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Architecture’s New Scientific Foundations – III

Since we are part of nature and our life is just another natural process of system organization, the sensory and cognitive systems have evolved to process only what is organized. It follows that built randomness actually degrades human life. Nikos A. Salingaros in the second-to-last part of this series describes Adaptive v/s Random complexity.

It is common nowadays to design and build using non-adaptive complexity which adds no vitality, liveliness or life to a place. Organized complexity adds to a place’s existing framework of adaptivity, fostering life by building on a place’s life-enhancing architectural features, understood as such by a history of use, tested by human action and interaction. The opposite of this, disorganized complexity, is random. Either it adds little to the absent adaptivity of a dead minimalist environment or it undermines the adaptivity of a complex, living environment. The two types of complexity do not add to a place’s adaptive stability but cancel each other out.

Design and construction were different in the past. For millennia, organized complexity was a natural feature of the building process. Vernacular buildings were erected in ways that satisfied human needs, functions, psychological dimensions, etc.

For centuries design flowed directly from human experience. Nothing was ever built or even conceived that did not facilitate connectivity, necessary flows, economy of movement, climatic needs, life functions, and the dynamic utilization of space as defined by human perception on the ground.

Only the most monumental of structures were designed with such human functionality taking second place to aesthetic symbolism. Buildings and associated structures (urban space and street furniture) evolved from the best accommodation to human use. Over time, they evolved into the complex forms of traditional architecture that we inherited and would have continued to evolve had disorganized complexity — in the guise of artistic novelty — not interrupted a natural process that intuitively incorporated the DNA of success.

Today we are used to exerting direct control over every aspect of our environment and that includes our constructions. The design process has become terribly deliberate. Our randomly shaped iconic buildings are designed directly by sophisticated software that generates construction drawings and even building components, without much mental exertion, let alone real creativity. Our taste for design as sculpture, supported by engineers paid to push the envelope of the laws of physics, leads us to misunderstand and denigrate the essential adaptive processes from our past.

Iconic buildings and urban projects that embody random form are arbitrary whims, designed without human needs in mind. These forms do not adapt to the built environment but impose themselves brutally over it. Apply the substitution test – any randomly complex design can be replaced by any other, or even by a minimalist one, without making any difference, because their adaptivity to life is negligible.

Architecture depends upon layers of complexity

Every complex system has different layers of complexity built onto a core foundation. For example, the brain, in which we have identified basic neural modules as “primary” or “primitive” brains. The more advanced evolutionary layers that make us intelligent cannot work without the basic ones. DNA has a similarly nested structure, since our genetic code contains pieces from more primary or primitive life forms. By analogy, we can identify primary elements of architecture that are responsible for exerting the strongest influence of form and space on users. “Architecture” is the surface of nesting layers of a complex cognitive/response system and less obvious primary aspects of a building or a space are physiological and psychological response. The success of a building or an urban space depends much more on these primal elements.

  • Geometrical configurations that have a highly positive effect on the user may be catalogued as “living patterns”.
  • A key mechanism within our human makeup that defines our primary interaction with the built environment, enabling our connection to the living structure of our surroundings is known as “biophilia”.
  • Other inherited physiological mechanisms that are not part of biophilia; yet encompass equally strong effects on our body can be classified as “instincts”.

Living patterns in architecture rely in part on biophilia to trigger human instincts. Yet the processes that affect us in a deep way do not end with biophilia, but encompass separate spatial perception and survival mechanisms.

Patterns in architecture stimulate positive response in humans while, primary biological trait in humans attracts us to the elements of life in animate and inanimate nature. In addition, the non-biophilic but still biological traits influence our instinctive responses to the natural and built environment.

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