Darwinian processes and memes in architecture: A memetic theory of modernism

Nikos Salingaros, Terry Mikiten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The process of design in architecture parallels analogous generative processes in biology and the natural sciences. This paper examines how the ideas of Darwinian selection might apply to architecture. Design selects from among randomly-generated options in the mind of the architect. Multiple stages of selection generate a design that reflects the set of selection criteria used. The goal of most traditional architecture is to adapt a design to human physical and psychological needs. At the same time, however, a particular style of architecture represents a group of visual memes that are copied for as long as that style remains in favor. Darwinian selection also explains why non-adaptive minimalist forms of the modernist style have been so successful at proliferating. The reason is because they act like simple biological entities such as viruses, which replicate much faster than do more complex life forms. Simple visual memes thus parasitize the ordered complexity of the built environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-42
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Memetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Adaptivity
  • Architecture
  • Darwinian process
  • Design
  • Images
  • Memes
  • Minimalism
  • Modernism
  • Parasitic
  • Selection
  • Styles
  • Viruses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Philosophy
  • Artificial Intelligence


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