Designing Regenerative Systems to cope with Complex Sustainability Challenges
ETH Zurich Systemic Design Labs are a series of teaching offers in a real-world laboratory research context on Systemic Design for creating Regenerative Resilient Systems
Master students’ movie cut of the last RE:GENERATE course in 2019, taking place in the Italian Piedmont
Systemic Design for Sustainability and Regeneration
Systemic Design (SD) combines systems thinking and design for the understanding and transformation of complex systems. Systemic Design for Sustainability provides tools and techniques to (re)create regenerative systems that continuously restore, renew or revitalize their resources and energy. SD is a holistic approach for addressing complex challenges; it should combine quantitative and qualitative methods with creativity techniques in a holistic way.
Coping with Change, Complexity and Resilience
Climate change as a major societal challenge is hugely complex and interwoven with various ecological and socio-economic systems. Solutions to tackle challenges such as climate change are systemic by nature. Transitions to enhance resilience require Systemic Design approaches based on systems thinking and creativity, using inter- and transdisciplinary methods.
Explore, Understand and Design
Systemic Design (SD) optimizes an entire system as a whole, rather than its parts in isolation. SD is iterative, recursive and circular, requires creative, curious, informed and critical systems thinking and doing, yielding radical resource efficiency. Systems mapping, design thinking, footprint assessment, network analysis, test planning, prototyping, fabrication, social experiments and outdoor experiences empower students as change agents for sustainability.
Systems Types and Scales - from materials to regional economies
Systemic Design addresses socio-technical-ecological systems from a whole-systems-view: from materials to products to built infrastructure to communities, services. landscapes and entire economies.
This encloses circular flows from the extraction and growth of natural resources, the production/distribution/use of energy, industrial design of products, architectural design of buildings, engineering of roads, restoration of river beds, urban design of cities, landscape planning, and design of services, experiences and communication.
How can such diverse systems be looked at as a whole?
The View from Above
When confronted with complexity, it often helps to take a bird eye’s view – to zoom out, get a structural overview, and zoom in on the actual point of most influence, of leverage, for solving the problem. Systemic Design provides methods and techniques to zoom out and identify structure and leverage in complex systems
Nature has been designing regenerative systems since 3.8 billion years, called evolution.
Circularity: No waste exists, all resource and energy flows are infinite and self-restoring cycles. The model of success in Nature is that of cooperation, from the material to the landscape level. Nature-based solutions and bio-inspired design are used in learning and practicing Systemic Design.
Former Systemic Design Lab courses
Former Systemic Design Lab courses focused on planning an alpine-urban circular economy, and on engineering design by building skis, skate/kite boards, knives, and educational snowshoe toolkits.
Systemic Design Labs experiment with innovative didactics, themes, study disciplines, systems boundaries and place settings. Experiences and evaluations are continuously shared, discussed and published in order to advance education on creatively addressing complex sustainability challenges.
Systemic Design Labs is a teaching project running from 2018 to 2020, funded by ETH Innovedum, and hosted by IRL-PLUS of D-BAUG.