Spaces of affinity – systems architecture and evolution

A talk by Sylvia Nagl

Life is a coherent space-time phenomenon of organised complexity, an
entangled web of relations within dynamic, non-linear fluxes of
matter, energy and information – worked out over four billion years of
evolution. Part of the information-containing free energy that reaches
the earth’s biosphere in the form of sunlight is converted into
cybernetic information by organisms and preserved in the intricate
structures and processes characteristic of life. Evolution gives rise
to novelty and an increase in complexity in these embodied

Systems architecture is seeking to cooperate with the creative
processes characteristic of life for the built environment. To achieve
this, new design methodologies are needed to create high-dimensional
networks of embodied structures and processes that are composed of the
inanimate, the living, the semi-living, the digital, and the
nanotechnological – the physical, the biological and the artificial –
to differing degrees. We can envisage designed animate-inanimate
assemblages on the meso-scale (on the scale of buildings) which might,
for example, be composed of unicellular organisms, artificial cells
and tissues and digital components with the ability to dynamically
adapt and evolve as complex ‘ecosystems’. The potential for new
evolutionary dynamics between these engineered systems and the human
body, societies and the biosphere also needs to be considered. Here,
the disciplines of evolution and complexity can offer valuable
conceptual and practical approaches for design and management, as well
as cultural and ethical discussion, of these new living technologies.

The talk will present biologically-inspired ‘models to think with’
such as the dynamics of swarms, multi-cellularity, symbiosis,
parasitic systems, evolution of natural and artificial ecosystems, and
evolution of networks. In addition, a new simulation method for design
of emergent processes will be introduced.