The Silent History of Vernacular: Emergent Properties as Background for Studying Technological Evolution in the Built Environment
Chapter from the book: Architecture Schools in Australasia, A. 2007. Association of Architecture Schools in Australasia.
All complex systems, which includes buildings and the built environment, possess emergent properties. Complex systems are systems that are composed of numerous interacting parts.Emergent properties are high-level behaviours that arise spontaneously as a result of the structural organisation of, and the interactions between, the individual parts and properties of the system. Thermal performance is an emergent property of buildings and of the built environment. It is the result of the way in which the physical components of a built environment and their thermal properties interact.
Understanding the emergent thermal properties of the built environment is important because there has been an empirically verifiable long term trend in the way classes of buildings have altered overtime. Vernacular buildings that have persisted for long spans of time possessed technologies that ‘managed’ the emergent thermal properties, and their inherent thermal contradictions, whether their builders or occupants have been aware of this or not: they are silent technologies. Classes of buildings that did not possess these silent technologies have, over time, fallen out of use and have not reappeared. As buildings have become ever more complex, these silent technologies have become ever more sophisticated overall in their ‘management’ of the emergent thermal properties.This has allowed the overall level of thermal choices and control available to building occupants to increase over time, regardless of their contradictory natures.