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Chasing Butterflies, The Patterns of Chaos Theory And The Built Environment

Part 1 Dissertation 2002
Uta Wolf
University of Westminster | UK
Poincaré was one of the first to realise nature’s chaotic potential. Half a century later, his findings, that the universe acts as an interconnected entity creating recurring principles throughout all systems, were re-discovered and triggered a revolution in the scientific world. Scientists were amazed by the possibilities, suggesting cross-disciplinary applicability of their findings ranging from biological, through economic, to chemical and even architectural structures. Chapter One acquaints the reader with chaos theory and acts as a foundation for the following chapters. The discoveries caused a sense of euphoria among designers and planners. The second chapter attempts to collect pieces of the puzzle which lead to the extensive use of chaos-related vocabulary in architectural and urban proposals. It features the paradigm shift in the meanings of the terms chaos and beauty, and is concerned with the forces generating fractal shapes in man-made structures. Chaos theory is sometimes called ‘The Theory of Everything’ for drawing its conclusions from the study of all disciplines. In chapter Three, the heart of this investigation, two chaos-architectural hypotheses are introduced; one by a scientist – Nikos Salingaros, who speaks about the Theory of the Fractal Mind, and the other by Charles Jencks, author of the Architecture of the Jumping Universe. Both seem to offer revelations in regard to the ultimate measure of beauty and the functionality of spaces. The last chapter is the actual examination. It serves as a critique which takes a closer look at the suggestions of the previous chapters.

Uta Wolf

This is writing of a high order. The dissertation is thorough, well organised and well aimed; it engages the reader. From beginning to end this is a enquiry which seeks to dismantle critically some of the supposed relations between geometry and aesthetics. As such it remains clearly focused on exactly the right issues – the ideas that are located on the fringe of science and at the boundary of art and philosophy. This dissertation presents a slightly quirky view of science, exposing in the process, the fragility of scientific method and its inability to address notions such as beauty. Importantly, the emphasis here is not so much on the result of applying chaos theory to design but rather on the artifice of the transposition. Approaching the problem from different positions, (notions of beauty, natural order and so on), the transition from scientific theory to aesthetic judgement is repeatedly revealed as a discontinuity. The dissertation presents a stimulating and cautionary tale of the dangers of appropriating advances in one field as an aid to understanding in another.

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