Symbiosis 7 – The Synergy Of Scale

Symbiosis 7 – The Synergy Of Scale

Ksenija Bulatović, Ksenija Bunjak, Sandra Giulia Linnea Persiani, PhD

On a poppy seed is a tiny house,
Dogs bark at the poppy-seed moon,
And never, never do those poppy-seed dogs
Imagine that somewhere there is a world much larger.

The Earth is a seed—and really no more,
While other seeds are planets and stars.
And even if there were a hundred thousand,
Each might have a house and a garden.

All in a poppy head. The poppy grows tall,
The children run by and the poppy sways.
And in the evening, under the rising moon,
Dogs bark somewhere, now loudly, now softly.

“Parable of the poppy seed” by Czesław Miłosz

Micro-macro link is by its nature a relative phenomenon. Our perception of what either micro or macro is depends upon a reference in relation to which we define it. Changing the reference, its context or scale leads towards a modified notion regarding what these terms and their link are. Something that was micro in one context may become macro when related to a different scale reference. Even though micro-macro problem has entered social scientific debates only recently, its origins can be found in different discussions – from medieval thinkers to meta-methodological scientific debates, epistemology and political philosophy (Alexander et. al 1987). Our research goes beyond single discipline and evolves around architecture as the core framework adding social sciences, evolutionary biology, philosophy etc. We are interested in the question of scale as an important architectural element, in its wider meanings and synergetic characteristics of the micro-macro link.

At the previous conferences STRAND 2013, STRAND 2014 and STRAND 2015 the authors presented the idea of Symbiotism and discussed it in contexts of sustainability, traditional architecture, organic architecture, biocomputing systems etc. relating it to different natural laws, philosophical, social and architecture theories and specific moments in the architecture history.

Every époque is marked by changes. But, the rapid technological development followed by the population growth brought more intense changes into our time marking every aspect of our existence. The Symbiotism and its ideology were born as a response to those contextual changes and global crises that have emerged. It defines and discusses three groups of phenomena. As previously mentioned, Symbiotic architecture stands for the co-life of three basic elements: man, house and environment (Bulatovic, Bunjak 2013). Symbiotic home is considered to be alive as man and environment are. It owes man its existence and man and environment its changeable form. Symbiotic architecture derives its characteristics from nature. But, since the reality is a wider concept then the Nature including both nature and culture, a man, his activities, and his creations play an important role in our Symbiotic realities. Without man, Symbiotism would not be possible and its essence would lose the core meaning.

What does micro-macro link mean in Symbiotism and how important is the question of scale? Referring to Czesław Milosz’s poem, whether symbiotic home is a simple “poppy seed” at one point or the whole “Earth seed” at other, its core characteristics and values will always remain the same.


We can witness a constant repetition of similar patterns in Nature, as well as in the man-made environment [Figure 1]. “Blood vessels – tree branches – river delta” and “leaf veins – cracked earth – street network” is just one of many obvious examples. As living beings we evolved under the exposure to our environment, and tend therefore to unconsciously use and repeat at various scales patterns from nature in order to create our own “living” environments. But, whether a pattern is considered micro or macro in our reality depends upon our personal perception and contexts within which we perceive it. Therefore, the discussion will focus rather on the scale and its synergetic characteristics than dealing with relativity of micro-macro definitions.

Figure 1: Blood vessels, winter tree, Amazon River delta, leaf veins, cracked earth and city plan

The environment is a complex synergetic system acting on and interacting with given subordinated synergetic systems (ecosystems, organisms etc.), determining each others’ development. The subordinated synergetic systems are highly dependent on their environment, with which they must constantly interact in order to sustain and develop themselves. Generally, superior synergetic systems mould and define their subordinate systems. Subordinate systems however may as well interact with each other, and in the end influence the superior system (Fuller and Applewhite 1982). According to the biologist Jakob von Uexkuell, organisms do not only adapt to their environment, but actively contribute in recreating it in their perpetual interaction with it (Menges and Hensel 2008). An ecosystem can therefore also be described from an energetic point of view as a balanced system of constant energetic exchange between its parts.

A clear example of interaction between macro-systems and micro-systems can be seen in today’s rapidly changing environmental conditions and ecological revolution due to the aggressive impact that mankind has exerted on the planet over the last centuries. A subordinated system (mankind) impacts in a domino-like effect its superior synergetic system (the planet), forcing other subordinated sibling-systems (other species) to adapt to the new conditions, or disappear. In 1986, when a unit of the nuclear power station plant of Chernobyl exploded releasing radioactive material into the environment, man jeopardized the balance of its own environment and was forced to permanently evacuate a 30 km area around the plant, due to the unsustainable levels of radioactivity (Persiani 2016). The effects of the accident had however a much broader impact, modifying permanently the energetic balance of that system. On one hand it made the living conditions of its sub-systems impossible, causing mass-destruction, on the other it opened up new ecological niches for evolution to take advantage of. A study published in recent years shows how some birds may be adapting to the levels of radiation (Galvan et al. 2014; Zielinski 2014) obtaining even beneficial hormetic effects. The subordinate system adapts to fit the new energetic conditions of its superior system. So, how does the synergy of scale reflect the idea of Symbiotism?


In evolutionary biology, morphospace is an imaginary multidimensional space where the axes represent morphological parameters in order to compare and contrast these aspects in different organisms (Valentine 2004). For a parent organism to produce an offspring of its own size, the young must undergo a metamorphosis before becoming an adult. The concept of “adult organism” is however a rough approximation of reality, suggesting the stabilization of the organism’s morphology. In reality, an organism passes during its lifetime through a series of forms in space, which can be represented as departures from an initial trajectory to a final one, the cloud of points representing all existent morphologies in the phylogenetic history being the morphospace. Among the parameters defining the morphospace are: the number of cells involved, type of cells, general form and symmetry, characters defining eventual segments and appendages (Arthur 1997). The drawings of the species of D’Arcy Wentworth (2006) [Figure 2] show the modifications and morphology of adaptation for survival with scales of differential graduation.

Figure 2: Figure from “On Growth and Form” by D’Arcy Wentworth

As it is impossible for an organism to produce another organism of its same size, a smaller offspring must be produced, which in time grows up to the same size of the parent organism by changing scale. The organism increases in cell numbers and cell size, though time, as an inverted cone of cells. The fertilized egg develops into an embryo and successively into a complete organism and an adult organism by producing clone-offsprings of the parent-cell. Therefore, a changeable scale follows every living being and is one of the most important elements of their life cycles. On the other hand, architectural morphospace is more seen as the morphological trajectories that building types have followed through space and time (Steadman and Mitchell 2010).

Symbiotic architecture does not belong to a single building type and can not be addressed as just a building. It draws its principles from nature and responds to human needs transforming its form accordingly and creating an environment adaptable to every situation, to internal/external needs and contexts (Bulatovic, Bunjak, Persiani 2016). Symbiotic architecture does not have a single “frozen” form. It is changeable and dynamic by its essence and ephemeral in its appearance. It changes not only its form, but its scale as well, bringing even more relative idea about micro-macro link. It can grow or downsize following the number of inhabitants, their planned activities and future needs, belonging potentially simultaneously to an indefinite number of types.

Nature deals with patterns and we can easily find examples of pattern repetitions throughout different scales. Mathematics is also a pattern – the complexity which can be achieved through very simple organization can be seen in the binary number system (Persiani, Battisti and Wolf 2015). Computation gives us a sense of how complex macro-systems can be built up with the use of very few basic building blocks. Zero and one sequences create bits of information, grouping together to create bytes – representing orders in codings capable of describing everything from still to moving images, sounds, programs – creating more and more complex systems.

The main strategies used to minimize information use structures based on the multiplication of simple elements  (Persiani 2016) among which:

• Fractal geometries and simple structures. In self-similar structures only a single rule is needed for constructing all subunits as in the helixes of DNA (Mandelbrot 1983). Also, Nautiluses and Bivalves keep proportionally the shape of the shell when growing. In geometry, the gnomon of a given shape is a second shape that, added or subtracted to the former, generates a new shape proportionally similar to the original one (Picado 2010). This term expresses an infinite concept of self-similarity working both on an increasing and decreasing scale.

• Cellular structures. The same rules apply to the combination of many types of cells into different organs and body parts. These are valid as well for small as for bigger organisms, as it becomes only a matter of complexity;

• Segmentation. Identical or strongly similar subunits are used to form an organism or part of it, as for the vertebrae in our spinal chord;

• Multiple use of information. A single set of instructions, depending on how they are written, may produce more than one structure. An example are the monozygotic twins which possess the same genetical material but can develop quite differently due to the “building instructions” giving different answers to both internal and external pressures;

• Symmetry. Radial and bilateral symmetry extend the possibilities of reducing the amount of information required (Gruber 2011).

The complexity of these structures is characterized by a heterogeneity which is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone because of the uniqueness of the arrangement. Of all the possible combinations, the existing ones are the only (or the few) ones which result in a specific proficiency.   Taking up the famous “bumblebee argument”, it is the exact arrangement of parts makes it possible for it to fly (Dawkins 1996).

In our previous research we have discussed Symbiotism as a symbiosis between systems “programmed in advance” and “self-programmed by learning” systems brought by Stanisław Lem (Lem 1977). First level systems represent the symbiotic membrane – a skin, a house. Information they have are given from the start and they function upon previously genetically defined intuitional impulses. The membrane acts like man’s second skin, reacting only to the elementary needs and responding only to the basic changes. The membrane walls combine biochemical substances and biocomputing mechanisms, producing a self-sustained energy source. Here the main strategy for minimizing information use is cellular structure. The membrane walls draw their principles from simple single-celled organisms such as unicellular algae. Information second level systems have are obtained by time. Second level systems represent an other symbiote – a spirit, an initiator, a man. This symbiote, along with the third symbiote environment/nature, gives the house a possibility of learning and obtaining new information that will upgrade the basic knowledge and behavioural patterns allowing a house to respond to more demanding needs and unpredictable changes (Bulatovic, Bunjak, Naumovic 2015) [Figure 3].

As mentioned earlier, Symbiotism like the nature itself also uses only a small amount of simple information for creation of basic elements. Starting information are later supplemented with the additional knowledge gained from the man and the environment as main symbiotes. This knowledge is crucial for later and more advance transformability of the house.

Figure 3: Symbiotism

“The difference [between biology and physics] is one of complexity of design. Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. Physics is the study of simple things that do not tempt us to invoke design. At first sight, man-made artifacts like computers and cars will seem to provide exceptions. They are complicated and obviously designed for a purpose, yet they are not alive […]. Never mind whether cars or computers are ‘really’ biological objects. The point is that if anything of that degree of complexity was found on a planet, we should have no hesitation in concluding that life existed, or had once existed on that planet.” Richard Dawkins. (1996)

Man is a living being and, therefore, a part of nature. The idea of two kinds of beings – those created by nature (of nature) and those created by man (of art) (Tatarkjevič 1976) should be also considered as relative. Symbiotic architecture exists by itself and for us, and in all different contexts. In the Symbiotism, home is considered to be a being that derives its main characteristics from nature. Its main purpose is to provide an adequate comfort and protection to a man responding to all his needs and context changes (Bulatović, Bunjak, Persiani 2016). Following the Richard Dawkins’ quote, Sybiotism can be discussed both from the aspects of biology and physics. It is designed for a purpuse, but in the same time it does not invoke design. Its esthetical value is not in its appearence, since it is constantly changeable, but in its essence.

“Scaling deals with the structural and functional consequences of changes in size or scale among otherwise similar animals.” Schmidt-Nielsen (2004)

Geometric similar shapes are those that appear identical when uniformly scaled to fit the size of one another (cat and fox are geometrically similar). In geometrically similar structures, linear, areal and volumetric dimensions are scaled at different rates. All processes depending on those entities are strongly affected, as the musculoskeletal design, energy balance, etc. Dimensionally, three basic parameters are involved (Schmidt-Nielsen 2004):

  • Change in dimensions (ex. making the structure thicker)
  • Change in materials (ex. from less to more rigid)
  • Change in design (ex. from compression to tension elements).

“Body plan” refers to an organism’s possession of particular assemblages of homologous architectural and structural features (Valentine 2004). Body Plans from nature individuate unique combinations of the six major characters: skeleton, symmetry, appendages, body cavity, cleavage and segmentation. All other features are acquired later and are evolutionarily transient; they originate, transform and may disappear again. While characters – more recently developed features – adapt the Body Plans to new environments and niches, the Body Plans themselves have a high degree of conservation extending over hundreds of millions of years and across thousands of species (Arthur 1997).

Figure 4: Symbiotism

Observing Symbiotism in the context of previously presented facts leads towards some simple conclusions. As mentioned earlier, Body Plans from nature represent unique combinations of skeleton, symmetry, appendages, body cavity, cleavage and segmentation. In Symbiotism, all those six elements represent a unity of the form and can exist or change if needed [Figure 4]. Symbiotic home not only changes its form, but when necessary its scale as well. We saw that usually three parameters are involved: change in dimensions, change in materials and change in design. By changing the scale, Symbiotic home, obviously changes its dimensions in order to respond to the number of permanent habitants and visitors and their current activities. This change will, as well, provoke the change in the design – form will obtain its new ephemeral look. Material of the Symbiotic home will adapt to the new scale and receive new information, but it will remain the same in its essence. Scale change will require new inputs form nature in order for the house to respond to the specific needs (type of the environment – air, water, etc., locomotion or inaction, necessary speed of the change etc.). We will discuss only few examples from the nature.

Changes in body size have extremely important consequences in locomotion (Persiani 2016). The “gait” is defined by the timing and frequency with which the limbs support an animal during the stride. Changing gait is a way to adapt the same system to a progression of speeds, changing terrain, maneuvers and energetic efficiency: very much like a machine changing gear to accelerate or decelerate (McNeil 1981). The speed at which the change of gait occurs depends very much on the animal’s size: for instance a child breaks into running at a speed at which an adult is normally still walking.

For organisms moving in fluids, size has great impact on the Reynolds number allowing those with higher inertia to glide while the small ones are held back by fluid viscosity (Biewener 2007; Valentine 2004; Wilson et Alii 2000). At low Reynolds numbers viscous forces dominate, turbulence is absent. Symmetrical movements would cancel out each other, so organisms rely on asymmetrical kinetics to achieve propulsion. Body shape is largely irrelevant to the ability to move through water or air, and is more bound to reduce friction drag by diminishing the body’s surface area (Biewener 2007). Water striders take advantage of their small size to use surface tension of water to support themselves. Size range is very limited: if the animal is too large the water cannot support its weight, if it is too small it would not overcome the fluid’s viscosity with its own inertia, remaining stuck to the surface (Biewener 2007).

Design of small animals show a bigger variation in shapes as the weight is not too much of an issue. Small sizes are diffused throughout many animal phyla (Schmidt-Nielsen 2004). Small terrestrial animals are characterized by stable postures (often crouched) and low centres of mass. Since stride length is a clue factor in speed, small animals have contained speeds compared to bigger animals. The curled up posture facilitates however manoeuvrability which more than compensates for the slow speed, allowing them to make sharper turns to escape their pursuer. The same can be said for birds: long and narrow wings allow gliding and soaring, small and stubby wings can most often not glide but have high maneuverability (Biewener 2007).

Size-related shifts in posture, by running in more upright postures and aligning their joints more closely with the ground reaction force, are an important advantage in medium-sized animals to maintain specific structural safety factors during high speeds, reducing the force their muscles and bones must support, losing however part of the maneuverability (Biewener 2007). The larger the animals the more limited is their design: in animals built with the same “building blocks” with similar proprieties (ex. Mammals), a large animal must be more bulky and have proportionally more massive limbs to support its body weight than a small animal. Examples are horses and cattle compared to cats and dogs.

Dynamic similarity is however found when motions appear identical when scaled in length and time. Tetrapods have dynamic similarity as animals of different sizes use take longer strides for higher speeds but in proportion similar stride lengths.


We, as humans, refer to the micro-macro link from our own perspectives. Micro-macro link disappears in Symbiotism and is replaced with the need for the wholeness and complete freedom (freedom of movement, acting, changing, thinking etc.). In Symbiotism micro and macro inosculate completely and loose their common meaning. Therefore, we have discussed the question of the scale and its synergetic characteristics.

Synergy of scale in the Symbiotism can be easily recognized. Changes in the environment will directly affect Symbiotic house. It has already been proven that man has largely influenced environmental changes. Man changes the environment – environment changes the Symbiotic house. House will, as well, adapt to any change in man’s needs providing him with comfort and protection. We cannot talk about equality between symbiotes, but rather about their unity where every part influences the other, but in the same time gains something in that interaction. Man influences the changes of the house and the environment, but gains protection and knowledge regarding his actions and reactions in nature. Environment as well influences the changes of the house, but gains reduced human impact. House responds to those changes, but gains its own life.

Regardless to the characteristics of the environment and diversity of the worlds where it can be present, Symbiotic house keeps its specific ability to transform when needed. The main purpose of Symbiotism is easy, fast and quality advancement of human knowledge and his relation towards the environment.


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  • Figure 1: authors – combination and modification of various Internet sources
  • Figure 2: authors –  HYPERLINK “” [September 8th 2016, 15:13:21]
  • Figure 3: authors – original work
  • Figure 4: authors – original work
    Reynolds number (Re) is a dimensionless variable, a ratio of inertial forces divided by viscous forces, indicating viscosity and if the fluid currents are turbulent or laminar (Biewener 2007; Valentine 2004).

Concept, Experimental, Symbiosis