inherently synthesizes complexity and uses feedback loops as part of its understanding and making.  This, too, is systemic in nature.  All of these ways begin to define how architecture as a field is using complexity principles to inform it.  What other explorations are taking place in the field of architecture in this regard?

2 Responses to “wk5 reading response”

  1. lukebob37 Says:

    I find the last paragraph of your post interesting. When you talk about growing architecture and the use of organic material along with the influence of Jane Jacobs. This makes me think of vernacular architecture. It seem that architecture in some ways has come full circle. We are getting back to organic local building material as a viable solution.

  2. bfnewton Says:

    I agree with Luke. It always amazes me the we are constantly looking forward and towards progress, yet when we look back on where we came from there are so many similarities the keep us connected/grounded.

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