In Search of a Calculus for (Design) Complexity

11.07.15 / 12.02.24

This was the most significant bit of perspective that came out of an independent study focused on systems modeling.

If we recognize today’s more advanced building types as complex systems, then we can compare designing them to design challenges of similar scope and complexity in other project domains, such as the aerospace, defense, and automotive industries.  Doing so provides a new perspective on the challenges of designing complex and increasingly interactive architecture.  Overall, it seems designers are at a point with the design of complex building systems analogous to where mathematicians were with the mathematics of the curve, areas, and volumes before calculus, when the state of the science was to break the curve/area/volume up into lots of little units and add them together. That is, our current design methods help us to account for the sum of the parts but not the whole.  At the moment, we are in search of a calculus for the design of complex systems, but until it is discovered, the best we have is the inelegant solution of breaking design challenges down into their tiniest component parts with as many views onto the system as possible and hoping that our approximation is close enough to work for the given application. It is a slow, flawed, laborious process — but a necessary step.

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