About

Hovering in between and beyond

Systemic Design Labs (SDL) are experimental hubs or activities at the interface of science, design, society and action. They provide learning and research opportunities in real life, in real time, with all the inherent complexities and surprises of transformations and systemic innovation.

SDL is lead by Prof. (AHO) Dr. Tobias Luthe, and currently hosted by the Institute for Spatial and Landscape Development (IRL), group of Planning Landscape and Urban Systems (PLUS) at the ETH Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering.

Many of SDL course offers were supported by ETH Innovedum.

Systemic Design Labs take place in real-world settings at the interface of science, design and societal action, inter- and transdisciplinary, and thus somewhat hovering in between and beyond the disciplinary structure of a technical university like ETHZ.

This is part of the unique character of SDL with its new hybridization between science, design and praxis, in order to more holistically and organically deal with emergence and uncertainty in complex real-world situations.

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Key concepts


Systemic design integrates systems thinking and design, with the intention to better cope with complexity. Systemic design intends to develop methodologies and approaches that help to integrate systems thinking (e.g. causality, interconnectedness, circularity, synthesis) with design (e.g. ideation, prototyping, iteration) at ecological, social, technical and economic levels. It is a pluralistic initiative where many different approaches are encouraged to thrive and where dialogue and organic development of new practices are central.

Explore Systemic Design

Neither the analytical and descriptive tools of science, nor the iterative doing of design alone are adequate for addressing complex challenges. Combining both cultures of reasoning and methods as a fluid, solution oriented and synergistic process, is hybrid.

A social-ecological or socio-technical system with the capacity to continuously regain its needed energies and resources to vitalize and sustain. Regenerative design actively restores degraded systems. It creates regenerative cultures, which are rooted in cooperation, not in competition.

Design for resilience is the conscious act of creating a system with the adaptive, innovative and transformative capacities to withstand undesirable change, and to deliberately transform in a desired direction towards regeneration.

The science for and of sustainability. Iterative, evidence-based inquiry with a normative aim to balance social and economic wellbeing through technology and participation, balanced by cultural values and based on the carrying capacity of ecosystem services, of nature.

Actionable practices that lead to desired systems changes.

Circularity is creation with the intention of building mutual social benefits while closing resource loops. Resource flows can be of various kinds – material, energy, water, financial, and social. Flows have quantifiable or qualitative currencies.

Complex systems are inherently dynamic and unpredictable, their properties are emergent and uncertain. An organic way to deal with emergence is to trust in having the right tools and techniques to adaptively cope with sudden surprises and challenges, as individual from within, and as part of community support. And it is about seeing opportunities and beauty, and taking chance of it.

People

Diverse faces of hybridizing science, design and action

Systemic Design Labs (SDL) comprises a community of culturally open and interested scientists and design researchers, with a shared culture of awareness for worldviews, holistic science, creative prototyping despite of fuzziness, and experimentation in the real world. We collaborate with individuals in research, teaching and transformative praxis, from within ETHZ and associated from beyond.



PhD. Professor in Sustainability Science. Founded “Systemic Design Labs” at ETH Zürich. Prof. for Systemic Design at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), Norway. Director of the MonViso Institute real-world lab, Italy.


PhD. Professor of Landscape and Environmental Planning, Heading the Chair of Planning Landscape and Urban Systems (PLUS) at ETH Zürich.


PhD. Professor for Sustainable Construction at ETH Zürich. Heading the Chair of Sustainable Construction.


Designer and systems-oriented architect. Lecturer at the French National School of Industrial Design – Ensci les Ateliers Paris, visiting lecturer at Royal College of Art in London. Founder of TinyLabs.


Engineering Design lecturer and tutor at ETH Zurich and ZHdK (Zurich School of Arts). Bicycle frame designer and engineer.


PhD. Bio-regional weaver. Consultant & educator. Author of “Designing Regenerative Cultures“. Trained biologist and holistic scientist with a PhD in Natural Design.


PhD. Senior lecturer, Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL. Wyss Conseil Scientifique.


Master student in Energy Sciences and Technology at ETHZ. Student assistant for the MOOC Designing Resilient Regenerative Systems



Supporters


PhD. Assistant Professor of Circular Engineering for Architecture at ETH Zurich. Director of the Chair of Circular Engineering for Architecture (CEA).


PhD. Professor for Social Networks, ETH Zurich.


PhD. Adjunct Professor at ETH Zurich, Department of Environmental Systems Science (D-USYS), Co-director USYS TdLab (Transdisciplinarity Lab).


Head of Transfer, Zurich Centre for Creative Economies – ZCCE – at ZHdK (Zurich School of Arts).


Complex systems are inherently dynamic and unpredictable, their properties are emergent and uncertain.

An organic way to deal with emergence is to trust to adaptively cope with sudden challenges, as individual from within, and as part of community support.

And it is about seeing opportunities and beauty, and taking chance of it.

Places

Real-world labs

A real-world laboratory (RWL) or Living Lab is a place to experiment with interventions and solutions to complex challenges and nested crises, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and new alpine-urban living. It is real-world because it is embedded in a living community; it is a lab because it creates space and time for testing and experimentation, such as with renewable building materials and net-positive buildings.

RWL are critically important for the practice and advancement of Systemic Design, since one can prototype and experiment interventions in a “safe space” where failure is accepted, yet the reality of emergence in systems, their unpredictability, is as rich as reality can be.

In general, a RWL is about understanding, incubating and supporting sustainability transitions of various kind, such as from a linear to a more circular economy. An RWL experiments with interventions and solutions to complex and often uncertain challenges, such as future resilient life styles. From this experimental research, one can design tools for change, or seeds for systemic innovation – solutions and illustrations that can be experienced in real and scaled up in other places.


Monte Viso (3842m asl) overseeing the real-world lab MonViso Institute campus at Serre Lamboi, Italy.

The MonViso Institute (MVI) is an organisation and a place, a real-world laboratory, to experiment with systemic design solutions to complex sustainability challenges. We base our work on science, inter- and transdisciplinary knowledge on sustainability, resilience, circularity, transitions, design, and related fields. The MVI Systemic Design Principles guide our experimental work on testing and applying “Tools for Change” (towards a more sustainable, just and regenerative society) and developing illustrative “Seeds for Systemic Innovation” in real, that enable and scale social and technical transitions. These Core Concepts guide our research, education and events, with the goals to evaluate, spread and scale their impacts to other systems.

Daniel C. Wahl is the master mind behind many years of bio-regional weaving for regeneration on the island of Mallorca. Daniel’s medal awarded work inspires in many ways, and is part of the initial real-world transformative cases of the upcoming MOOC.

The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) has been engaging with the Norwegian mountain community Hemsedal in an alpine-urban relation with Oslo. The Nordic cultures and climate add an interesting contrast to Southern places like Ostana Italy and Mallorca Spain. Hemsedal is part of the initial real-world transformative cases of the upcoming MOOC.

Tiny Labs is a real-world experimentation initiative “anywhere, anytime, anyone” and was coined by Justyna Swat during the Pandemic 2020-22. During curfew periods in Paris, Justyna experimented with real-world interventions that relate with resilient and regenerative systems. Driven by curiosity, designerly creativity, and scientific interest, Justyna illustrates how any of us can experiment with real-world change, without being part of a larger real-world lab, but anywhere, anytime.

Neither the analytical and descriptive tools of reductionist science, nor the iterative doing of design alone are adequate for addressing complex challenges.

Combining both cultures of reasoning and methods as a fluid, intervention driven, question based and synergistic process, is hybridized holistic science and design.