2. The context
Every technical product is characterized by the social cost of its production. Minimization of the social cost of products that satisfy both the physical and the cultural needs of the society, as well as the social values, has historically constitute a "Morphogenetic" factor, i.e. it has determine—with respect to the historical situation—the production method and consequently the structure and the form of the product.
It is well known that under the current historical situation, economic competition results in expansive production, which multiplies both the products and the consumption of the resources, while increases both the size and the complexity of the production firms. Under these conditions the implementation of methods that reduce the social cost of the production constitute a social demand, as well as a competitive advantage of the producers willing to adopt them. Besides, the sustainability of social production depends on such methods, as it is undermined by the rapid exhaustion of the resources. Factors opposing to the implementation of cost-reduction methods are the cost of transition from the established methods to the new ones, the development of parallel commercial activities on products used as resources in the established methods, and the high linkage of large production units within a self-sustained system which also includes political, economic and educational centers.
The production and the use of both the built space and the urban infrastructure, constitute an important part of the overall social production. They consume a large part of production resources (time of human work is included in these resources), while they also exhaust the environmental resources on which they are depended. The implementation of sustainable methods that concern the particular activities constitutes an important factor of an overall sustainable social production.
The established paradigm of production and use of the built space is characterized by the combination of independent activities within centrally controlled project management. The possibility of central control subjects to complexity limitations. These limitations, in combination with the independent-in-nature character of the activities to be coordinated, impose the antagonistic function of these activities which further enlarge the social cost and the consumption of resources. Many production activities presuppose others, which results in a serial or even cyclic production program; this largely increases the production time. Potential partial failures could cause cascading failures of larger scale, which have serious consequences on the social cost of a project. The product is inflexible, i.e. adaptation in different conditions is very expensive in social cost. Further expense derives from the antagonistic relation between the project and the natural environment, which results in the non-utilization or even the destruction of environmental resources. This antagonistic relation is a consequence of the consideration of the project independently from the natural environment, which is characteristic of central planning.
As opposed to the established approach, the "holistic" approach considers human activities in both the production and the use of the built space, as well as various systems and features of the building project, functioning synergistically within a unified framework, as an "integrated" system. The "holistic" approach considers also the building project as functionally unified with the natural environment. The low-cost development and function, as well as the "adaptability", i.e. the possibility to maintain well functionality under different conditions by low-cost modifications, constitute characteristic properties of an integrated system. An important factor of the economy of both the production and the use of the built space is the cost of information (this is the part of the social cost that concerns the production of information: e.g. the solution of either design or production problems). The cost of information can be reduced through partial solutions having the property of either spatial or temporal reusability. In addition, the "holistic" approach drops the one-way dependence between either productive or functional activities, consequently these activities can be executed at the same time; this results in an important reduction of the required time, which also has beneficial consequences concerning both the economy and the adaptability of the built space.
The "holistic" approach is closely related to some current tendencies in "system engineering": e.g. Bar-Yam, 2003.
The historical study of both the production and the use methods of the built space according to the local conditions holding in each time, reveals phenomena that also characterize both the development and the behavior of living organisms. Such phenomena, as the formation by evolution, the dynamic adaptation in the local environment, the morphogenetic functionality of economic usage of available resources, as well as the spontaneous development and self-formation has been studied within the framework of complex dynamic systems, which provides principles appropriate for the foundation of a holistic approach to both the production and the use of the built space. Basic principles of this kind are the developmental paradigm, i.e. the creation of the system through interactions between elementary units, leading to the production of gradually more complex parts, as well as the development of emergent properties, i.e. properties of the system derived from interactions between its parts without constituting properties of the parts themselves considered in isolation. Another basic principle is the possibility that the interactions are simultaneous; as a consequence, emerging phenomena could affect differently the dynamics of the system, depending on their synchronization. This provides both variability and adaptability to the system.
The concept of a "building system" describes a general building method, which can be applied in different conditions and in different times. As a consequence, it is directly related to information reusability. Generality of potential applications is an important benchmark for a building system, while it depends on both the system's variability and adaptability. As an extreme case, a building system that covers a large part of the social needs concerning the built space, can be considered as a building paradigm. The sustainability of such a paradigm depends on the degree of the system's integration, as this degree determines the resources' consumption necessary to achieve certain qualitative and quantitative features of the built space.
Often the term "building systems" refers to various prefabrication systems. However such systems usually exhibit low variability and adaptability, which limits their application domain. Most prefabrication systems are not based on the holistic approach; consequently they have low degree of integration. Besides, their contribution in the reduction of the of the social cost of the built space is poor, as system-specialized production units (such as factories) are required.
A building system designed according to the holistic approach should concentrate specific features; then it can be characterized as an "integrated building system".
The established production relations are based on both the commercial transaction between independent production firms and the hierarchical organization of the personnel within each firm. Both principles tend to an inflexible and poorly integrated production system. Specifically, the purely commercial character of the production formulates the latter strictly according to the objective of the direct profit of the producer. As a consequence the features of the production diverge from both the desired features of the resultant overall product, i.e. the built space, and the long-term overall economic benefit of the producers themselves. In addition, the hierarchical organization results in central management of information relevant to either the production plan or the usage of the building project. This limits the potential contribution of many people participating in both procedures in information processing; consequently limits the variability of the built space, which is necessary for the satisfaction of various social needs.
The holistic approach favors forms of producers' organization that diverge from the framework of the established production relations. These forms tend to peer contribution in the production of novel products which result in mutual benefit in the long-term. Peer production is characterized by low cost of organization, dynamic formation of the relations that compose the production mechanism, asynchronous activation of the producers, and generalization of the motives, the relations and the forms of production. The international experience shows that different forms of integration of the production are developed in different production sectors, while they have been considered as subject of research. On this basis we submit an open proposal concerning activities related to integrated building.