Several years ago, while waiting at O’Hare airport for a flight home, I noticed a dad with what I estimated to be, his 2-year old son, looking out the tall windows at the large wide body jet airliner parked at their gate. The sheer size of the jet was inspiring - but what intrigued me was the little boy who would slowly grow to become a full-sized man. And he wouldn’t grow in a random, haphazard, chaotic manner, but instead, his body would gradually increase in scale at a synchronized rate - together. Of course, we know that hormones regulate this process. That is an interesting word, regulate.
I thought of the complexity and yet, apparent simplicity of it all. Surely this was evidence of advanced planning, intricate design and great engineering. As spectacular as the airliner was, it was of no comparison to the 2-year-old.
The practice of Architecture combines aspects of problem solving and engineering with functional and aesthetic design. This manifests itself in the places we create that meet a client's particular needs and integrate many complex systems together.
Coming from this perspective, my observations of the complexity of life lead me to also see nature, and people, in terms of systems engineering, repeatable processes, and aesthetics.
Where scientists seek to understand the what and how, architects envision what could be and create. We see the need for a philosophy and methodology that underlies beauty and order, including planned ambiguities. Where it doesn't exist, we create it.
Lean / 6Sigma practices are recognized for their value in observing a process or system and employing a methodology to bring about systematic improvement. Does improvement or “order” arise from chaos? There are some works of modern art, where beauty and an abstract order have an appearance of arising from disarray. But in this, the artist has made a conscious choice to create something of value with decisions of color and material and went through steps or a process to create the art. One may happen upon a seemingly random occurrence of order or beauty, an interesting arrangement of stones left over from a stream that overflowed its banks. It is quite another thing to believe those stones might then combine to create a self-replicating system with organization and intellect, apart from an outside guiding force that acts with purpose and preference.
Going back to the 2-year-old, people exhibit many of the characteristics and features design professionals imbue into the structures we’re designing. I'll apologize up front for the inadequacies of the descriptions - but you'll get the idea!
- Systems integration – our bodies have a nervous system along with cardiovascular and muscular systems, to name a few. These comprise parts of an interrelated and interdependent whole - "us".
- Regulation - the body holds temperature and works to mend and keep itself in tune. As noted with the little boy, hormones control our development through growth and maturity as well as ordering the activity of many organs.
- Security systems - reflexes protect us when touching something hot; adrenalin enables a heightened response in fight-or-flight situations; white blood cells know to attack bacteria and other “intruders”.
- Intelligence: the ability to reason, learn and adapt - to see that 2 +2 equals 4 and the implications of that truth.
- Creativity along with imagination and wonder.
- Personality, character, the desire for fairness and justice, and higher yet - love.
- Conscience – more than just raw data, but an internal reasoning system that parses between competing ideas, and as CS Lewis noted, with awareness of a "force" outside of us that often impresses on us to do that which we sometimes don’t want to – because it is “right”.
- Information. The AEC profession is just beginning to probe the possibilities of embedding data in building models and building systems themselves. On a much higher level, human DNA includes about 600,000 pages of information which are the "blueprints" for one of us. It also is the processing machine guiding the development of new, self-sustaining beings combining characteristics of the parents with design, data, and programming.
At present, we are nowhere close to where two buildings can have sex with each other and make another building. When we can do that, we’re good!