EMERGE-(ing): On Stepping Stones of Our Dead Selves

An editorial, as first published in CONNECTION, the official bi-monthly publication of the Young Architects Forum of the AIA.

On stepping stones of their dead selves, men (emerge) to higher things.

- Lord Alfred Tennyson, paraphrased

Los Angeles was cast in white … a 5,000-foot layer of wispy white floating ephemera. The high-pressure sodium lamps of the streets and parking lots far below formed an extraterrestrial Lite-Brite path along the clouds just beyond my wing. The hull’s aluminum belly softly skipped along the vapor surface, gently abrading each silvery billow until the cotton was broken by contrail and we occupied the white room within the clouds. Just as suddenly, flight AA238 broke the floor of the white room; and the cloud pinched thin to reveal the city grid below.

I was on a return flight from Dallas after a weekend session for the AIA Leadership Transition at which I’d taken the position of Communications Director for the National Advisory Committee of the Young Architects Forum, and with it, this very position as Editor of the YAF CONNECTION. This new chapter seemed to manifest in that moment, that instance: my emergence from the monochromatic blur of cloud bank to a god’s view of the vibrancy that is my Los Angeles home; it felt like an epiphany.

There are other, likely more tangible, forms of ‘emergence’ that we each experience throughout our lives; from graduation, professional licensure, making partner or some such professional milestone; to marriage, the birth of a child or other personal life landmark. From each, we emerge … different. More so than not, I believe we emerge better.

In his 1922 book Self-Development and the Way to Power, L.W. Rogers wrote,

We are not the same being, physically, mentally or spiritually, any two days in succession.”

This sentiment captures, for me, the constancy and the infinite nature of emergence relative to our lives. By definition, e·mer·gence [n. 1. The act or process of emerging (emerge being ‘to arise’)] is a noun with the verbal participles of ‘emerges’, ‘emerging’, and ‘emergent’ all predicated on the infinite act. So, when we have ‘emerged’, it is momentary, a singular instance of a larger lifelong emergence.


‘Dropping-of-science’ starts here:

The term ‘emergent’ was coined by the pioneer psychologist G. H. Lewes, who wrote:

Every resultant is either a sum or a difference of co-operant forces; (a) sum, when their directions are the same (and a) difference, when their directions are contrary … every resultant is clearly traceable (to) its components. (This is not the case) with emergents, when, instead of adding measurable motion to measurable motion, or things of one kind to other individuals of their kind, there is a co-operation of things of unlike kinds. The emergent is unlike its components insofar as these are incommensurable, and it cannot be reduced to their sum or their difference.”

In simpler terms, emergence is ‘how the individual affects the whole’, not how the individual components amass to create the whole. And this is important because our profession is an emergent practice, not a resultant or linear process.

The seemingly coordinated movement of a school of fish or a flock of birds, for example, is not controlled by any individual leader; its shape is not defined by the bird-as-module. Instead, it emerges naturally as each individual follows a select set of governing rules such as ‘go in the same direction as the dude next to you’, ‘maintain a 6-foot distance from adjacent wing tips’, and ‘stay away from hawks’.

The processes from which emergent properties or behaviors result may occur in either the observed or the observing system, and can commonly be identified by their patterns of accumulating change, more generally called 'growth'. The complexity of the cumulative behavior is not a property of any single entity or individual. The shape of the school of fish cannot be predicted or deduced from the individual. The shape of a flock of birds is not irreducible to its component.

In our own schools of Architecture and in the practice of design, we can apply the term to an exploration on the origins of novelty, creativity, and authorship in our processes; emerging naturally as each individual follows a select set of governing rules such as ‘go in the same direction as the dude next to you’, ‘maintain a clear distance from others’ intellectual property’, and ‘stay away from litigation’.

All of this to ask … from whence does an authentic idea truly emerge? … in response to the rules of a given project?, … from the dynamic of an extended design team?, … from client consensus gathering?

In fact, Nicolai Hartmann, one of the first modern philosophers to write on the subject of emergence, described the process as categorial novum or ‘new category’. And isn’t that what we, as architects are continually seeking? … the new. Our profession doesn’t seem content unless we’re establishing a weekly zeitgeist; re-shaping our own indefinite “school of fish” into the new-(est), emergent form of architectural practice.

It is with this observation, less so a criticism, that we have compiled our January 2013 issue of CONNECTION, with the simple object of allowing you, our readership to define ‘emergence’ through your submissions on the solicited subject; … to our readers, this issue should serve as a provocation …  and perhaps, for each-of-us or all-of-us to find a “stepping stone” from which to emerge to higher things.

Apr 10, 15 5:45 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

this was an educational advertisement?

i wanted to get into it, but didn't what to debate?

help my dumb ass our here.

When I think Emergence I think Manuel DeLanda....

Apr 13, 15 10:47 pm  · 

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