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

Fall 2019 block course RE:GENERATE circularityDownload 2019 Course Flyer


                                       Student’s movie cut of the 2019 RE:GENERATE course 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.

More info on Systemic Design
Systemic Design for Sustainability and Regeneration
Coping with Change, Complexity and Resilience

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.

About Systemic Design Labs
Explore, Understand and Design
Systems Types and Scales - from materials to regional economies

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

TED talk "Simplicity on the other side of Complexity""View from Above" drone flying course
The View from Above
Nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions

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.

Ask nature . biological strategiesBiomimicry Institute

Real-World Laboratory Research & Teaching

Real-World Laboratories (RWL)  or Living Labs are experimental places at the interface of science and society, addressing wicked problems of societal transitions towards sustainability, in a transdisciplinary setting.

About Labs in the Real WorldThe MonViso Institute - a real-world lab for sustainability transitions and systemic regenerative design in the Italian Piedmont mountains
Real-World Laboratory Research & Teaching

Field Course in autumn 2019

 RE:GENERATE alpine-urban circularity

The 2019 edition of the Systemic Design Labs offers a real-world learning experience on the complex challenge to revive mountain livelihoods, focusing on local identity, the built environment, resilient landscapes and a regenerative economy.

The specific design challenge is to identify and layout a holistic, partly quantified and visualized systems strategy for building a resilient community economy that embraces local identity, revitalizes cultural and landscape biodiversity,  and creates alpine-urban circularity – in simple words a “circularity masterplan” for use of the community and local policy makers.

This compact block course ran from Sept 13th (introduction) to Dec 15th (final delivery) at ETH in Zurich. The main field work period was Sept 26 – Oct 1st in the Italian Piedmont Alps at the MonViso Institute.

2019 Course INFO and summary of results
Field Course in autumn  2019

Former Systemic Design Lab courses

Former Systemic Design Lab courses focused on building skis skateboards, kite boards, knives, and educational snowshoe toolkits.

SDL courses 2016-2019
Former Systemic Design Lab courses


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.

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Systemic Design Labs is a teaching project running from 2018 to 2020, funded by ETH Innovedum, and hosted by IRL-PLUS of D-BAUG.

Phone :

+41 (0)76 5686442

Email :

Address :

Systemic Design Labs

ETH Zürich

Dr. Tobias Luthe

Planning of Landscape and Urban Systems (PLUS)

Institute for Spatial and Landscape Development (IRL)

HIL H42.3, Stefano-Franscini-Platz 5

CH-8093 Zürich

The Systemic Design Labs teaching project is hosted and financed by