Material Complexity in Architecture

Complexity is a concept most of us think we know well, yet the word actually eludes easy definition. Complexity may be represented by an elaborate system with many parts; an inscrutable object; a concept with multiple, varied connotations; or a process that is decidedly difficult or cumbersome. Common definitions for complex include “consisting of two or more parts,” “intricate,” and “complicated.” Seth Loyd went so far as to provide 32 definitions of complexity in his book Programming the Universe. With strong ties to the burgeoning field of chaos theory, complexity theory has promised avenues to new insights regarding unwieldy, unconscionable systems and processes such as the stock market or natural selection.

Today, the interest in complexity arises from highly-charged issues like global warming, resource flows, and the increasing volatility of financial markets. Increasing technological complexity is likewise directly related to the development of human civilization. The study of complex materials has developed a prominent role within this technological trajectory. In the fields of design and architecture, complex materials have been developed to address enhanced performance-based criteria, closed-loop processes, interactivity, sophisticated fabrication techniques, and other emerging developments.

Excerpted from “Material Complexity in Architecture.” Materia 58 (June 2008): 42–49.

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