Termite mound

Maybe a lot of the neurons in our brains are not just capable but, if you like, motivated to be more adventurous, more exploratory or risky in the way they comport themselves, in the way they live their lives. They’re struggling amongst themselves with each other for influence, just for staying alive, and there’s competition going on between individual neurons. As soon as that happens, you have room for cooperation to create alliances, and I suspect that a more free-wheeling, anarchic organization is the secret of our greater capacities of creativity, imagination, thinking outside the box and all that, and the price we pay for it is our susceptibility to obsessions, mental illnesses, delusions and smaller problems.

          Daniel C. Dennet

During the last decades philosophers and scientists have been discussing about the human mind and what we named awareness, as the state to perceive, to feel, to be conscient and to recognize environmental and inner variations, though being able to choose between multiple possible future reactions. What generates problem between researchers are the achievements of neurosciences in studying neurons and brain connections. Suddenly, we were obliged to think us (our brain/mind) as an organism made of objective, automatic and unconscious elements (neurons) that, however, act like surviving animals, always addressed to the best and rational choice for their lives. In this scenario, it emerges that conscious and aware beings (or supposed to be that) can take shape from unconscious, unaware, electrical and always moving beings. The system is conceived as an infinite loop in which death and life continuously switch from one to the other in the same time and at the moment seems to be impossible to detect any kind of starting point, singularity or first energy injection.

The same logic of neurons can be found in machines and computers. One of the best examples of this process is the core of the register machine, that is the basis for the actual informatic and computational architecture. The idea is to construct a system with n numbered containers and m objects. After having randomly distributed the elements in the containers, we provide a simple set of rules (increment, decrement, clear to zero) according to the number of elements in each container and the machine will provide us the right result to our question. In this manner, with few and simple rules it is possible to create other scripts (multiplication, comparison, repositioning) and solve different problems without be obliged to generate different machines for different purposes. The scripts or softwares are able to simulate more analogic processes on the same virtual machine.

Digital tools discussion lead us to the change provided by technology in architecture and building processes. The relevant importance of new technologies and techniques has not to be located in the increase of production, rather in the vision of a world that is going to the pluralism of parts and that is able to compare itself with neutrons and scripts, all elements of the same reality. Steven Johnson told us about ants collective intelligence and its different and essential parameters to work: more is different, ignorance is useful, encourage random encounters, look for patterns in the signs, pay attention to your neighbours. This five sentences could be considered the minimum request to a living system to maintain its own dynamism. It looks foolish not to detect similarities with the human living system. In particular, we can argue to be involved in all of these rules, except for the last one, that is the only one liable to be controlled. In this sense, many architects and designers have been starting to conceive their works as flexible and adaptive systems that promote dynamism, energy flows and inner relations, thanks to the adoption of sets of rules instead of intentional design acts. As results we can include the Watercube in Beijing, the Yokohama Terminal and the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne. Clearly, though with the same logic of building the landscape, these programs have different purposes. While in the intervention of SAANA it is possible to detect the will of linking inside and outside along multiple vectors (even if the horizontal is the main one), in the FOA’s Terminal the site offers itself to be layered and to host different programs. In Beijing, this logic generates one component that, after being put in the system, is able to confer to the building an unusual energetic performance.

Swarm intelligence is the word that better represents the main feature of evolution and nature. Even human beings are within it, as we admit our superiority when linked in and between groups. But animals’ efficiency is really beyond ours and, looking at termites for example, the proportions are not the same, making them able to build more complex and functional organisms. In a certain way, machines and computers are going to move us toward the animals’ way of building: digital beings are now the channels to express the potential of our neurons, that are not able to be explicit with us, into a production process. We are trying to understand our minds using technologies and to translate it into reality. As we saw many times during the human growth, we are forcing our system to obtain operative information addressed to improve our surviving skills. In this direction, many attempts have been made, but still there are inexplicable influences, about how the building could react to the environment and, above all, how the people think at themselves within the environment.