Emergent Architecture

Founded in 1999 by Tom Wiscombe, EMERGENT is dedicated to research as well as built work at many scales. EMERGENT is a platform for experimentation, dedicated to the transfer of techniques, logics, and sensibilities from biology, complexity science, aerospace engineering, and computation into architecture. EMERGENT’s directive is to move beyond categorical thinking and the stratification of building systems toward a more integrated future.

This involves a re-examination of assumed heirarchies and discreetness of systems toward coherent yet heterogeneous organizations. They are interested in how the conflicting features and objectives of structure, mechanical systems, envelope, and lighting can be negotiated in novel ways with novel atmospheric effects.

The work questions the dialectic of excess and efficiency in architecture, in favor of a more complex understanding of both through biological thinking. The recursive process of random mutation and natural selection in nature provides a model for how a dynamic feedback between excesses and efficiencies can create innovation and elegance. This feedback logic is executed in the office using both generative and analytical algorithms as well as hands-on design techniques.

Key to the work is the phenomenon of emergence which offers insight into the way apparently isolated bodies, particles, or systems exhibit group behavior in coherent, but unexpected, patterns. The animated beauty of emergent organizations, such as in swarms or hives, points to a range of real architectural potentials where components are always linked and always exchanging information, and above all, where architectural wholes exceed the sum of their parts.

Biological thinking has led EMERGENT toward the exploration of new methods of systems integration, construction documentation, and fabrication in the field. Recent collaborations with international engineering companies, including Buro Happold and DeSimone Consulting Engineers, have begun to reveal new working methods which establish active feedback loops between engineering and design disciplines, ultimately pointing to a redefinition of AEC territories.

What is Emergence?
In the scientific sense, emergence refers to the process of deriving new and coherent structures, patterns, and properties in a complex system. Emergent phenomena occur due to the pattern of interactions between elements of a system over time. Emergent phenomena are often unexpected, nontrivial results of simple interactions between simple components. What distinguishes a complex system from a merely complicated one is that some behaviors and patterns emerge in complex systems as a result of the patterns of relationships between the elements.

An emergent property or behavior is shown when a number of simple agents operate in an environment, forming more complex behaviors as a collective. A system made of several things can host properties which the things themselves do not have. For instance, consider water (H20): hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) are extremely light gaseous substances at room temperature, while water, the effect of their combination, is a heavy liquid. Liquidity is therefore one of the emergent properties of the system of hydrogen/oxygen. There is nothing about the property of liquidity– its wetness, hydraulic dynamics, Brownian motion, and potential for heat exchange– that can be predicted by examining the properties of either H or O.

Emergent properties can arise not only between things in a system, but between other emergent properties. The number and subtlety of these properties can be very much greater than the number of things.