Architecture and ecosystem logic | Miquel Lacasta

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We might think that the mimetic model of the architecture with the nature does not have today any force or that it is not pertinent to think the architecture. We might say that the scientific advances and all his formulations have scanty links with the occupation of an architect and that far from occupying a central space in the reflection of the contemporary architecture, the idea itself of complexity is not any more than an attempt of constructing an intellectual alibi to a trade that actually only is destined to design buildings or cities.

Nevertheless it would be something more logical to think if the contributions of the sciences of the complexity are determinant to formalize the supposed paradigm of the complexity that here eloquent. For it giving a general revision to the different scientific formulations that surround this body of knowledge of great influence in the current architecture seems to me to be interesting to follow Carlos Grillo’s argumentation in the thesis, The Architecture and the Complex Nature: Architecture, Science and Mimesis at the end of the XXth century to fix the importance and the relevancy of the sciences of the complexity in the definition of the complex nature of the architecture.

My pretension is that if we assume the character of reflective mirror that the nature has had in the conception of the architecture from the beginning of the history and we understand the contributions of the set of theories that shape the sciences of the complexity in the comprehension of the natural thing at present, we will understand the position of centralidad of such theories in the contemporary debate of the architecture and therefore it will be specially pertinent to deal with what historical moment crystallizes this idea of complexity in the architectural reflection.

Following the stela of Grillo in his dissertation of the indexed thesis, I will synthesize later several points of interest it brings over of the contributions of the sciences of the complexity.

1.- The science like a constant knowledge.

The idea of constant knowledge, which in architecture already had been argued by Eisenman in his doctoral thesis, curiously also forms a part of the logic of the scientific thought.

The science has been always immersed in an evolutionary dynamics, which history can be read as a constant process of knowledge and interpretation. This verification of the character of continuity of the scientific thought is at first independent from the notion of complexity. Nevertheless since Grillo argues:

“nevertheless, this notion of continuity gains a new dimension in the sciences of the complexity, on having appeared an essentially dynamic and active universe, which it evolves towards increasing levels of complexity”.1 

That is to say, more that simply to evolve, the sciences of the complexity stimulate a much deeper knowledge of the nature but simultaneously much more complex, and due to it they put in evidence the permanent innovation as necessary process and also the ignorance opposite to the mysteries of the nature, as Ilya Prigogine remembers:

“Always I thought that the science was a dialog with the nature. Since in any genuine dialog, the answers are in the habit of being unexpected”.2

2.- A new image of the nature.

The sciences of the complexity describe a nature extraordinarily different from the vision that was had of her one century ago. The nature according to the theories circumscribed in the sciences of the complexity, they draw an image composed by opened, dynamic, autoorganized, creative, eventful systems, etc. A world of possibilities and options in those who impose on themselves the indetermination, the uncertainty and the unpredictability.

On the other hand an important aspect of the sciences of the complexity is the aptitude to concern the behavior of the living thing and to any dynamic, physical or social system that interacts with an environment, concerning from the description of the unforseeable movements of the bag or of a whirlwind, the organization of cells or of social groups, or up to the behavior of the atoms and the heavenly bodies. Definitively the sciences of the complexity concern transversely the whole classic conception of the nature and restore a new complex order in the kingdom of the natural thing that re-formulates the geometry of the nature opposite to the geometry of the individuals.

3.- The complex nature humanizes.

The assumption of the complexity of the universe led by the indetermination, the uncertainty and the unpredictability, supposes a radical change not only in the holistic vision of the world where we live, but beyond even, implies a transformation of the cultural essence of ME as being a human being, habitué to building his identity on the deterministic substratum and reduccionista own of the modernity.

The man has not left behind a conception medievalista or Renaissance of yes same, but in the moment to accept the complexity with all his consequences, it leaves behind an important part of the modern conception of yes same and enters a logic guided by an unforseeable, non-linear and creative behavior, as it happens with the rest of the universe.

This new nature of the human being has been defended by thinkers as Edgar Morin3 who assumes that every individual, the company and the company, they are not trivial machines. Morin defines as trivial a machine of which, when we know all his inputs, we know all his outputs; we can predict his behavior from the moment that we know everything what enters the machine.

Though a part of our behavior is predictable and a civil servant rather as a trivial machine, due to the fact that the social life demands that we behave as trivial machines, it is true that we do not operate as pure automatons, but we look for not trivial means from the moment that we state that we cannot come to our goals.

The important thing is what happens in moments of crisis, in moments to take decisions, in that the machine becomes not trivial: it acts in such a way that we cannot predict. Everything what concerns the emergence of the new thing is not trivial and cannot be predicted for anticipated.

It is in this respect that Morin holds that the human being has entered an area that there has overcome completely the notion of modernity, understood as that one cultural structure reduccionista and determinist about whom we were speaking before and therefore predictable, and consequently, we must think that the contemporary individual has entered squarely a new time, the time of the new nature it humanizes.

Other one of the characteristics of the new human nature is the culture network in which we are immersed, opposite to the culture mesh from which we were coming. Mark Taylor4 develops this interesting idea affirming that the contrast between meshes and networks clarifies the transition that we have suffered from the cold war up to today.

The cold war was designed to support the stability across the simplification of complex relations and situations in the form of a mesh of objected clear and precise: Este/Oeste, Right / Derecha/Izquierda, Capitalism / communism, etc. This one was a world in which the walls, the limits, seemed to provide of safety.

Nevertheless there are neither meshes nor walls that they could protect from the growth in network. In the moment that the network started growing, everything started changing. The new economy displaced the existing one and a new world order appeared in the horizon.

The culture in network connects, involves to the whole world in multiple and mutants get in touch so that one is defined from them. As the connections proliferate, the changes hasten taking everything up to the limit of the chaos while nobody has really the control.

Nevertheless today we know that the chaos is simply the disability to determine the complex structures of order that operate in a situation.

Actually we have entered a new nature the one that autoorganized systems emerge to create new guidelines of coherence and structures of relation. It is the culture network.

Finally the definition of this new human nature comes shaped by the union of objected, idea that Richard Tarnas develops in his book The passion of the mind western.5

The book is a history of the western thought, from the classic Greek philosophers up to the contemporary world, which enjoys several virtues. The first one: the dazzling explanatory clarity, so much of the ideas that have developed in the western cosmovisión as in the panoramic vision that is interlacing them. I come second, the amenity and the dynamism of the exhibition of this succession of cosmological conceptions along the book. And also the coherence is in the development and the succession of forms of thought along our history, from the platonic archetypes to the Christian conception of the world, to happen then to the Renaissance, the Illustration, the science, the rationalism and the mecanicismo of the contemporary world.

In certain way what Tarnas tries to underline is the emancipation of the conscience, in the course of the centuries, in relation to the mythical world; from a mystical participation with the Universe, to a perception and analysis of the concrete thing in the modern world. The emergency of the autonomous thought, fáustico and prometeico… paying for it a high price: the separation of the conscience humanizes in relation the quite existing one.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is his Epilogue, in which the author contributes the vision of a possible development of the cosmological contemporary conception, towards the ecology, towards a new conception of the feminine thing and towards the re-enchantment of the world. In certain way the development of the intellectual conception during the last two milleniums has been patriarchal, linear, progressive and prometeica, which has led both to earnings and to losses. Before it Tarnas suggests a meeting with the opposite ones: a reunion with the cyclical thing, the feminine thing and the participative thing. This it is the new nature of the world and therefore the new nature of the individual.

4.- A new alliance with the nature, the new one to develop biological.

For Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, The Nouvelle Alliance6 is an allegation against the dichotomy between the reason and the life. This substantial pair traditionally understood as an opposition, the authors consider to be an unnecessary inheritance of the classic science, without any correspondence with the contemporary science. From a deep conviction, Prigogine and Stengers they declare themselves enemies of any scientific understanding that makes the human being feel strange in the cosmos, and propose, as idea – force, the establishment of a new alliance between the human being and the nature based on the science of ends of the 20th century, to substitute with her the former science rotates for an erroneous interpretation of the 19th century.

Since it is logical to think, the exposition that the authors do does not exclude the deterministic explanations of the classic mechanics, but they consider indispensable to extend them with a conception of the undeterministic nature.

We might say that the complex behavior that characterizes the dynamic systems is a symptom typical of the living thing and that the sciences of the complexity find in the life, simultaneously that his major challenge, his principal essence, which appears this new connection with the natural thing on the part of the sciences.

Actually this offer to ally ourselves again with the nature and not to feel out of her but to assume that the being I humanize also is a nature, is based on two complementary areas. On the one hand this conception believes itself from the identification of the similarities between the nature of the man and the natural nature.

Since we have seen in the previous point, the essence of the man is understood as a dynamic system, with behaviors similar to a not trivial machine, and with the need of re-encontrarse with the most telluric, more animal side of the human being, to start reasoning from there with new instruments and new capacities. The individual assumes his paper in the universe, first as part of the universe, and not as foreign body in him.

Finally we accept that we work with innumerable similarities in relation with the whole natural universe, which accentuates the idea of mutual identity. In addition the theories of the self-organization reveal the relentlessness and the importance of the interaction between systems for his survival and to exploit the whole evolutionary potential, which costs so much for biological systems, physical systems and social systems, from the cellular scale, up to the planetary scale.

On the other hand, another foundation that proposes this new alliance is the recognition of the dependence that as human beings we have of the way or rather of the natural system. To be sincere, which really has happened is that the whole project of knowledge and submission of the nature carried out during the 19th century and the XXth has turned us in against. We have fallen finally in the account that the only possible position like species in the planet, is not to fight against the nature, but to ally ourselves with her and for it it is that first to assume our dependence, or rather our interdependence with her.

For the classic physics the observer was placing in a position desencarnada on the described object, something like position of I overfly. In the scientific traditional objectivity a will of domain was implicit for which the world was separated from us. Today, the demonstrations of impossibility, in the theory of the relativity, in the quantum mechanics or in the dynamics, have taught us that cannot describe the nature from the exterior, as mere spectators. The description is a communication and is submitted to very general binds that the physics can learn to recognize because they identify us as beings placed in the physical world.

When it is a question of descriptions and social of complex, alive systems, a description from the high thing, it is totally excluded. Prigogine speaks to us about the reenchantment of the nature: it supports that being temporary and spontaneously created beings, we form a part integral of the movement temporary and spontaneously organized of the nature, instead of being an accident little probable.7

So much the fact of assuming our natural nature as human beings, and the assumption of our interdependent relation with the nature they are considerations that find and format the new one to develop ecologically, a new logic of ecosystem.

This logic of ecosistémico, or we might say also, the logic of a radical interdependence with the way, understood th as natural way, as social way and as cultural way, it is today central in the contemporary architecture. To do architecture today is to develop a complex and interdependent set of reasonings that give structure and legitimize our decisions. Only from this effort for assuming the complexity that it endures, we will be able to legitimize our paper in the company to which we serve.

Miquel Lacasta. PhD architect
Barcelona, april 2013


1 GRILLO, Carlos D., Complex Nature: Architecture, Science and Mimesis at the end of the XXth centuryUPC Departament de Composició Arquitectònica, tesis doctoral dirigida por Dra. Marta Llorente, Barcelona 2005, p. 182.

2 PRIGOGINE, Ilya, The end of the certaintiesAndrés Bello, Santiago de Chile, 1996 A, p. 63

3 These ideas have been argued in MORIN, Edgar, Introduction to the complex thoughtGedisa, Barcelona, 2000.

4 They can follow his argumentations in the interesting one TAYLOR, Mark, The moment of Complexity. The emerging network cultureUniversity of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2001.

5 TARNAS, Richard, The passion of the Western mindAtalanta, Girona, 2008

6 PRIGOGINE, Ilya, and STENGERS, Isabelle, The Nouvelle AllianceGallimard, París, 1986.

7 Ver RIERA, Elba del Carmen, The complexity: Considerations Epistemológicas and Philosophical, presentation in the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, celebrated in Boston, from August 10 to August 15, 1998.

Es cofundador en ARCHIKUBIK y también en @kubik – espacio multidisciplinario. Obtuvo un Ph.D. con honores (cum laude) en ESARQ Universitat Internacional de Catalunya UIC y también fue galardonado con el premio especial Ph.D (UIC 2012), M.arch en ESARQ Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, y se graduó como arquitecto en ETSAB Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya . Miquel es profesor asociado en ESARQ desde 1996. Anteriormente, fue profesor en Elisava y Escola LAI, y también en programas de postgrado en ETSAB y La Salle. Fue arquitecto en la oficina de Manuel Brullet desde 1989 desde 1995.


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