Good, and accurate, write-up on the Santa Fe Complex
January 24th, 2009 by analyticjournalism

As long-time readers know, the IAJ has been actively involved in the Santa Fe Complex, a unique building-community-R&D site.  Sue Vorenberg, of The [Santa Fe] New Mexican, our local daily, gave the complex a nice turn today with this story, “Creative Force.”  Said she:

Creative force

Photo by: Jane Phillips/The New Mexican

In some ways, you can think of the Santa Fe Complex as an ant farm.

On any given day, some of the ants — well, people, with their varied specialties in computers, arts or science — will group together and find interesting ways to make the anthill larger or more efficient.

Other times, individuals ants will forage for their own sustenance, completing daily work with their ears open for calls for help from their comrades.

But if you look at it from afar, a bigger organism emerges, one that's an example of complexity theory in action, said Don Bagley, one of its founders.

“Complex systems generally mean that there are many actors working in an environment — like an ant colony or beehive with queens, workers, drones and whatnot,” Bagley said. “The colony itself is an organism, but everyone within it operates with their own task in mind. And in a way, that's something we're creating with people here.”

The Complex, at 632 Agua Fría St., opened in June in some ways as an experiment using complexity to grow the economic and creative forces in Santa Fe.

The facility is part livingroom and part cybercafe, with a little office space thrown in for good measure. The goal is to bring people from a vast array of backgrounds together to form projects, and perhaps even spur some new start-up companies for the City Different.

“We're trying to make a hive to give people from a lot of different backgrounds a place to work together — and make a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts,” Bagley said.

The city of Santa Fe supported the idea at start-up, providing $29,000 in match funds to help the ball get rolling. The matching funds were donated by users of the site, Bagley said.

“We've found huge popular support in Santa Fe, and it's continuously growing,” Bagley added proudly.

In December, the city gave a grant of $165,000 a year over three years to keep the site going, which has been a godsend in the poor economy, Bagley added.

“It gives us the revenue we need to cover our basic operating expenses, but so far, nobody's getting a salary,” he said.

Still, if the site grows some new businesses, it could certainly pay off for Santa Fe.

And the complex is working on educational programs and internships for local high-school students that could help train new workers that technology companies are looking for, Bagley said.

The idea of making such a strange site grew out of the dot-com sector. Many Santa Fe technologists work out of their own homes, and the thought was to give them a place to go, get together and spawn new ideas, Bagley said.

“We call it a project space,” Bagley said. “A project could become a business that goes to the Santa Fe (Business) Incubator. But as a project space we try to create a community of people who can work together in different situations.”

People from all walks of the City Different are welcome to join, he added.

It costs $100 a month for a “laptop member” to hang out in the main room and use the Complex's wireless network. For $400 a month, users get their own desk in a more private studio. And when projects grow, there's space for that as well, in another building. The complex asks for a 20 percent donation from projects that grow through use of that space, all as a means to support the nonprofit.

On a Wednesday afternoon in January, a group casually came together in the corner. Bagley looked over, noting the informal meeting had brought together a computer programmer, an expert in printer interfaces and a psychologist, among others.

At other times, dancers and artists have descended on the facility.

And sometimes, new creations are spawned by the complex's eclectic members.

In the back of the main site, a Wii video game remote, a Web camera and a video projector hang from the ceiling, attached to a computer and hovering over a sandbox.

While the device appears a bit Rube Goldberg-esque, it's actually a clever little invention that could help the city's emergency planners during fire season, Bagley said.

The projector and computer beam an image onto the sandbox, and people can gather around the sandbox and turn it into a topographic map of the city by dragging and smoothing the sand.

In case of a fire, you could literally light a lighter in part of the sandbox — at an origin point — program the wind speed and other factors into the computer, and watch where the fire will go, Bagley said.

“What this does is move the computer out of the central focus, and lets you take a hands-on approach to managing the data,” Bagley said. “One thing I think about computers is that we're too focused on what's under the hood, and we need to get away from that.”

The device cost about $1,500 and could be used for a variety of other purposes, he added.

While the Santa Fe Complex is still a fairly young facility, it's something that scientists at the more well-known Santa Fe Institute find fascinating.

Chris Wood, vice president of SFI and a board member for the complex, said he's curious to see what will evolve from the site.

“The opportunity to translate the creative ideas that arise in Santa Fe arts and science is an important opportunity for the city,” Wood said. “What the Complex is trying to do is take many of the lessons learned from basic complexity science and apply them in the world — through the world of business or economy or other areas.”

Eventually, he could see somebody from SFI doing a study on the Complex and how members work through it creating complex systems, he said.

“In our view, they're quite complementary to us,” Wood said. “I could certainly see somebody interested in organizational development make a good study out of them.”

Contact Sue Vorenberg at

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa