The Cybernetics of High Rise Building Façade Ecology


  • Christiane M. Herr Southern University of Science and Technology


architecture, ecology, cybernetics


Global population growth and rapidly increasing urbanization across wide areas of the globe are leading to new types of high-density urban environments which are in turn forming new types of urban ecologies comprising built form, humans and other forms of life. These new ecologies are both artificial and natural, and quickly generate complex networks of relationships that are usually not taken into account in the design processes leading to their emergence. This working paper reports on observations on how such contexts can be described in systemic terms and how they can be modeled as dynamic cybernetic processes from the perspective of involved observers. The models generated in this way aim to inform new types of planning and design approaches.

The largest part of current dynamic population growth and urbanization is taking place in regions of the world that are focusing more on the economic and logistic challenges of growth than on reflections on the systemic and ecological relationships generated from this growth. This working paper focuses on the urban environment in one of these regions, the Pearl River Delta of Southern China, specifically the city of Shenzhen. As a very recent urban development, Shenzhen has grown extremely quickly in the past four decades and transformed into a dense city characterized mostly by various types of high-rise buildings. Set into a previously lush subtropical landscape hosting rich natural biodiversity, contemporary Shenzhen is characterized by a stark contrast between the artificial and the natural aspects of its built form.

In a time of fast decreasing biodiversity and increasing health problems of urban populations linked to lack of contact with the richness of natural surroundings, new design approaches are needed that approach building design in an ecological manner. Instead of adding decorative green features to conventional buildings, we will have to conceive of buildings as ecosystems beyond contemporary concerns with carbon and energy emissions. To this end, this study adopts two essential cybernetic viewpoints: that of a second order cybernetic system seen from the perspective of an involved observer, and that of the designed system as a dynamically negotiated ongoing process including designed forms and their environments.

This working paper presents cybernetic diagrams to map invisible relationships and to enable discussion of how these relationships can generate new conceptions of eco-systemic architecture along with its relationships to human occupants. In taking a particular context as framework, this paper seeks to not only propose but also to test cybernetic theory in new, non-anthropocentric ways and in return, offers cybernetics new areas of theoretical exploration through embodiment. On the theoretical side, the paper reconnects ecological discourses linked to cybernetics and links to technical discourses on technology-amplified environments.