Fractal-Emergent Settlement Architecture (FESA)


Fractal Emergent Settlement Architecture (FESA) is a settlement system architecture plan developed by Nicholas A. Carlough. FESA is based upon a single structural module (Cell) with nearly infinite scale-ability designed as a shell for the propagation of soil based closed socio-ecological life support system (SELSS). FESA expands along a fractal pattern using a standardized construction modules and layout, minimizing diversity of necessary manufacturing and maintenance infrastructure.

Mars Ecumenopolis

Mars Ecumenopolis (FESA 15) – Population 78 billion *to scale

A SELSS is essentially a garden within which a human population can sustain itself indefinitely as an integrated function of its host ecological complexity. A SELSS is not just a home for humans supported by ecological systems (Closed Ecological Life Support system CELSS), but a home for a complex ecological system within which the day today life of its human inhabitants is fully integrated with the ecological system itself, an organism in its own right. The fractal nature of the FESA combined with SELSS ensures a uniform environment within which ecological complexity can grow and evolve over time. By this method, a FESA can theoretically span an entire planetary surface and thrive doing so.

Structure and Function

Below is a high-level description of the various system components that emerge from the fractal expansion of the FESA settlement system, using our methodology.


The cell is the base unit with which all unit scales of the FESA system are constructed. The cell is scaled to be able to contain 1/6th the ecosystem area necessary to support one humans environmental needs.

Ekistic Units of FESA

FESA Infographic.jpg

The Ekistic units of FESA are adapted from the ekistic units as described by Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis, the original formalizer of the scientific study of human settlement known as ekistics. The ekistic units of FESA are divided into two subgroups fundamental ekistic units and Major ekistic units. Fundamental ekistic units contain the building blocks of FESA where each scale describes different levels of functionality, where as major ekistic units are simply fractal conglomerates of the largest fundamental ekistic units. The differences in functionality between fundamental units is a function of increasingly large spaces that emerge between the fractal scaling pattern of the FESA as described below.

Anatomy of a Village Infographic

The “Village” (FESA4) is the largest of the fundamental FESA Ekistic Units, all major units (E,g. Town, Polis, Metropolis) are simply conglomerations of FESA4

Fundamental ekistic units

Population Density: 1538 – 965 / km2

Major ekistic units

Population Density: 965 / km^2

Recreation and Utility zones



Named for the tablinum of the ancient Roman family home(Domus). The Tablinum is an empty space the size of one cell available for personal use. It is located in the center of each Anthropos (FESA-1), and provides a private space available for personal artistic expression, relaxation, and seclusion as necessary. There is one Tablinum space for every Anthropos zone thus ensuring that private space scales with the carrying capacity of the FESA system

Impluvium & Hydria


The Impluvium is named for its primary function, the storage, and distribution of water for each house (FESA-2). The aesthetic of each Impluvium space might very, however, their function remains the same, it acts as a local meeting space that allows for the broadest possible access to water that is condensed out of the air by the Hydria structure which is housed in a single module centered in the Impluvium space.

Atrium and Stoa


Each band (FESA-3) encircles a continuous Atrium space and Stoa which functions as a community meeting space and for distribution preparation and storage of food as well as farming and waste management.

Balaneion and Hypocaust


The largest open space in a FESA is called the Balaneion and in the center is the hypocaust they get their names from ancient Roman bathhouses and the system by which they were heated. This space is the primary recreational space for each Village (FESA-4) and is the largest standard open space within the FESA system.

The Balaneion contains such facility’s as are necessary for large public meetings, relaxation, recreation and physical fitness, within the Hypocaust is contained steam rooms, bathing facilities and such equipment as is necessary for central power and heat distribution to the surrounding bands.

The Ginnungagap Engine

The Ginnungagap Engine (GgE) is a whole systems architecture for the maintenance of life sustaining climatic and biogeochemical patterns within a confined space. Its purpose is to provide a sufficiently complex thermodynamic and biogeochemical climate within which high-level ecological ascendency can emerge and continue to evolve in perpetuity.


Boiling River Hot spring Yellowstone national park, The place of inspiration for the Ginnungagap engine (Oct 2012)

“Ginnungagap, the Yawning Void … which faced toward the northern quarter (Niflheim), became filled with heaviness, and masses of ice and rime, and from within, drizzling rain and gusts; but the southern part of the Yawning Void was lighted by those sparks and glowing masses which flew out of Múspellheim” – The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, 1916, p. 17.

Systems Synthesis

Within the GgE framework, Passive Energy management and Automation systems act in concert to provide for the perpetual emergence of hydrologic, thermodynamic, and novel material exchange conditions. The GgE framework is intended to provide a suitable climate for the propagation of a closed socio-ecological life support system (CsELSS) within a variety of contexts both open and closed (E.g., Planetary and orbital Space settlement, arcologies, and life shield bunkers)

Energy Management Sub Systems

GgE energy management systems provide both Exothermic and Endothermic influences within the system. Areas under the influence of endothermic processes will tend to gather moisture and those that are exothermic will tend to expel moisture. If these influences are placed within a closed system, along a gravitational well, with exothermic systems being placed below endothermic systems an atmospheric convection and hydrologic cycling systems can be expected to emerge.

GgE Diagram

For example: Imagine an illuminated Martian magma tube, several Km long and about 100m in diameter. This tube is angled ~15 Degrees along its vertical axis. Placed at the bottom end of the tube is a metal sphere that will perpetually remain 100 Degrees C (Exothermic device), at the top end of the tube is another metal sphere that will perpetually remain 0 Degrees C (Endothermic device). The tube is assumed to remain between .9 and 1.1 ATM, contain a fluid material content approximately that of earth and be filled ~20% with water. Over time one could expect ice to grow on and around the endothermic device and extend until it began to melt. The melting and formation of ice would meet equilibrium, and a reliable steady run off of fresh water would eventually emerge.

This water might be captured in a series of pools as it runs down the tube, eventually returning to a resevour, perpetually heated by the exothermic device which if arranged in a particular way could form several pools maintained at a variety of temperatures. Water vapor from this section would travel up words through the tube where it would precipitate and flow back down the tube or be trapped in ice.

Within such a structure a temperature gradient will form along the tube, from end to end. Depending upon the morphology of the tubes internal structure, areas with temperature favorable to life, running water and novel climatic systems can be caused to reliably emerge.

Automation Sub Systems

Energetic potentials across the aforementioned thermal gradient and hydrologic cycling systems can be utilized by automation devices to provide various auxiliary and maintenance services.

For Example:

Consider the tube discussed previously, now in addition to the single tube lets add a smaller utility tube only 10m in diameter running outside the primary tube circumventing all its complex structures.  One end of this utility tube descends from the ceiling of the primary tube and enters the water that sits in the bottom end of the primary tube, with the other exiting near the top end of the primary tube facing the ice formation around the endothermic device. As water is evaporated from the pool surrounding the exothermic device, the water level may drop as water collects in pools and in ice at the top end of the primary tube. If this water level at the bottom of the primary tube where to drop below the end of the utility tube, a portion of steam and warm air flow would then be redirected through the tube and be projected at the ice formation causing the temperature to become elevated at the top of the primary tube. This system state would increase ice melt and water flow which would eventually fill the pool at the bottom of the primary tube covering the utility tube and causing the system state to return to its base condition. This is an example of a basic hydro-thermal logic system, which can be used to create pressure and temperature gradients, with in the system that can be used for power production and to accomplish various types of material transfer or other utility functions.

More complex heat transfer systems can be arranged with the assistance of Closed passive absorption heat transfer systems, constructed of a materially closed network of basins, tanks, and pipes which when properly arranged, transport liquid and gaseous ammonia and H2 gas so as to allow for energy transfer via external heat exchangers. Such systems can be integrated throughout the structure of a GgE powering exothermic and endothermic devices wherever one desires.


THC Shutdown, We All Fall Down


The interaction of warm and cold areas within a single fluid body creates a natural churning movement known as convection. The most notable example of this being major weather events like tornadoes and hurricanes, when the combination of cold and warm fronts press against each other. When cold and warm areas in the ocean interact, a natural current called the thermohaline circulation (THC) is formed, scaling the size of the oceans.


Thermohaline Circulation (THC)

Cold from the poles and heat from the equator stirs our planet’s oceans like a lazy spoon in a cup of coffee. This movement allows aerated waters from the surface to mix with water in the deep ocean, providing the O2 necessary for aquatic aerobic life to exist.

As salinity and temperature in the oceans are disturbed the stability of the THC is threatened. If the THC fails, the oceans enter a phase called a THC Shutdown event. If you’ve seen a sad goldfish desperately puffing at the surface of a bowl with no pump, this is an example of a hypoxic aquatic environment.

The map below outlines persistent marine hypoxic areas (Dead Zones) that currently exist. You’ll note that they are mostly on coastal areas.  This phenomenon is due to temperature fluctuations as well as nutrient overloads, such as those from fertilizers.


Global “Dead Zone” Map

Not all the world is aerobic. Not everything breathes oxygen. In the places where there is no oxygen, there are sulfate reducing bacteria and archaea that create hydrogen sulfide H2S as their waste product. They stay tucked into areas with no oxygen, like the bottom of the ocean. The oxygen rich surface waters creates a buffer, while the sulfate reducing bacteria maintain an H2S rich environments deeper in the water column.

H2S is currently used in emergency medicine to induce coma for extreme trauma patients. By adding controlled amounts of H2S to a respirator, patients can be rapidly put into a state of reduced metabolism. An H2S induced coma slows mitochondrial function delaying death, allowing more time for life-saving treatment, though extended exposure can cause serious chronic health effects, organ failure and death.

Putting the pieces together.

During a THC Shutdown event, dissolved oxygen throughout the ocean is reduced. As the oxygen reduces, the buffer protecting the rest of the ocean from anaerobic bacteria reduces. As the buffer zone decreases the bubble of anaerobic bacteria is allowed to expand. Slowly they move closer to the surface, until the anaerobic zone meets the atmosphere.

As anaerobic bacterial waste dominates the oceans, marine ecosystem collapse is accelerated as everything that breathed O2 suffocates. In what could be a matter of days oceanic hypoxia is complete, atmospheric H2S rises to toxic levels and potentially all animal life on earth goes to sleep and never gets back up.

A simplistic even fantastic sounding theory, yet the scientific community believes it has played out twice in geological history (Anoxic Event) and is backed up by historical precedent. You can see the evidence for global THC shutdown extinction events in the fossil record, or take a walk along the coastal areas of dead zones and smell the sulfur.

Introduction to Socio-ecological life support systems (SELSS)

Socio-ecological Life Support Systems (SELSS) – A class of Bioregenerative Life Support Systems (BLSS) related to Closed Ecological Life Support Systems (CELSS), where human cultural and ecological complexity are driven to emerge as a function of environmental control & life support systems (ECLSS) operation rather than simply exploiting ecological assets for the purpose of maintaining a livable environment.

SELSS can be best understood by its contrast with CELSS specifically the function of the humans and there cultural relationship to its ecology as a regulating mechanism. SELSS are essentially CELSS that fully integrate the self organizing complexity of ecology with humans fulfilling an integrated role within the environment replacing automation technology for the transport of materials such as water and organic wastes, as well as regulation of atmospheric systems through burning of materials or stimulation of plant and algae growth.

This kind of life support systems is an all encompassing way of life where the human culture is entirely integrated with the ecological systems hence the distinction between ecological (E) and socio-ecological (sE). Industry would still need to exist for the maintenance of the shell that contains the CsELSS and for imports of materials for expansion, however by the time we implement this method on mars, industry should be self maintaining and fully automated.

In my view SELSS are a path towards transcending civilization as we know it, and even the human organism. I see an eventuality where SELSS becomes a kind of organelle providing diversity of consciousness to a larger technological organism. Much like mitochondria inhabit our cells, one day we (Gaian ecology) will inhabit the cells of massive organisms that are independent of planets, forming clusters in solar orbit. It is a true fractal iteration of our own evolution, and represents a future of harmony between our technological and our ecological self.

Emergence, it’s complexity, but not complicated.

Many phenomenon we encounter, such as consciousness, culture, ecology, and genetics, function through emergence from the compounding complexity of physics. To apply these fields to synthesis with any wisdom, requires a sharp vision of what complexity is and how it emerges from the border of chaos and order. This collection of resources is ordered in such a way to facilitate an understanding of complexity holistically starting with  chaos than emergence and finally its meaning, application and philosophical consequences.

“… complex systems, an interdisciplinary field of research, that seeks to explain how large numbers of relatively simple entities organize themselves, without the benefit of any central controller, into a collective whole that creates patterns, uses information, and, in some cases, evolves and learns.”

– Melanie Mitchell, on complex systems

1.) Introduction to systems

2.) Chaos

“A dynamical system that exhibits sensitive dependence on initial conditions will produce markedly different solutions for two specifications of initial states that are initially very close together.” – Stephen H. Kellert

3.) The emergent limits of analysis

“The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. At each level of complexity entirely new properties appear. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry. We can now see that the whole becomes not merely more, but very different from the sum of its parts.” –Anderson P.W. 1972

4.) Strong emergence, context and computational proof

5.) Complexity: Theory

“We manage the emergence of beneficial coherence within attractors within boundaries, and that is the great hope of complexity theory, because it focuses on what can be managed, we manage for emergence” – David Snowden, PhD Complexity Theorist

6.) Complexity: Science

7.) Complexity: Applied