Self-Organizing Systems



In proposing a cohesive structure, advocates of the megastructure have ignored the lesson of dispersion. In the fragmented conurbation, cohesion is provided, not between local elements as in the megastructure, but at the regional level. The merging of new institutions and the growing of new links through communication and data networks is a part of the evolution toward greater complexity. While local independence between subsystems allows for the redistribution of activities, the regional urban system as a whole is becoming more integrated, matching uncertainty in the environment with an equivalent uncertainty in its internal organization...

From: 'Evolutionary planning'. Architectural Design, December 1968, p. 564.

In terms of self-organization, we may say that the mechanisms for controlling the (dispersed) urban region reflect in their low degree of order, the low degree of organization present in the modern social system. For fragmented and disorganized environment, we can now read fragmentation of normative values, and incremental growth and response. In these circumstances, a large measure of 'chaos' around us is not only advantageous but positively essential.

From: 'Urban chaos or self-organization'. Architectural Design, September 1969, p. 502.

As with key aspects of the Foster team's own modus operandi, which also frequently combines or alternates between radically new concepts and recycled earlier models in unpredictable ways, the skill with which (Architecture Project) AP adapt themselves to changing briefs and circumstances and their general openness to new technologies and ideas, suggests a quite different kind of organic architecture to that which is usually implied by that description. That is to say, an architecture which is based upon organic processes of self-production and adaptation to different situations - climatic, behavioural and contextual - rather than one which merely takes on the static appearance of organic life.

In many respects, therefore, this new kind of organic, or Biotech architecture as I have called it, is more like a chameleon than a plant, and may take on quite different appearances according to the cultural and physical environment in which the designers are operating. What is consistent is the underlying process of responsive design, and the collaborative working methods and interdisciplinary skills involved. The diversification into different parallel streams also increases the possibility of cross-fertilization between new and old ideas and methods within the same practice, producing hybrid solutions in a manner analogous to the evolution and diversification of species in nature. This in turn further strengthens a practice's creative output and potential to respond to new situations, just like an evolving organism that adapts itself to a changing environment. However, instead of spreading the adaptation over several generations, the process takes place over a much shorter time span, in keeping with our own fast-moving times.

From: Architecture, Technology and Process. Architectural Press, 2004, p. 7.

Summarising the argument on the significance of taxonomies and types, clearly, if a theory of memes as a means of cultural transmission is going to be taken seriously, then it must be equally applicable to methods of reproduction that existed before the dawn of copying machines or computers, important as they are in our own time, and should account for the multiplication of variations as well as more exact replications. Generally speaking, therefore, in the absence of any other clear sources, memes must be derived directly from artefacts, just as Dennett and Blackmore suggest. However, this would appear to contradict Distin's special concept of the meme as a type, or generally applicable information. Recall that, according to Distin, in order for a person to be able to discriminate key characteristics of the type from all its variations, and so be able in turn to replicate those essential features, a meme must already exist in the mind of a person, or else in some separate form like a blueprint....

The solution to this apparent conundrum is that artefacts do not, for all practical purposes, actually exist themselves as isolated or discrete phenomena, and are rarely studied as such, but acquire their identity as one of a series of similar artefacts, much as Kubler describes them, as linked problem solutions. Thus every artifact has its precedent and its progeny....Only by observing that the same characteristics or features are replicated many times over from artefact to artefact can a person identify the type. Put another way, when identifying a type, which is to say a general class of objects, a person infers the relevant information defining the type from observing numerous exemplars.

Similarly, it may be asked whether the same description qualifies types as self-producing systems. Or, to be more precise, do types and taxonomies as described above, fulfill the three conditions for self-production [previously] quoted from Mingers? Pending further elaboration, a tentative answer in the affirmative might be set out as follows:

  1. The components of classification systems are types, which are defined by and in turn constitute the class of which they are members, in a reciprocal process of self-production.
  2. A type is embodied in a series of objects or other entities like organisations and has distinct boundaries that define and sustain its identity as a whole over time and space, while interacting with its environment and other types.
  3. As a self-producing system, a type is a process of classification and describes the production of the type and the class to which it belongs, not their specific contents.
  4. Pursuing the case, in response to Minger's related question as to what it is, if not biological human beings themselves, that social systems produce, a fourth, summary proposition may be added as follows:

The products of social systems are types; whether of social roles or groups, communities, occupations, activities and governing systems, and suchlike, together with the buildings, settlements and other culture-forms they are embodied in, which in turn reproduce the social systems of which they are the components.

In short, types and taxonomies are to human societies as species and genera are to natural ecologies.

From: The Extended Self: Architecture, Memes and Minds. Manchester University Press, 2014, 147-148.