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Institute of Advanced Study

2017-18: Structure

Structure Sub-themes


The concept of structure provides ideas about organizational principles and material form which sit in useful opposition to notions of dis-organisation, loss of form and potential entropy. It cuts across disciplines with great clarity, enabling consideration of the relationships between material, social, literary, architectural, musical and artistic structures and their – always contingent – capacities to provide certainty and continuity.

How do structures take form in the natural world; how do they evolve over time, and what influences them? How are they actively composed by humans and other species? And what is the relationship between natural and cultural structures? How are structure and function related in biology, architecture and engineering, and what lessons do these disciplinary areas provide for each other about structure-function relationships?

The concept of structure is central to engineering, both in single artefacts (bridges, buildings) and in larger systems of infrastructure. Similarly, in social and cultural terms, there are multiple discourses about structure in art and narrative (with useful debates regarding the relationship between structure and aesthetics), and in thinking about larger artefacts such as big databases. At the extreme ‘other end’ of scale, cosmologists consider the large scale structure of the Universe and the notion of a ‘cosmic web’.