Architecture, Methods + Emergence

[52.0° to 53.0° N : Flows, Forms & Functions] - 23/24
John Cook, Ben Pollock + Laura Nica


Design Studio 18 has been running for 10 years. Each year the focus has evolved thematically across ground, water and air, employing a range of developed techniques in research, mapping, simulation and representation. Through this, we conceive architectural responses to environmental, societal and political problems, creative in their programming, driven by context, and situated in the realities of our global climate and ecological emergency. This year, the studio is embarking on a ne chapter. Through the concept of emergence, we wish to intersect these material framings by forefronting process-driven design methodologies, between morphodynamic and morphogenetic approaches, for the generation of landscape and architectural form.

The concept of emergence appears within fields of philosophy, systems theory, science and art, referring to the phenomena of complex entities arising due to the behaviour and interactions of its fundamental constituent parts. We will explore this as an architectural and climatically infused design approach by applying evidencebased systems thinking to inform generative and adaptive design workflows.

These will not be shaped around traditional formal concerns or architectural tastes, but derived from complex systems and natural processes, fed by dynamic variables, and studied through experimentation, simulation and computation. We are interested in the design of the design process, as much as the architectural artefact itself. We see this as a fluid, abstracted and non-linear process, inspired by the materials of its siting, integrated with the dynamic conditions of its environment, to produce intelligent yet unpredictable architectural outcomes appropriate to the uncertainty and extremity of our times.


Our site of investigation this year sits suitably amongst the tensions between Earth’s natural systems and anthropogenic control. Focused upon the Fenlands in the UK, we will explore the rich history of its landscape and silt derived settlements, and the subsequent interventions and practices that sought to ‘reclaim’ it. From pre-glacial woodlands to salt marshes and wetlands, its terrains have been banked, sluiced, dissected and channelled over the past hundreds of years, in efforts to drain and reshape it into a highly productive and economical agricultural landscape. Known as the ‘breadbasket’ of Britain, the Fens currently provides one fifth of the nations crops, employs over 80,000 people, and is home to a third of our native plant species. However, as a result of these vast drainage operations the underlying soils and peatlands are shrinking, leading to gradual but dramatic lowering of the landscape level. Caught between river surges from the highlands and rising sea levels at the coastal wash, these overlapping Fenland systems, across culture, economy, ecology and environment, balance on the precipice of local and globally scaled critical climate thresholds.

Our reading of this landscape will be supported with a study trip to the Netherlands. This country, whose landmass once topographically linked to our Fenlands, has mastered and exported their knowledge of natural systems control for centuries. Through coastline management and flood defence, to infrastructural irrigation and reclaimed urban development. We will visit colleagues at MIT Sensible Cities Labs Amsterdam, TU Delft, Rotterdam and Eindhoven, to experience and learn from these interventions whilst carrying out collaborative workshops and visiting Dutch Design Week.


In DS18, architecture is understood as the cumulative flow of materials, energy, and information, co-evolved and developed amongst its environment and conditions. Considered within the deep-time spans and planetary scales of our anthropocene era, buildings and urban  assemblages are merely momentary formations of matter along this path, instances of intensities in a state of flux. We are interested in exploring architecture and design in this context, across multi-scalar and temporal formations of flow, driven by deep tectonic movements, material transformations, to rapid atmospheric and climatic interactions. If architecture is no longer distinct from Earth’s systems and materials processes, what new design methodologies does this call for, how could they adapt in response to our increasingly destabilised climate, and what future imaginaries could this conjure?

We will begin by investigating our site, seeking out material flows and energetic processes throughout this context. We will abstract these systems into their foundational components, their conditions, inputs, forces and parameters, whilst modelling these environments through computation, physical simulation, or observation. We will isolate and test their variables, to understand specific impacts, logics and behaviours over time, whilst recording, evaluating and feeding back into our iterative and interactive workflows. Finally we will tailor and deploy our generative procedures back onto site, to witness landscape and architectures that will emerge and flourish amongst their environment, before optimising and delivering them through sustainable material processes and fabrication techniques.

Studio Ethos

unchanged since 2019

1] M.Weinstock (2010), The Architecture of Emergence
2] L.Bremner & R.Bottazzi (2016), Architecture, Energy, Matter

See Past Studios:

2022-2023: Thermal Domains, UK
2021-2022: Climate Futures, Dungeness
2020-2021: Carbon Transitions, UK
2019-2020: +Other Climates, Norway