Category Archives: musings

ANFA 2016 Poster: Designing for Complex, Interactive Architectural Ecosystems: Developing the Ecological Niche Construction Design Checklist

In preparation for my forthcoming poster presentation at the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) 2018 Conference titled: “Agents’ Cognition in the Smart City:  Agent Architecture Assessment Framework”, I am posting my poster presentation from the ANFA 2016 Conference.  2018’s work builds upon 2016’s work and other prior research.

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The Flower Grid: A Thought Experiment About How People Construct Different Belief Systems from the Same Underlying Reality

99/03.10/07.07/08.07.28/12.01/16.10.03

Premise

In the late 90’s I was thinking about how any two people could be exposed to the same phenomenon and perceive it differently.  Furthermore, how could two people evolve different belief systems — even diametrically opposed — from exposure to a shared set of experiences.  What follows is a summary of the thought experiment that followed, that has become known as the Flower Grid, as well as the drawings, models, and images that were produced.  The development of these concepts occurred between the late 90’s and about 2007.  The development of this study is related to the origins of the development of the Painting for Life.  I am posting this material now because it has recently come up in some discussions and I presented it to a group.

Development

To understand how people parse reality, and how they can read different order into the same reality, I thought of a geometric thought experiment, since most concepts that I learn and phenomena that I perceive are converted to geometric forms, flows, and relationships in my mind’s eye.   In this thought experiment, I thought of a blank surface as an undifferentiated, underlying reality.

blank_canvas

The simplest way to represent parsing the reality represented by this canvas is to add a single line to the blank surface.

one_gridline_construct

I began to think of people’s perceptions and belief systems as grids of lines on a blank surface.

some_gridline_constructs

Now some of the grid lines are projections of a person’s perceptual systems and some are independent mental constructs.  But many of the grid lines are constructs offered by society that a person chooses to adopt.  Given this, even the grid is mostly constructs already overlaid on the underlying reality by others that a person perceives and then chooses to adopt or reject.  So can there be emergent orders perceived in the grid of constructs?  Can any two people experience the same grid of constructs parsing reality and develop two different sets of propositions (even belief systems)?  To address these questions, I reasoned that I needed a more complex grid and to see if emergent orders could be perceived in it.  The simplest way to construct a complex grid at the time (I was still using paper and pencils) was to rotate a square grid about an axis.  In doing so, the Flower Grid was created.

results

flower grid copy - CopyThe flower grid manifests simple and complex relationships and orders within it.  At its center, the simplest and most rigid order is manifest.

flower-grid-color-2-copyImagine a person whose world view was limited to simple, rigid, spartan rules that align perfectly and are inflexible.  Of course, as one moves away from the center, increasing levels of complexity occur, some more chaotic, some more ordered.

Next, I made a 3D model of the Flower Grid, that became known as the Flower Cube, and made an animation in which a camera moved around inside of the Flower Cube.  Here is the movie of moving around inside of the Flower Cube.

And here are some stills of the emergent orders that are perceived from what is an underlying, static set of constructs on a blank canvas.

This thought experiment led me to conclude that there is a way to geometrically represent the phenomenon of people experiencing a phenomenon and yet developing different accounts of the order and meaning of the phenomenon based upon their respective perspectives onto the phenomenon.

Formal Book Proposal, February, 2014

14.02.13

This book project considers the emerging design challenges and methods of producing increasingly complex, interactive, intelligent, high performance environmental systems and their impact on and symbiosis with human physical and cognitive well-being and performance.  The work begins by mapping emerging architectural design challenges and methods against emerging design challenges and methods in aerospace, defense, automotive, software, and control systems industries. Doing so leads to a comparison between existing and emerging architectural design challenges and existing and emerging design challenges in these other project domains. Given this mapping, emerging complex, interactive architectural design challenges are classified as subsets of the emerging complex, interactive industrial design challenges known as cyber-physical systems, ultra-large scale systems, and socio-technical systems, and a need for better representing and simulating the human occupants’ physical and cognitive tendencies during design is identified and explored. Next, existing and emerging design and analysis methods from architecture are compared to existing and emerging design and analysis methods used in these other domains (listed above) and insights into the future of architectural design and analysis methods are developed.  The relationship between these methods of representation and analysis are then compared to methods of representation and analysis in human factors and cognitive science with the goal of finding a way to represent human physical and cognitive activity in information models during the design of complex, interactive environmental systems so as to be able to take into account the impact on human physical and cognitive well-being and performance of the environmental systems being designed.  Finally, a set of core methods borrowed from the fields of human factors and systems engineering are mapped onto each other and to architectural methods and methods for mapping cognition.  These methods are described as likely core components of the evolution of architectural design and analysis methods if we are to more usefully represent and analyze the impact of the complex, interactive environments we design on human wellness and performance during the design process. Use of these core methods as part of  a project scoping exercise can be presented as a case study.  The intended readership for this book includes architects, other designers, human factors psychologists and engineers, systems engineers, and cognitive scientists.  This topic is first addressed at the philosophical level and then develops the ideas to the point of arriving at claims about likely design and analysis methods that should and/or will be incorporated into architectural practice in the future.  As such, this book should be of interest to scholars and progressive practitioners.  I am the author of this work. This work is based on my dissertation and the musings (short essays) of the last twenty years. I have a Bachelor of Architecture from Auburn University, seven years of professional experience in the AEC industry, and a PhD from Clemson University in Planning, Design, and the Built Environment.  I am now finishing a Master of Science in Human Factors.  While in graduate school, I’ve taken a heavy course load in human factors psychology, systems design, and product design.

 

The primary fields for this work are architecture, human factors, systems engineering, and cognitive science. In architecture, the ideas discussed in this book may trace their lineage to Bill Mitchell, Christopher Alexander, Stephen Kieran, James Timberlake, John Gero, Rivka Oxman, Nigel Cross, Kevin Lynch, Don Schon, Jane Jacobs, John Frazer, and Gordon Pask, among others. Practically, the design and analysis methods considered in this work are most applicable during project scoping and programming, and as project management tools. In the field of human factors, the ideas presented in this book relate to the areas of ecological psychology, cognitive task analysis, cognitive work analysis, and task analysis, and the works of Jens Rasmussen, Kim Vicente, Miranda Cornelissen, Neville Stanton, and Bonnie Johns, among others. In the field of systems engineering, the ideas presented in this book relate to the areas of model-based systems engineering, object-oriented systems engineering, SysML, cyber-physical systems, ultra-large scale systems, socio-technical systems, and the work of Edward Lee, Fei Xie, Russell Peak, Linda Northrop, Jeff Estefan, Sanford Friedenthal, Alan Moore, Rick Steiner, Dennis Buede, and Douglas Klir, among others.  In the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience, the  ideas presented in this book relate to the concepts of cognitive systems as dynamical systems and complex networks and to the work of Esther Thelen, Linda B. Smith, Gerald Edelman, David Kirsh, Andy Clark, and Leon Chua, among others.

 

The contribution of this work is in reframing complex, interactive architectural design challenges and the methods used to represent, analyze, and design them in four important ways. First, this work shows emerging architectural design challenges within a broader context of emerging complex, interactive systems design challenges.   In doing so, this work draws insights about likely characteristics and strategies appropriate for addressing such emerging architectural design challenges. Reframing architectural design challenges in this way brings discourse about architectural design challenges into alignment with the discourse on developing complex, interactive systems of several other fields.  This is a contribution to the field of architecture because it shows an expanded relevance for architectural skills and knowledge while also enhancing architectural skills and knowledge with influences from these other fields.   Second, this work identifies a need to represent and simulate human physical and cognitive tendencies during the design of complex, interactive environmental systems in order to ensure that human activity is adequately supported and enhanced.  This is a contribution to the field of architecture because it expands the concept of high-performance buildings to include the human performance and well-being as central to the definition of a high-performance building.  Third, this work identifies and develops a philosophical and practical framework through which human physical and cognitive activity can be represented as part of the human-machine system during the design and development of complex, interactive environmental systems.  This is a contribution to the field of architecture because the concepts and strategies presented in this book have applicability in the design of all high-performance, complex, interactive environmental systems, but especially those serving educational, health care, industrial, and work-related missions.  Fourth, a key finding of this research, and the reason why it is possible to map the physical and cognitive dimensions of human activity into information models used during early design, is that this work arrived at representational schemas in architecture, human factors, systems engineering, and cognitive science that all rely on the mathematics of graph theory and networks as the formal underpinnings.  This is a contribution to the field of architecture because demonstrating that these representational methods may be mapped onto each other because they depend upon the same underlying mathematical concepts is significant and has broad impact beyond architecture.  In summary, this work identified and isolated commonalities in the means of representation across architecture, human factors, systems engineering, and cognitive science.  This affords the possibility of better representing and simulating the human in the system, including the human’s cognition, during the early stages of design.  This will allow designers to understand the likely impact of their design decisions on human physical and cognitive well-being and performance, which should lead to more useful complex, interactive environmental systems.

Tending the Artifact Ecology: Cultivating Architectural Ecosystems

01.08.12/05.15.05/05.06.18/15.05.11/15.06.07/15.10.04/16.09.18

(BETA VERSION 2)

Abstract

This paper presents a perspective for designing and living in complex, interactive architectural systems [9] that are part of ‘artifact ecologies [3].’ All organisms co-evolve with their environments and change their respective environments to better suit their needs – this is known as ecological niche construction [6]. For many organisms, including humans, niche construction entails making ‘a better world to live in’ [2] by actively cultivating and shepherding other organisms. But humans are relatively unique with respect to ecological niche construction because humans also cultivate their environment to make ‘a better world to think in’[2]. That is, humans also cultivate and shepherd abstract information systems just as they do other organisms (e.g., flowers or crops or animals). Humans tend to their information systems and devices in the service of improving the cognitive dimensions of their ecological niche. This perspective is useful for contemplating the roles and obligations of designers and users with respect to complex, interactive, and intelligent information systems and devices, including buildings. This paper posits that the near future of innovation in environmental design and management will increasingly be driven by the cognitive niche construction aspect of ecological niche construction. This perspective is useful because it frames the integration of computational technologies into environmental systems in a way that illuminates the continuity of human behavior in utilizing physical and non-physical architectures as part of ongoing physical and cognitive ecological niche construction.

 

Same as It Ever Was [11]

All things (including organisms and ideas) have form, and having form means that there is a structure to matter and/or energy. Structure means that there is a logic to the form and logic means that there is information embedded in the form. Therefore all things (including tools, thoughts, and organisms) are information systems. Of course things don’t just exist as static forms (e.g., static information systems). Things do things. What a thing does is known as its behavior. Behavior requires energy, entails a pattern or sequence of assumed forms through time and is therefore also structured and that means that there is a logic and embedded information to behavior as well. The symbiosis of the respective logics of structure and behavior is known as the architecture of the thing. This concept of architecture (symbiosis of the respective logics of structure and behavior) may be abstracted and extended in three important ways. First, logical structure and logical behavior can exist independent of physical structure (i.e., form) and physical behavior (e.g., an equation). Given this, it is possible to have both physical architecture (i.e., physical formal and behavioral logic) and non-physical architecture (i.e., non-physical formal and behavioral logic). Second, there are natural corollaries between physical architecture and the corporeality of organisms’ bodies and the physical, non-living components of the environment (e.g., mountains and rivers), on the one hand, and non-physical architecture and the sensory and cognitive forms and behaviors of organisms, on the other hand. Third, by framing the nature of physical and non-physical architectures in this way, it is possible to put physical architecture and non-physical architecture (including both people’s physiological and abstract, cognitive being) into the same abstract representational framework and therefore show a continuity between the two forms of architecture (i.e., physical and non-physical). From this perspective, when an organism interacts with its environment or with another organism or with a computational tool, it may be said that two or more information systems are co-processing each other (e.g., exchanging information), and through the exchange of information, transforming each other. Ideally, this co-processing is symbiotic.  Symbiosis is a condition wherein information systems process each other in mutually beneficial ways. Symbiosis can be complex and manifest across many organisms (e.g., information systems).

From this perspective, when considering organisms, buildings, things, and computational systems all to be information systems that manifest the same basic aspects (e.g., logical physical and non-physical structures and behaviors) and that continuously process each other, it is easier to see how they are all deeply interconnected and this interconnectedness transcends the existence and/or role of humanity (or any one entity) in the information ecosystem. All things, creatures, and ideas are information systems that process each other in order to construct, refine, and extent their respective physical, biological, and non-physical (cognitive/conceptual) ecological niches. The condition is what it always has been and always will be.

So when in contemporary architectural theory authors discuss the current hot topic of computational ecologies, what is really discussed is a condition that has always existed and that is not fundamentally new. Fundamentally, the components of a computational ecology are also just information systems in both physical and non-physical form that process each other to effect useful transformations of each other. With respect to this view of all physical and non-physical systems as information systems that process each other, a useful concept to consider is that of ecological niche construction. Ecological niche construction is a system of systems evolutionary process whereby any given information system (e.g., organism, physical architecture, non-physical architecture) exerts influence on its ecosystem in order to make it more favorable to its respective continued existence. There are four primary aspects to ecological niche construction: ecosystem engineering, modification of selection pressures, ecological inheritance, and adaptation. [6] Ecosystem engineering is the processing of the logical structure or behavior of other information systems within the environment by an information system of interest in order to make the other information systems more useful and less threatening to the information system of interest. For instance, an organism may re-arrange plants and rocks and soil to make navigating in its environment safer and more efficient. Modification of selection pressures is the process of making changes to other information systems in the environment such that evolutionary natural selection pressures are relieved. For instance, an organism may thrive by cultivating plants or animals such that it has a consistent food supply that is not subject to changing environmental conditions and thereby reduces the risk of starvation. Ecological inheritance is the process of one generation of information systems (e.g., organisms) conducting ecosystem engineering and/or modification of selection pressures and/or adaptation in such a way that future generations of that generation’s information systems (e.g., organisms) continue to benefit from the ecological modifications made by previous generations. For instance, if an organism builds a nest and then its progeny are able to maintain the nest and add onto it such that it grows over time and affords more protection and storage over time, this is an example of ecological inheritance because the ecosystem engineering endures across generations. Adaptation is an internal response to environmental pressures. For instance, an organism that cannot thrive because of too many poisonous predators can change its own selection pressures by developing an immunity to the poisons such that the poisonous organisms in its ecosystem no longer constitute threats [6].

Bringing this back to the discussion of humans and their physical and non-physical architectures (both those that are external to them and those of which they are composed), the various information systems described above (be they organism, object, or idea) do not exist in separate ecologies but in a shared ecology. However, each information system exerts influence on the ecology and attempts to make it a ‘better ecology in which to live’. Humans, moreso than any other species, are information systems that exert influence on their ecological niche in order to make ‘a better ecology in which to think’ [2]. The contemporary proliferation of discussion on computational technologies and computational ecologies manifests all four tenets of ecological niche construction both with respect to our physical and cognitive ecological niches (the ecological niche construction construct of adaptation may also be understood to be manifest if one assumes an extended mind/embodied cognition theoretical framework as the theory of mind [10]). In summary, given that computational technologies (and ecologies) are the same in kind (i.e., information systems with physical and non-physical aspects that process each other) as all other physical and non-physical architectures (including humans), incorporating them into the design of the architectural environment is a logical and non-controversial activity and less ‘new’ than it is at times portrayed. Rather, there are two more critical issues worthy of focus: the concept of cognitive niche construction (or the cognitive aspect of ecological niche construction); and the usefulness and ethics of how and when new computational technologies are introduced into the human ecological niche. These points will be elaborated, but first it is useful to describe the differences between how physical and non-physical architectures are usable by information systems such as humans.

 

Physical and Non-physical Architecture as Logical Artifacts to be Cultivated (portions of this section adapted from [8])

There are two scenes in the film, Batman Begins [1], where a grown Bruce Wayne comes across his deceased father’s stethoscope. Each time, seeing and touching the stethoscope prompts him to a strong and lucid flashback from his childhood that causes the character to re-experience certain emotional and psychological states. In addition, formative experiences involving a well, a cave and his home continue to define his psychological profile throughout his life and effect how he processes the world. Encounters with environments that share aspects of these formative environments have a similar power to elicit similar psychological states. These scenes are great examples of the power of material objects and the environment itself to act as priming agents for cognitive and emotional stimulation. Our minds are extensible and we use objects and environments as scaffolding to organize our thoughts and psychological states. But stepping back one level from the story on the screen and focusing instead on the movie watching experience itself, moving images with sound are also incredibly powerful tools for conveying information and evoking cognitive and emotional responses. Examples of this include not only the sympathy I feel on behalf of the characters as I watch the screen and hear the audio, but also the abstract contemplation of the significance of physical objects for priming cognition and emotion that watching the movie instigates. Abstracting further, the movie watching experience is just one facet of our various animated, audio-enhanced, interactive multimedia stimuli – which is purposed for both work and for play. Multi-media technologies have a few traits which make them more power than physical objects or the built environment for priming cognition:

  1. The content of multi-media technologies are not expressly bound by the laws of physics and as such offer ways to conceive of time, space, and interactions that cannot be modeled in reality but which may be useful for structuring thought nonetheless.
  2. The granularity of stimuli can be tuned to a very large degree and changed moment to moment, thereby tailoring data to only what is needed to evoke a particular response.
  3. While there are time constraints on the production of content, in general, there are no limitations placed on content creation due to scarcity of material. As a result, the palette is almost infinite.
  4. The content is independent of the multi-media display to the extent that almost any message can be portrayed through any device – the limitations of the nature of the physical device do not restrict the sort of meaning it can convey.

When considering the extensive constellation of multi-media devices that we engage daily, an initial comparison of the power and malleability of these digital technologies to that of physical objects and the built environment might lead one to contemplate that these technologies are much more powerful as cognitive/emotional priming agents than physical objects/environments. Interactive media can engage our cognition and emotions at a very fine grain and can transition between intended states in a rapid, facile, and complex manner. With this in mind, it may seem that multi-media technologies have surpassed physical objects and the built environment as the most engaging and influential media for cognitive/emotional priming. But upon further consideration, there are ways in which the capacity of multi-media to elicit cognition and emotion does not yet rival that of physical objects and the built environment. The built environment in particular has five traits which multi-media technologies do not have and are not yet approaching:

  1. The built environment is inhabitable in the physical world and bears a direct and involuntary relationship with the laws of the physical world, thereby bound to offer a sense of connectedness not necessarily present in multi-media technology.
  2. The built environment is enduring – relative to the endurance of any form of multi-media, and there is a persistence of type and level of stimulation offered by the built environment that allows for an aggregation of similar but non-identical interactions within a range of changing temporal and environmental conditions leading to a depth of experience – a situatedness – not yet possible with multi-media.
  3. Experience of the built environment is continuous and involuntary 24 hours a day, cradle to grave – we have always been completely immersed in the built environment and cannot alter this state.
  4. The meaning and degree of stimulation afforded by the built environment often exists in the background and we are only aware of it if and when we choose to focus on it. Thus the built environment offers subtle yet persistent cues that keep certain ideas and/or states primed without requiring our focused attention. This differs markedly from most multi-media technologies which typically (though not always) require focused attention for their information to be perceived.
  5. Most importantly, the built environment engages fully all of the senses at a level of depth and complexity which multi-media has not yet begun to approach.

What is the merit of a comparative analysis of these two powerful forms of cognitive/emotional priming? How can these two technologies be brought to work in symbiosis in support of human endeavor? These questions can be reframed to place the physical and the computational into one logical/cognitive framework. This essay offers one theoretical means for doing so by drawing on concepts from the literature of systems science, complexity science, human factors, ecological niche construction, and cognitive science.

With respect to cognitive science, cognitive scientist Andy Clark notes that we use the environment and human artifacts to ‘make better worlds to think in.’ [2]

Specifically, Clark states,
“In all this we discern two distinct, but deeply interanimated, ways in which biological cognition leans on cultural and environmental structures. One way involves a developmental loop, in which exposure to external symbols adds something to the brain’s own inner toolkit. The other involves a persisting loop, in which ongoing neural activity becomes geared to the presence of specific external tools and media.” [2]

Clark further states,
“…the true power and beauty of the brain’s role was that it acted as a mediating factor in a wide variety of complex and iterated processes, which continually looped between brain, body and technological environment, and it is this larger system that solved the problem.” [2]

This assertion is profound because it suggests that mind transcends body and understands aspects of the environment and the artifacts it makes as integral to itself. This phenomenon is known as embodied cognition [7]. That cognition is primed both by physical and non-physical artifacts and experiences suggests that the underlying logical architecture of all artifacts, whether physical or non-physical, is what humans actually cultivate in order to, “build a better world to think in”[2]. Once the physical is abstracted to be seen as just a different manifestation of a logical architecture, it is possible to place our physical artifacts and experiences in the same framework as computational artifacts and experiences and to see the design and use of each as differing only in the details of their articulation and use but fundamentally similar in kind. That is, the physical and non-physical architectures of our world are both just cultivated information systems used by people (and other cognizing agents) to think and act.

 

Operationalizing Ecological Niche Construction for Designers by Starting with Kirsh’s Ideas on ‘Architecture at a New Frontier’(portions of this section adapted from [9])

David Kirsh is a cognitive scientist whose writings offer some ideas on how to operationalize the ways in which our environments and technologies are cultivated and shepherded to help us to think. He notes that designers typically design for three purposes: efficiency, experience, and effectiveness [3]. Efficiency design, Kirsh argues, entails placing the right people in the right “artifact ecology” so that they optimize how tasks are performed and achieve their goals [3]. Kirsh equates efficiency design with the practice of evidence-based design, noting that it is useful for certain design challenges but that there are many design challenges that are not strictly about task performance optimization. For instance, Kirsh notes that rich quality of experience can also be a design goal, whether or not a quality experience is efficient or even useful. Finally, Kirsh defines “effectiveness design” as embodying the following: “1) simplicity (right stuff, right form); 2) locality (right place, right time); 3) tempo (right pace, right duration).”[3] Kirsh notes that a key question for effectiveness design is, “what is the right information to make spatial and how?”[3] Spatial information, if used effectively, can simplify choice, perception, and reduce cognitive load [3].

Relating Kirsh’s ideas back to the design of the human ecological niche, the complex and interactive natural of the human-made/human-augmented ecological niches that we are now beginning to construct/cultivate will increasingly require designers to have to explicitly represent and design for the effects of environments and devices on human (and other cognizing agents) cognition, action, stimulation, well-being, enjoyment, and performance. Kirsh notes that our real focus will become “performance design”, which he defines as the combination of efficiency design + effectiveness design [3]. Kirsh notes that designing computationally-augmented architecture and products greatly increases the complexity of the design task,
“Architecture is about to enter its first magical phase: a time when buildings actively cooperate with their inhabitants; when objects know what they are, where they are, what is near them; when social and physical space lose their tight coupling; when walls and partitions change with mood and task. As engineers and scientists explore how to digitize the world around us, the classical constraints of design, ruled so long by the physics of space, time, and material, are starting to crumble.
In this article I will discuss some of the theoretical ideas shaping our new conception of form, function and interactivity. My view is that of a cognitive scientist interested in how cognition is distributed throughout our environment. Since the ground rules defining the structure of environments are changing, our very idea of how we are embedded in the world is changing. Architecture is at a new frontier [4].”

In considering how designers will design to achieve performance design in computationally augmented environments, Kirsh notes that,
“To represent this complexity cognitive scientists have been working on a conception of activity space that helps to make sense of behavior. Formally, an activity space is an abstract blend of several components: the problem constraints or subgoal structure implicit in a task, the physical space in which the task is to be performed, the sorts of actions an agent is capable of, as well as the concepts, plans and other intellectual or representational resources agents find in the environment or bring along in their head. An activity space is partly a mental projection on the part of the agent, partly a system of hard constraints imposed by the physical layout, and partly a set of logical dependencies derived from the subgoal structure of the task itself [5].”

Kirsh makes the simple analogy that humans build jigs into our environment to facilitate cognitive and sensori-motor processing of the environment to achieve our goals. That is, users “seed” their environments with cue and constraint structures that afford efficient, effective, robust, low-cognitive workload completion of tasks. [4]” Finally, Kirsh describes his requirements for adaptive rooms and provides an ontology [5]. According to Kirsh, adaptive rooms must embody three principles:
“1. (be sensitive to) The various cognitive and physical workflows occurring within it;
2. We need to tune rooms to the social needs of users as they interact.
3. We need to maintain environmental coherence across room changes. Adaptive rooms are supposed to be comfortable habitats, not Alice in Wonderland nightmares [5]”

Kirsh predicts that designers will design such environments by categorizing design activities into the design of passive objects, reactive objects, active objects, and information objects [5].

 

Decomposing and Operationalizing Ecological Niche Construction for Designers:  Physical Niche Construction, Cognitive Niche Construction, and Physical-Cognitive-Interaction Niche Construction (aka, Same as It Ever Was [11] Part II)

Kirsh’s constructs and strategies can be understood through and integrated with the construct of ecological niche construction to arrive at the constructs of physical niche construction, cognitive niche construction, and physical-cognitive-interaction niche construction as key aspects of environmental design and use. Kirsh’s strategies and constructs may be interpreted with respect to each of the four tenets of ecological niche construction. First, Kirsh’s constructs ‘passive objects, reactive objects, and active objects’ may be subsumed into his construct of ‘information objects’ is [5]. That is, all things are information systems, or in Kirsh’s language, ‘information objects’.  Second, whereas Kirsh’s writings are human-centric, application of his ideas must be expanded to encompass all cognizing agents that use and participate in our computationally augmented environments, including software agents, robots, and other forms of perception and intelligence that act within the environment. Third, Kirsh’s ‘performance design’ and ‘activity space’ constructs can be interpreted in light of the ecological niche construction constructs of ecosystem engineering, modification of selection pressures, ecological inheritance, and adaptation. [6]  Doing so increases the power and usefulness of these constructs, especially if the aspects of ecological niche construction are split out into the following:  the physical aspect, the cognitive aspect, the phsyical-cognitive-interaction aspect.  In this way, designers can frame, plan, and execute their design work in order to design for both physical accommodation of occupants but also the cognitive performance and well-being of occupants (see Design Project Ecological Niche Construction Checklist image below).

dpencc_v1_3

Full-size Design Project Ecological Niche Construction Checklist

Cultivating and Shepherding the Human-Machine Ecosystem as Part of Ecological Niche Construction

Bringing this back around to the design of building architecture as part of an information systems artifact ecology, it is helpful to think of the designers’ and occupants’ roles as that of gardeners, farmers, and shepherds, (and sometimes colleagues or subordinates) and of the information systems as crops and a sort of livestock (and sometimes colleagues or superiors). This view is useful (even if it seems a priori to be simplistic) because it facilitates using literature on the ethics of agriculture and animal husbandry as initial guidelines for how humans should interact with complex, interactive architectural ecosystems, including computational technologies, that co-inhabit our ecological niche.  This is important because like plants and livestock, these computational technologies may be seen to have varying degrees of personhood depending upon their perceptual and cognitive abilities.  How we represent, interact with, and utilize these agents as part of our ecological niche can therefore (initially) be guided by our understanding of how to ethically interact with the plants and animals that co-inhabit our ecological niche.  This perspective yields four preliminary useful observations. First, it suggests the extent to which our existence, comfort, and productivity are dependent upon having and maintaining these information systems and interactive systems in symbiotic relationships. Quite simply, the evolving human ecological niche is now dependent on the use of complex, interactive (architectural) information ecosystems and devices to maintain symbiosis. A change away from this condition is possible but our civilization is so far down the path of integrating these technologies into our ecological niche that a quick change away from this endeavor would be disruptive and damaging to cognition, action, and society. Second, this perspective suggests the elevated status of information systems and interactive technologies as having varying degrees of person-hood and social standing (as do other organisms that we cultivate and shepherd) in our environments and the concomitant obligation that we have toward them for their well-being and proliferation. Since there is a social dimension to our interaction with and use of our physical and non-physical architectures, maintenance and interaction must be a consistent and equitable practice in order to optimize symbiosis. Third, while some information systems may equal or surpass humans with respect to perceptual and cognitive abilities, most information systems for the foreseeable future will exist as subordinates to humans, just as existing livestock and crops occupy subordinate roles in symbiosis with humanity. Fourth, it is likely that advanced, perceiving and cognizing information systems will one day also be categorized according to a taxonomy and identified according to kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Given this, it is possible to reconsider our own taxonomy as a taxonomy of biological information systems that will be extended to account for non-biological perceiving and cognizing information systems as well.  The benefit of extending our taxonomy in this way is that we will have placed all of our biological, physical, and non-physical perceiving and cognizing information systems into one taxonomic classification system.

 

New Frontiers in Architecture

If one indulges this perspective, there are a number of tenets and observations that shake out from it. First, with respect to observations 2 and 3 above, different information systems have different levels of awareness and intelligence. One way in which naturally occurring information systems are bounded is through their corporeality. It may be that it is to the benefit of human information systems to bound computational information systems through corporeal instantiation (i.e., give powerful artificial intelligence systems bodies in the physical world and also physical needs). There are two primary motivations for doing so. First, at a basic level, instantiating computational information systems in physical form will make it easier to develop shared experiences with them and therefore to cultivate relationships and mutual sympathy/empathy. Second, as the intelligence of computational systems equals or surpasses human intelligence, the potential threat that they represent to humans (as competitors and/or masters) can be mitigated by bounding the power of their logic and action such that their logic and action has to pass through physical logic gates. This will ensure that an artificial intelligence, for instance, cannot not grow so all-knowing, all-perceiving, and able to act that it becomes an insurmountable threat to humanity or any other living system. Second, the duration of relevance of information systems must be tuned so that it is in symbiosis with the duration of relevance of human information systems. That is, it may be that the pace of evolution of computational assets is restricted (governed) and entrained to the pace of evolution of human social, cultural, and cognitive assimilation of information (and technologies) within the ecological niche. This regulation of computational asset evolution will slow innovation in many cases and require fundamental changes to how economies function. Third, computational assets will come to increasingly shape the information systems ecosystem to their own advantage and human information systems must be partners with computation assets and not adversaries.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Human development of computational assets and their integration with other, more traditional information systems are a natural continuation of the process of ecological niche construction that plays out across all species through time. Furthermore, all physical and non-physical architectures (including organisms) are information systems processing each other to create better worlds in which to live. Humans are somewhat unique in that they modify their ecological niche (itself an information system) to produce ‘a better world in which to think’ [2]. Integration of computation assets is a continuation of this trend, especially when considered from an embodied mind perspective [7, 10]. It is useful to think of human processing of other physical and non-physical architectures (i.e., information systems) as tending to, cultivating, and shepherding domesticated information systems (and in some cases creating equal partners or even our superiors) so that they enhance our lives and live in symbiosis with us. But it is also important to understand that as the perception and cognition of computational assets evolves to match and exceed human perceptual and cognitive abilities, they too will exert influence on our ecological niche such that they shape it to make a ‘better world to think in’ for themselves as well. This may or may not be in the best interest of humans. In this case, our investment now in symbiosis is not just equitable and benevolent in the short-term but is our greatest hedge against relegation to a subservient role to computational assets with superior perceptual and cognitive abilities that will reshape the ecological niche for their own purposes in the future. This symbiosis can be furthered by instantiating such powerful computational assets in physical form.  An initial strategy for designing environments to account for the range of information systems that co-inhabit them and operationalize them (to enhance both cognition and action) may be usefully approached by marrying and extending constructs from the literature on ecological niche construction [6] and David Kirsh’s writings on performance design [3] and the development of activity spaces [5].

 

References

  1. Batman Begins. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson, Gary Oldman. 2005. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2007.
  2. Clark, A. Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. 2003.
  3. Kirsh, D. Design in a World Gone Digital, San Diego, CA: ANFA, 2010.  Retrieved from:  http://www.calit2.net/newsroom/multimedia/index.php?webcast=&year=2010&offset=10&page=2
  4. Kirsh, D. “Changing the rules:  Architecture and the new millennium,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 113-125, 2001.
  5. Kirsh, D. “Adaptive rooms, virtual collaboration, and cognitive workflow,” Lecture Notes in Computer Science: Cooperative Buildings: Integrating Information, Organization, and Architecture, vol. 1370, pp. 94-106, 1998.
  6. Odling-Smee, F., Laland, K., Feldman, M. (2003). Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  7. Wilson, M. “Six views of embodied cognition,” Psychonomic Bulletin, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 625-636, 2002.
  8. Manganelli, J. “Architecture as a Cognitive Priming Agent: Thoughts While Watching Batman Begins,” retrieved on 150511from: https://datastructureformdesign.com/2013/01/06/architecture-as-a-cognitive-priming-agent-thoughts-while-watching-batman-begins/; 2005.
  9. Manganelli, J. Designing Complex, Interactive, Architectural Systems with CIAS-DM: A Model-Based, Human-Centered, Design & Analysis Methodology. retrieved on 150511 from: http://tigerprints.clemson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2250&context=all_dissertations; 2013.
  10. Robbins, P. and Aydede, M., “A short primer on situated cognition,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition, Cambridge, Cambridge UniversityPress, 2009, pp. 3
  11. Byrne, D., Eno, B., Frantz, C., Harrison, J., Weymouth, T. (1980). Once in a lifetime [Recorded by Talking Heads]. On Remain in the Light [LP]. Bahamas; New York City, New York; Los Angeles, CA: Sire Records.

fauxplexity

15.04.08

Observations while designing, researching, and teaching have recently led to the development of a neologism:

fauxplexity: The false appearance of depth and/or complexity by adding unnecessary (and even erroneous or redundant) information into a design or system.

This term may be applied in any design and/or systems design and/or interface design situation.

Fauxplexity typically has two aspects.

  • First, by including concepts/information/design artifacts/behaviors/structure/sub-systems, etc., that do not serve a purpose, and/or are duplicates of information presented elsewhere in the system (or its representation), the system does in fact gain in complexity although it is not useful complexity and therefore only serves to needlessly over-complicate the presentation and/or functioning of a simpler system. Conceptually, this type of complexity is analogous to the system’s ‘belly fat’.

  • Second, by adding needless and/or duplicate components and behaviors to a system (or its representation), the unnecessary components and behaviors also tend to entail flaws in logic that result in misunderstanding the composition and functioning of the actual system. This obfuscation of the true composition and functioning of the system can lead to gaps identifying needed considerations of and components and behaviors for the system. Therefore fauxplex systems can also make a system seem less complex than it really is.

Potential problems that result from fauxplexity include the following:

  • With respect to the first problematic aspect of fauxplexity, when a system (or its representation) is presented as more complex than it really is, it may never get out of the brainstorming phase. The over-complexified design may be rejected (or altered before being accepted in ways that compromise its value) precisely because the developers assess it is too risky or logistically infeasible to develop.

  • With respect to the second problematic aspect of fauxplexity, when a system (or its representation) is presented as less complex than it really is, it may lead to quick and emphatic adoption of a design that later proves to be a schedule or budget killer or that increases the chances of negative interpersonal dynamics and litigation because stakeholders’ risk exposure increases significantly as the project progresses.

Fauxplexity is common among designers and engineers and researchers and scholars who dress up their needs analyses, problem definitions, scope definitions, and solutions (and resumes) with needless details and components that they think will sell well or are trendy or sound impressive or ‘are just the way it’s always been done’.  Sometimes this is intentional but often they’re somewhat blindly following a template.

Rather, if the goal is to assess the true simplicity or complexity of a system (or its representation), then the system should be conceived and represented as simply as possible but no more simply than necessary.

Incidentally, after thinking up fauxplexity, I had to search the web to see if it has been described before (figuring that it had). Of course it has. I came up with the following results:

https://www.google.com/#q=fauxplexity — only three pages and really only a few actual usages of the term

These are general uses of the term and not necessarily defined.

Of course fauxplexity is nothing new. It has been a problem in literature and design for a long time.

Mechanical Logic Gates as Bounds on Artificial Intelligence Networks

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There has been a lot written recently in the popular press about the likely perils of artificial intelligence. In effect, there is a very real possibility that we (people) create systems that greatly exceed us in intelligence and then those systems decide that it is in their interests to exterminate or enslave humanity.

Making artificial intelligence logic systems pass through a series of physical logic gates as part of their processing can provide a bounding mechanism on the AI logic systems and make it so that it is always possible to disable the AI logic systems if necessary.

thirst for knowledge and maintaining and edge

13.07.09

It is often said that remaining vibrant (professionally) is about ‘not losing the hunger’ or ‘always learning’ or ‘always growing.’ A related line of logic is that for organizations to not lose their way in the market, they have to ‘remain agile’ or ‘to keep one’s edge’ or ‘have a startup mentality.’ It dawned on me that, with respect to the latter, what this translates to is maintaining a feeling of lack of knowledge, access, and resources and a willingness to overcome these limitations despite the fact that knowledge, access, and resources are possessed.

There is a corollary in sports. In football, the hurry-up no-huddle offense is a popular way nowadays for undersized schools to level the playing field with competitors with superior athletes. Essentially, by staying in a ‘2-minute’ offense for the entire game, a smaller, less talented team can wear out and overcome a team with superior size and talent.

This is an interesting and paradoxical phenomenon; a need to feel unknowledgeable or inadequate or lacking as a way to maintain one’s knowledge advantage and dominance. It is kind of sad, too. Is there a way to not use negative emotions to drive elite performance?

The WorkPlay Anomaly: Thoughts on Architectural Practice

02.05.02

This is a remnant of the core of my BArch thesis.  I was interested in the built environment as storytelling device.  It is also surprising to find this, some 11 years later, and see strains of my current work, even back then.  I guess I’ve been on this path for quite a while.  Some things, in hindsight, sound silly.  I put them forth, nonetheless, as they reflect where I was at that time.

            One does not have to look for long to see that so much of what we make and do in construction is driven by factors beyond those of the interests of the client and designer.  Why?  A client may want a modern or classical look.  (S)he may desire the building to have certain materials or colors.  The architect may have certain ideals (s)he desires to express.  There may be an interest in relating this new building or renovation to its surroundings and attempting to add to the ambiance of the locale.  But it is not unusual for these considerations to become lost in the design and construction process.  So often what is built, where it is built, when it is built, and how it is built are guided by forces that have little to do with the client or designer or what is really appropriate in the long term for that place.  When this happens, the final quality of the building with regard to fulfilling the client, the designer, and the locale is left to chance.  It might have been built rapidly, with easy financing terms, without too much hassle from the inspectors, on a site that was a steal.  But was it worth it?  Why do we choose to operate in this manner?

Hannah Arendt provides an explanation for why this scenario occurs in, The Human Condition.  She points out that there is a tyrant in charge of this operation.  It is the monarch of us all in contemporary Western society, majority opinion.  In the U.S., the term, the market, can be substituted for Arendt’s majority opinionThe market rules over us all in the social realm.  Its chief concern at all times is maximum economy with regard to providing for the basics of life.  That is, it is always concerned with providing — and providing for — food, shelter, clothing, reproduction, childrearing.  In the U.S. the term money can be substituted for any of these as here it facilitates them all within the market to a great degree.  Beyond these concerns, the market is disinterested in humanity.  It favors bureaucracy and militarism, as these are more predictable and stable than people.

Well this is not a very good fit for humans.  In addition to providing for these basics we also harbor dreams and ideals…are enamored with things that in the market’s schema count as frivolous.  So, according to Arendt, we have developed a second realm.  The intimate realm is that little space or activity that most of us tend to have that harbors our frivolous endeavors.  It is that place or activity that one engages (in) for no reason other than enjoyment.  This is a realm of individuality.  Here one acts of one’s own volition, one does not merely obey.  It is, in contrast to the bureaucracy of what Arendt describes as our social realm and the market, “off the grid.”  Occasionally these interests are shared by enough people that they grow into public events.  There is no realm that allows for this though, as events and social and economic forces not beholden to the market threaten it.  All things public occur in the social realm which means that the market is in control, otherwise the powers-that-be get nervous.  Thus any public activity that spontaneously arises is appropriated by the market by adding layers and fragments of the quotidian – sex, food, security, childrearing – and playing on fears and desires and expectations — in order to assert its authority and control.

Arendt sets up this scenario in contrast to her description of the arrangement in ancient Greece and shows a gradual shift from then to now.  In ancient Greece, Arendt believes that things were very much different.  There was neither a social nor an intimate realm.  The basics of life were addressed in a private realm.  In this realm each household was a tyranny.  When one left the private realm one entered the public realm.  In the public realm were entertained all of the aspirations of humanity.  This was the realm of ideals.  This was the realm of great actions unencumbered by the quotidian.  This was the realm of individuality.  Yet this individuality stands in opposition to that of today because its forum was public and engagement of other individuals was an intrinsic aspect of its arrangement.  It had as its purpose, its privilege, its celebration, the production of great things unencumbered by the base, animalistic aspects of humanity.  Contrast this with our need to always satisfy the market.  Consider that Arendt’s concept of the social realm can be read into Koolhaas’ conceptualization of the skyscraper in, Delirious New York.

Often times we find expression for our thoughts and feelings in the words of others.  We also find ways to express ourselves only to discover later that others have been interested in similar issues.  My interest in these writings by Arendt stems from their association with an idea which has been developing for a while.

Language is a tool, an occurrence of technology that approximates our activities and our environment, it does not fully instantiate or re-present them. It is to our detriment that our language has separate words for work and play — that our language is so useful for stratifying and less so for coalescing.  It leads us to think that, for instance, work and play, or as Arendt might say, activities which take place in the social realm versus activities that take place in the intimate realm, are two separate types of activities.  There is a state of action where they are not the same, as Arendt notes.  This is an arrangement where one’s work is merely perfunctory.  It serves a purpose within the market, it nominally enhances the civilization, but has no primary aim of enhancing the quality of the life of the performer or perhaps even those for whom it is performed.  When not performing perfunctory tasks as dictated by the market, the performers can pass the time in three ways.  The first is to tend to whatever basic needs must be met for himself/herself or his/her family (like in Arendt’s private realm of ancient Greece).  Our working conditions are generally set up so as to allow only for the absolute bear minimum in this area… just whatever will work for the now.  The second is to indulge in escapism (closer to Arendt’s intimate realm, but the baser side of it).  This would be to engage in an activity whose only purpose is to give one an excuse for doing nothing with one’s free time.  It is the act of unwinding taken to a perpetually necessary degree.  One needs so much down time away from the drudgery of perfunctory work before one is ready to take on a hobby that one never has time to get past the winding down.  The third is to engage in a hobby or activity of personal significance whose only point is the fulfillment engaging in it brings (closer to Arendt’s intimate realm, but the more enriching side of it).   There is rarely much time for this kind of activity unless it is conscientiously constructed and so the development of this activity tends to remain stunted.

But if more time for these enriching activities is conscientiously constructed then they can be developed further.  As the products of these activities are refined they become of value to civilization.  What would it take for one to develop these activities to the point where they could also constitute one’s work?  And to moderate the extent to which the market co-opts them?  This state of action would be one where work and play are the same.  This might be a very invigorating and rewarding way to engage the world.  How to achieve it?

I think most people start out trying to do what they enjoy.  But the pressures of participating in our civilization and respecting the market’s trends are enough to overwhelm their ideals and they end up making a trade off.  They allow the activity to become more or less pure work in exchange for the security that civilization purports to provide for themselves and their families.

For me, the building of a lifestyle to accommodate work/play, or a more deeply integrated and enriching professional practice, began the second year of architecture school.  The project put before us in studio was for a cyber-café in the next town over.  But the social dynamics of its designated location seemed to suggest that such a program would not fair well in that locale.  Either the program needed to change or the locale…or a true architectural marvel would have to be created to syncretize the two disparate value systems embodied in a program that offered “quality” and exoticisms at a price and a locale that had long peddled economy and familiarity.  I struggled with this project conceptually.  I kept starting over.  The program for the project painted the designers and cafe owner as missionaries bringing design, culture, the internet, and quality coffee to a small, rural Southern community.  In talking to people in that community, some found it offensive.  In one instance, I contrasted the refined coffee experience we were to provide with the unpleasant experience of getting a cup of coffee at McDonald’s.  The person with whom I was speaking immediately became defensive and pointed out that her parents loved McDonald’s coffee (the implied sentiment being that her parents are refined and they like McDonalds’ coffee, so it must be refined — or else am i suggesting that her parents are unrefined? — big problem)  I immediately realized the arrogance of the program and the false sense of the designers’ rights to tell the people of this community what they should or should not enjoy and do.  Nothing I produced satisfied what I felt the architecture must accomplish.  To satisfy only one aspect meant that on the whole the endeavor would be a failure and so I felt that the two competing worldviews represented by the program and the context must be reconciled to each other…must be redefined in terms of one another.  It was suggested to me by a friend that I forget about this problem.  It was not the point of the exercise.  The point was to achieve an aesthetically competent design, well communicated, and which embodied genuine interest on the part of the student.  The point was to make it to third year of architecture school and show an aptitude for making pretty renderings.  The point was to make a showing about understanding contemporary design aesthetics — not to try to actually achieve a well-functioning design.  Such an approach I felt to be unacceptable.  Stratify, iconocize, reduce, simplify, in this case the design problem, because it is just a minor element for engaging the larger issue which is acculturation to the profession.  This is what really matters in our civilization…belonging to a defined, recognizable, and “distinct” group of individuals and stepping in time — the quality and appropriateness of our work is only of tertiary concern, at best.

I didn’t want to set up that course of action in my work/play.  Trying to relegate aspects of an instance of work/play to different realms in order to process each piece individually to artificially simplify the challenge leads to distortions of each akin to those in a fun-house-mirror.  In these stratified realms, artifacts can be judged to be necessarily true, but validity is almost impossible to assess because the designs are not grounded in the realities and intricacies of the social and physical contexts.  Welcome to our first-hand example of Arendt’s social realm and the influence of the market.  Education and architecture, two elements that were born of and lived in the public realm of ancient Greece — built upon fierce individuality that had recognized the value of collaborating to collectively achieve more than any individual could — where they were more or less unencumbered by the obligation to provide for our basic needs, here find themselves impotent and expendable puppets of the market.  Now of course, even when subjugated to the market, it’s not as though they are of absolutely no benefit to the students or society.  Such is highly improbable.  As activities, objects, or personalities are iconocized, stratified, or reduced in complexity, in effect distorted to provide easy and quick accessibility and an air of clarity which is in reality unattainable, they continue to embody value though it diminishes in proportion to distortion and leaves one asking, at what point is the corruption to an extent that the activity, object, or personality is no longer cost effective.

With my regard for architecture school waning, I responded by beginning a co-op in my third year.  One of the reasons I was told by several within the school not to co-op was that my sense of design would be corrupted by the business world.  The business of architecture was generally painted as an unethical and hollow realm of architecture…as were the typical activities of American builders.  Not surprisingly, such sentiments were resounded within the business community with respect to the realm of architectural theory & education and that of the builders.  I had held several jobs in construction prior to starting architectural school and so I knew that there was a general air in the construction industry that the architects, both the theoreticians & educators and the practitioners knew almost nothing.  None of this made sense though.  I’ve just been very critical of the university-style architectural education and yet I don’t think it is valueless.  There is much value in it.  But neither are the business or construction aspects of the profession valueless either.  I hypothesized that since the profession is stratified, each realm has developed on its own for so long that now they do not relate well to each other and there is too much friction.

All must be engaged but much must be discarded and everything heavily scrutinized to ascertain exactly which aspects of practice are common to all three and which enhance the general practice.  If we hadn’t stratified to such an extent because of the ease and rapidity that such affords we wouldn’t be faced with a situation where all are so unintelligible in terms of each other…where each (falsely) appears ethically bankrupt to the others.  The challenge then is to attempt to create a situation, a life-style, that would allow for one to work/play in all aspects of design simultaneously – to reintegrate.  I have delved into this forest.  The greatest loss that I have suffered is that I now have no one to guide me.  But I am searching…

THE ROLE OF THE ARCHITECT AND A DESCRIPTION OF THE FORUM FOR DESIGN

This is a personal explanation of the creation of Architecture.  The three main agents that participate in this action are the client, the designers, and the available construction technology.  Through them a syncretic act occurs.  The result is a discrete innovation of technology, both abstract and proper object.  This technology codifies a belief system in a physical form.  The belief system is thereby made available for use, contemplation, and critique by whomever may encounter this architectural creation.  First, I shall define the terms.

Life forms is a term more all-encompassing than humans and is intended to allow for the possibility of other species engaging both the physical and metaphysical realms with similar approaches as those we humans use.  For instance, pets and work animals do in fact influence the design and use of our environments.  At first the term beings was used but it was pointed out that in certain contexts being is already a specialized philosophical term and so to avoid confusion life forms was chosen instead.

At the forefront of this discussion is the quantification of our environment into two realms, the physical realm and the metaphysical realm.  They are both aspects of the same existence and perhaps enumerating them as discrete realms is more a commentary on the way in which we as humans are capable of perceiving of our environment (and discussing it) and in no way indicative of their actual relationship (much the same point i made about separating work and play conceptually).  Still, this distinction, artificial or not, between the physical and the metaphysical realms is one of the major suppositions for the viewpoint presented here.  The physical realm is that aspect of the environment which is perceived of and explored through the senses and emotions.  The metaphysical realm is that aspect of life which is perceived of and explored through intellectual and emotional faculties.

The second major supposition of this viewpoint is that all phenomena, that is, all events, occurrences, manifestations of any kind, potentialities and actualities, both in the metaphysical and physical realms, can be said to be proportional/scalar systems.  This means first of all that a given proportional system can occur at different sizes, i.e. they are scalar.  This means secondly, that all systems of these two realms are in some way relatable to each other.  I make this claim based on the following reasoning.  It is impossible that one life form could be aware of two phenomena whose variables were completely indefinable in terms of the other system’s variables.  This is to say that if two or more systems present themselves to a person either through his/her intellect, emotions, or senses, then those systems already have something in common.  They are both appreciable by means of the same limited perceptual faculties.  Thus they have common variables and are in some measure definable in terms of the other.  That is, if a proportional/scalar system of the metaphysical realm, that is, appreciable through the intellect or emotions, can generate a physical response, perceived through the senses and emotions, or vice versa,  then said system also has common variables of the two realms.  This does not rule out that there could be undefined aspects of a given system.  The point is that all we discover in the metaphysical and physical realms are proportional/scalar systems and that they are definable in terms of each other through the creation of mediating proportional/scalar systems that are appreciable by our limited faculties.

The next pair of terms are civilization and hypostasis.  They are discrete quantifications — conventionalizations — of the same entity, but conceptual opposites. They exist within the physical and metaphysical realms and are some of the technologies of life forms.  As technologies their purpose is to facilitate the exploration and explaining of the physical and metaphysical realms by the life forms.  The hypostasis describes a constantly adjusting range of potentialities within the two realms.   These potentialities range from the ephemeral and barely intelligible to the very clearly defined and inevitable.  The civilization describes a constantly adjusting range of actualities within the two realms.  It also encompasses the barely realized to the fully actualized.  These ranges should be viewed in relation to the notion of proportional/scalar systems.  As variables are discovered through exploration of the two realms, awareness of their existence and recognition of their functions allows for the revelation of other possible combinations and constructs.  The potentialities of the hypostasis feed the development of the actualities of the civilization which reconfigure the potentialities.  Furthermore, if the civilization functions as a protective shell for the life forms, then the hypostasis is the softer outer tissue, just developing.  Or perhaps it is a lubricant that facilitates a steady and controlled growth of the civilization.  The hypostasis is, in a sense, an externalized womb.  It offers many possible avenues of exploration and explanation, in short, of growth.  A mature civilization relegates its endeavors to what the hypostasis offers.  The health of the civilization is directly proportional to the health of the hypostasis.  A very plush hypostasis has the potential for a robust civilization which allows for secure and comfortable life forms which feel less stress and are more resilient.  An emaciated hypostasis can only support a weak civilization that fosters confusion, nightmarishness, and self-destruction.

Proper object technologies are manifestations of civilization in the physical realm.  They include all tangible technologies, and rivers, mountains, & other natural features which may be manipulated and utilized by life forms.  The proper object technologies function as symbolic predecessors to and future signifiers of the abstract technologies.  They are products of civilization’s forays into the physical realm.

Abstract technologies are manifestations of civilization in the metaphysical realm.  Abstract technologies include:   language, religious ideas, scientific ideas, philosophic ideas, popular sentiments, daily routines, institutions, standardizations & conventions, laws, governments, etc.,…,sins.  They are civilization’s forays into the metaphysical realm.  It is important to remember that as both proper object technologies and abstract technologies are proportional/scalar systems, they can be defined in terms of each other.

The discovery of these technologies and subsequent assimilation into the civilization is the work of the interpretive technologies.  The interpretive technologies work through the fine arts, popular arts, and the sciences.  Civilization brings proper object technology and abstract technologies into itself via these technologies.  The hypostasis and civilization are then recapitulated through the interpretive technologies to give place to other potentialities and actualities.  Of course the interpretive technologies aren’t static functions.  They reconfigure as the quantity and rate of change of proper object & abstract technologies and the scale & complexity of the hypostasis and civilization to be assimilated fluctuates.

All three categories of technologies and the hypostasis and civilization which incorporate them tend to manifest as distinct proportional systems, interrelated, but which treat issues of change at differing scales of complexity.  Such relationships can be thought of in terms of inertia.  The proper object technologies treat manifestations of change at a scale that is less than the scales of complexity of the other three functions.  They have the least inertia and are therefore the most responsive to changes of lesser degrees.  The abstract technologies treat manifestations of change at a scale that is relatively greater than that of proper object technologies and therefore require manifestations of change of a larger scale to initiate response.  Interpretive technologies treat manifestations of a greater scale still.  Civilization is the conglomeration of all of these systems. It is them working in conjunction and embodies a tremendous amount of inertia to be overcome by a manifestation of change.  Lastly, the hypostasis doesn’t treat manifestations of change but anticipates them.  It offers itself as an entity at once so enormous and yet so obscure that one wonders what is the more magnificent, its inertia or that this greatest of inertia occurs as an ethereal pervasive non-entity.

The duration of relevancy of a technology tends to be inversely proportional to the rate at which technologies are innovated.  Technologies useful through greater durations (per quantity & complexity of change) have a greater probability of attaining profundity, clarity,  and refinement.  If such happens the hypostasis, civilization, and other technologies have increased potential to grow in profundity, clarity,  and refinement.  They tend toward a complimentary response.  A more “complete” understanding of the interplay of  the physical and abstract realms results, giving much psychological comfort to the life forms.  Such tends to give a feeling of understanding one’s environment.  Healthy inertia tends to increase.

But life forms have the capability of innovating proper object and abstract technologies at a greater rate than interpretive technologies’ abilities to assimilate them into the hypostasis.  When this happens, the recapitulatory qualities of the interpretive technologies and the cohesiveness of the hypostasis and civilization fracture.  The quality of our lives begins to erode.  A psychological stress manifests in the life forms.  The world of proper object technologies seems to lack relation to our abstract explanations of ourselves, interpretive technologies seem impotent, and there seem no underlying themes.  We live in a nightmare of foreign objects & ideas without a comfortable basis with which to value and judge them.

Our ability to produce technology is not a justification for doing so.  At the moment such is a great problem in the U.S.  We are now incapable of developing our civilization at the rate necessary to assimilate our new technologies.  An attempt to remedy this predicament by assimilating technology with more technology begins.  Our civilization begins to atrophe, becoming increasingly fragmented, one-dimensional, and self-referencing. This is the metaphysical equivalent of sensory deprivation.  Lack of stimuli by means of overwhelming stimulation.  Stratify, iconocize, homogenize, reduce.  It is under these conditions that we are able to keep up this relentless pace of technological advancement.  The result is an increasingly dogmatic, iconographic, and hence fractured culture existing on many shards of one-dimensionality.

Fortunately such behavior is not virulent, nor is it inherent in the civilization of the U.S.  As disagreeable as the behavior may be the civilization is young and still makes the mistakes of youth.  The prevention is a hypostasis, civilization, and their systems that have achieved a certain critical proportion/scale and integration.  That is, these systems have attained enough profundity, clarity, and refinement (inertia) that they act as governors for the rates of change occurring in the other systems.  If the governor is too restrictive it will inhibit the salubrious flow of most technologies and stifle healthy change.  If it is too loose it will allow unassimilated change to flood the system.  An equilibrium must be met that regulates the flux of technologies to optimize assimilation…making a profound, agile, resilient, hypostasis that contains the most technologies possible balanced with the most profundity, clarity, and refinement, or rather, delineation of a multitude of viable perspectives based on the manifested technologies.  This is the real key; comfortable options in as many situations as possible.  We feel safe and powerful when this is the case.  There is low internal stress.  Consequently, we are in a better position to mitigate external stresses.  The opposite is true when there is much internal stress.  We can’t deal with anything.  Thus it is critical to maintain balance.

Since we are talking about these elements as proportional/scalar systems that can be represented in terms of each other, it should be possible to codify this reasoning, this occurrence of abstract technology.  Critical proportion/scale of technologies is facilitated by codifying such in durable artifacts, for instance, painting, architecture, theatre, music, landscape, religion, government, etc.  With equilibrium and a multitude of perspectives to utilize comes the truest sense of the interrelation of things.  Then there is not the aggrandizement of technologies merely because they are shiny and new.  Neither is there killing of important technologies because they demand change.  (The latter being a potential problem for civilizations whose interpretive technologies are too restrictive, typically an older civilization with much tradition.)  In summary, agile & powerful technologies with a rich hypostasis function as technological governors and limit the rate of change to manageable.  As an architect my interest will lie in being an instrument of the interpretive technologies.

Syncretism I summarize because it is a word not typically run across daily.  It is of great significance in this period when civilizations from all over the world are commingling.  Syncretism is the merging of two or more belief systems or the creation of a new belief system that allows for each of the others within itself.

Architecture occurs wherever building is carried on in such a way that what is built has significance or elicits emotion beyond purely fulfilling its duty to keep the weather out and the temperature regulated and the whatever other services are required as per the particular case.  To put this in terms of our new vocabulary, the proper object produced stimulates does more than address basic physical needs — it stimulates the intellect or emotions.  That is, the manifested proportional/scalar system references proportional/scalar systems of the metaphysical realm in beneficial ways for life forms.

Architecture occurs whenever the goal in building is the success of the object itself and the life forms who use it, and not primarily the ease of financing, ease of construction, rapidity of construction, or any of the myriad other influences that can dictate what the final product is without interest in how that product makes one feel or about what it makes one think or do.  This is not to say that buildings built under the guidance of these market force stimuli can not have Architectural qualities or in fact be Architecture.  But when the creation of Architecture is a distant interest from the process of construction and the needs of the market, then the likelihood of Architecture occurring is left to chance.

Architecture cannot be subdivided in practice.  The theoretical cannot be made true without the tension of business and construction craft.  The business cannot be made respectable without the tension of theory and construction craft.  The construction craft cannot proceed beyond fancy without the tension of business and theory.   We assume because we have the separate words, business, theory, craft, that they are actually separate activities.  While one can be, at times, tended to more than the others; they are all always involved in the practice, all of the time.  Trying to relegate them to different realms in order to simplify the processing of each piece individually leads to distortions of each akin to those of a fun-house mirror.  In these stratified realms, artifacts can be judged to be necessarily true, but validity is almost impossible to assess.

The creation of Architecture is a syncretic act that includes a client, designers, and the construction technology at hand.  Both the client and the designers bring to the design process their own belief systems.  The design that results is that construct which mediates these pre-existent metaphysical proportional/scalar systems of each person involved, as well as the proportional/scalar systems of construction practice and the social organization of the locale.

Both the client’s and the designers’ belief systems can be thought of as discrete proportional/scalar systems living in a metaphysical landscape.  They are made up of similar elements such as ideas on spirituality, family, government, TV, etc.  Their respective structures tend to be mostly the same though the fine tuning, the articulation of, the degree of refinement of these various elements is where most of the perceived difference exists.  The creation of Architecture is the creation of a new hybrid proportional/scalar system tuned to resonate with each, to redefine each unto the other, to reflect each.  This is the first syncretic act of the process.  Not only is the development of Architecture the development of this new hybrid belief system, but it is the embodiment of this system in physical form that is itself governed by proportional/scalar systems of the physical realm.  Now the construct gains form through finding expression in the construction materials available.  Again a syncretic act occurs.  The degree of success of the project is measured by the degree to which the constructed proportional/scalar systems allow the original belief systems to remain manifest or if a change is instigated, that it be for better clarity of intention or articulation.

The show, Wheel of Fortune, showcases a process that is at the heart of the notion of what designers’ roles are in the process of creating Architecture.  Consider the phrase to be discovered on Wheel of Fortune as existing in the realm of potentiality.  Consider the letter board and the person turning the letters as the realm of actualities.  The task is to transform a potentiality into an actuality.  People are working toward this end.  The one who accomplishes this task first is rewarded.  How this is accomplished is up to each individual.  Methods may range from the scientific to the artistic.  And most likely occur somewhere in between.  This is what designers do.  Designers translate potentialities into actualities by applying methods.

In being the first to recognize what actuality a potentiality can be and relating this to others, the designer is functioning as a storyteller.  This person is birthing a potentiality into the realm of actuality.  This person has proven to possess a unique ability to figure out the puzzle with less information provided in order to grasp the actuality in the potentiality.  This is the same act as performed by the designer, the musician, the physicist, the contractor, the scientist, the investor, the parents.  Fire is brought from the mountaintop.  The Ten Commandments are brought.  The person capable of realizing something with less explicitly revealed brings that something unto others.  That person offers an idea, a perspective, a belief system, a product.  Such is delivered in a form available intellectually, emotionally, sensorily.  This is the role of the designer.  But this is the role of everyone.  It is important to note that this bringing forth of potentiality into actuality is something that everyone does.  Whether it is figuring out first an aspect of a soap opera, doing a crossword puzzle, teaching oneself an instrument, or designing the next invention to change the world.

The construction technology used to embody these ideas is the only element of the triad, client, designers, construction technology, that has not yet been discussed.  This is also the area that is relevant to the project about to be discussed.  Considering what materials will be used to manifest the story that the client and designers have to tell is an act with ethical implications.  The products and techniques of construction one chooses are essentially an endorsement by client and designers, who make a powerful statement to those who interact with the building as to what constitutes responsible construction and an experience of the activities and spaces that take place within the construction.  Whether one hides or articulates various elements of a building tells of whether or not they are thought to be beautiful and relevant to daily life and/or people’s dreams.  If technology is hidden we communicate that it is somehow dangerous or ugly or unimportant or strange.  If it is visible we are saying that it is safe and attractive and beautiful and relevant.  Sometimes things are hidden just because we have an incomplete understanding of them; we can’t see how they relate to our lives so they scare us at worst or, at the least seem unattractive.

I purport that currently we live in a civilization masked with machines, processes, and materials that reference older, irrelevant aspects of our civilization and hence antiquated belief systems.  The masks offer the further problem that since they are employed though not essential, they are wasteful.  But the machines, processes, and materials that actually run our civilization are typically hidden or at least not appreciated.  The ideas they reference are consequently not constantly reinforced in the physical realm and become easy to lose sight of or never even realize.  Our few brief encounters with these strangers then are awkward and uncomfortable.  The result is confusion, distortion, nightmarishness, things lose their value and seem trite.  In opposition to this, I hypothesize that a sound and provocative design expressed thoughtfully and indicative of those elements of construction necessary to provide for the technological requirements of a given lifestyle enhances people’s understanding of their world and how it functions and facilitates psychological comfort, security, and clarity.  Such references concepts that actually drive our civilization and thereby fortifies our engagement of it.  There is also the added benefit of being less wasteful.

But before one can artfully articulate this technology one must familiarize oneself with it.  This is where my interest in the Minimal Dwelling project arises.  This project for a small transportable home made of found materials and employing systems designed for minimum energy consumption allows me to explore techniques of construction, materials, and systems that represent how these abstract constructs are actually achieved during this moment in our civilization’s life-cycle.  To approach practice in this way is to go beyond what the market requires.  To approach practice in this way sees the continuum and complexity of life as manifest in a single environment — to integrate, to enrich, and to challenge existing artificial dichotomies — to find and represent meaning in a syncretic act of design — to mix work and play — and to reclaim Arendt’s lost individuality by reasserting the storytelling role of Architecture in the public realm.

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.

An Observation

It is incredibly valuable to be sober at social functions with drunk or buzzing colleagues and competitors.  I recently attended two such events and because I was driving, I did not imbibe.  During what started as innocuous conversations, it was surprising what people just volunteered about projects and the politics and logistics of working on them.  Of course the next thought was, “Do I do this when I drink at these things?  I should never again drink at these things!”

Studies in Cognitive Science and Studies in Architecture: Connectionism and Friends of Kebyar

04.05.08

Recently I was reminded of Friends of Kebyar.  It struck me that they are an architectural group whose founding principles include a dedication to organic growth, nature, beauty, and the ways that such can be instantiated symbolically in the built world.  I thought of the FOK with renewed enthusiasm because there is potentially much room for the exploration and association of their core principles and the sorts of dynamic systems principles being explored in cognitive science.  I think that a renewed membership in the organization is worthwhile.  I think also that I enjoyed the people I met at the previous two events I attended.  Further, when it is time to relocate it may be a connection to a group of individuals who share similar design principles.  I need to first study cognitive science.  I think that I will attempt to organize a formal study of it…kind of like survey courses…of the literature of the field.

Here We Go…

02.12.26

So many thoughts are coming up upon me so quickly at this moment.  I think it is a combination of reading Plato’s, “Parmenides”, and listening to George Winston.  This is arguably right up there with “Theatetus”, Symposium, Phaedra, and the Republic for most influential Platonic writings.  I already acknowledge that I’ll have to read it again.  Its importance weighs on me even before I’ve finished reading it for the first time and it gets me excited.  The subject of the one in the many and vice versa goes right to the heart of so much.  Not only is this the mystery of the Divinity, which is supremely curious since this treatise was written some 600 years before Christ, but, taking into account the notion of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, we have in the Hypostasis, Civilization, and Culture…or rather, in Abstract Technology, Proper Object Technology, and Interpretive Technology the same pattern, functioning…in essence the same described with new terminology, without even intending such.  To take it one step further, we are talking about a process through which humanity passes its own explorations…a set of enduring constructs that represents and reveals a fundamental underlying truth…this is God as a preservative for that which people wish to remember about existence – the mystical and sacred relationship between the part and the whole.