Complexity is one of four challenges expressed in the acronym VUCA — Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity (…) VUCA has largely been adopted in the business world to refer to challenges which traditional leadership models find difficult to address (…) it requires different skills, structures, modus operandi, mindsets and organisational principles from those currently taught and practised (…) current leadership approaches are counter-productive, even harmful, to working with uncertainty and complexity. In trying to gain control of complexities, in trying to get a grip, our management methods are actually making things worse (…) the cumulative effect of applying the wrong management practices to complexity has exacerbated the challenges of VUCA (…) (complexity management) can only be achieved by including and integrating the perspectives of all the people affected (…) wide-scale conversations in the form of what he (Stacey) called “reflexive inquiry” (…) VUCA skills include: interpersonal skills (e.g. active listening), perspective coordination skills (complementarity), contextual thinking skills (shifting perspectives according to context) and collaboration skills (inclusive decision-making) (…) VUCA requires the integration and fusion of different perspectives, and not alpha heroes with all the ‘right’ answers (…) What we should learn, instead, is how to respond to complex problems from a vantage point of not knowing, probingly approaching inquiry with an empty mind and humility; likewise we need to learn how to integrate seemingly polar opposite perspectives collaboratively (…) Some of the ways suggested to learn these VUCA skills include design thinking and practicing Sociocracy. We should take note, however, that one cannot learn integration skills by oneself, these have to be practised and refined in groups. We therefore need to create more Communities of Practice where people can hone these new skills (…) Uhl-Bien defines complexity as ‘rich interconnectivity’. Interconnecting parts become complex when the parts interacting actually influence and change each other (…) what complexity calls for are deeper conversations that matter
(…) However, by entrusting the objectivity* of the morphogenesis to the sphere of nature, and in fact to theories that are far too general to be productive and useful, architecture is stranded on the shores of a programmatic bewilderment: if it does not focus on the production of forms, but on the natural and hence objective rules* of morphogenesis, all architectural outcomes and all that they entail are rendered fair and equal: this signifies the annulment of the field of meaning. And because meaning is a social construct, that which is pushed aside by the impetuous return of the natural is, precisely, the social -it is society, it is history (…) However, in the proposed process of natural morphogenesis, the architectural forms do not realise a project but are the outcome of the construction of events, as algorithmic interpretations of information data. The architect is given a new responsibility -not to design the forms but to prepare a bare field of possibilities on which the forces of reality will develop on objective* terms. The resolution of conflicts results into a valid though un-planned, unforeseen, uncanny and consequently estranging architectural form. In contrast, in the practised strategies of architectural design, where subjective* initiative is required by the designer, the construction of the uncanny, of the unexpected and the unforeseen, the estrangement or the paroxysm of architecture’s inherent indeterminability aims to alter conventional socio-spatial relations and differential meaning-giving outcomes (…) This acrobatic, risky relationship between intention and coincidence, between the design’s theoretical abstraction and the existence of reality’s multiple parameters, between natural disorder and intellectual order, perhaps between desire and need -this is what the introduction of the mythologised diagram is attempting to determine in digital strategies: it is an idea bordering on a game, a pseudoscientific mechanism of protestant deincrimination for the abundant pleasures provided by the exceptional new voluptuous spatial experiences of digital design, a ruse aiming to prevent the abolition of the responsibility of designing and to restore the designer’s initiative.
*Are the rules of morphogenesis indeed objective? or just a logical (con)sequence of events based on voluntary data interpretation? In this case, the design process -traditional or digital- is always subjective.
Read full paper here
Excerpts of the Wouter Vanstiphout interview to Rory Hyde (MVRDV) for the Australian design review in 2011. Full article available here
If you really want to change the city, or want a real struggle, a real fight, then it would require re-engaging with things like public planning for example, or re-engaging with government, or re-engaging with large-scale institutionalised developers. I think that’s where the real struggles lie, that we re-engage with these structures and these institutions, this horribly complex ‘dark matter’. That’s where it becomes really interesting (…) I do believe that architecture and design as a combination of pure speculation, rhetorical poetics and technical capacity, could play a role in politics. It could re-shape certain discussions and therefore create its own inevitability (…) I don’t think architects have to shed their visionary status, their ‘good’ arrogance, or their speculative powers, if only they would realise that things are contextual! Acknowledge the fact that the deepest meaning in what they do is directly related to the context in which they do it.
Wouter Vanstiphout is member of Crimson Historians & Urbanists and professor of Design as Politics at TU Delft
The question for the coming autumn is resolutely not how can we recreate the architecture studio online. It is how we can liberate our discipline from the assumption that an ill-defined space, time, pedagogy and culture is the only way to teach design. It is an opportunity to re-construct architecture education in a more critical, inclusive and democratic way. (highlighting is mine)
Full article available here
(…) one could argue that culture is integrally tied into the notion of environmental sustainability (UNESCO 2009) given that human beings (and the societies within which they exist) have a relationship with the natural environment that transcends biophysical definitions (…) Chan et al. (2012b) argue that to value cultures entirely in economic terms “cannot reflect the full extent of their differences from other ecosystem services” and risks the unintended interpretation that different cultures can be bought or sold (…) There are a few examples of tools specifically designed to assess only cultural values (…) However, Alonso and Medici (2012) emphasise that the lack of assessment tools that specifically include cultural aspects alongside environmental, economic and social aspects directly contributes to the marginalisation of culture, particularly regarding development policies (…) “values are the building blocks of culture” (…) the notion of ‘value’ is arguably just as ambiguous as ‘culture’ (…) The role of values in the process of undertaking LCA studies has been recognised in relation to defining the problem, goal and scope; the selection of impact category indicators; the optional weighting element at impact assessment; and interpretation of results (…) values have an important—if largely unrecognised—role to play in influencing these choices about the inclusion of different processes on the basis that they are judged as more or less relevant to the decision situation (…) Accounting for differences in cultural perspectives will, in theory, help to “establish the seriousness” of environmental impacts (…) “broadening LCA towards social, cultural and economic aspects would move LCA from environmental towards sustainability assessments” (…) future research should focus on opportunities for the development of (a) a culturally inclusive LCSA process and (b) additional cultural indicators and/or dimensions of existing LCSA indicators that represent cultural values (…) Presenting decision makers with information about economic, social, environmental and cultural aspects will allow them to simultaneously consider a range of impacts associated with a given processPizzirani et al, 2014
Pizzirani, S., McLaren, S. & Seadon, J. (2014). Is there a place for culture in life cycle sustainability assessment? The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 19, 1316–1330, DOI: 10.1007/s11367-014-0722-5
(…) Globalization is not primarily economic. It’s not solely driven by the global marketplace. It’s actually about what we’re doing now. The driving force of the new globalization is the communications revolution (…) one mustn’t think of these things as solely driven by technology, and one mustn’t ever imagine that technology drives itself, and one mustn’t imagine particularly that technology is unilinear — that the future will always be more of the same as the present. History moves dialectically; it takes us by surprise. The future is not linear. You will get many different kinds of reactions to these technologies, some of them hostile, some of them producing new technologies, many of them unpredicted (…) I still write about risk because it’s deeply, deeply involved with technological transformation, obviously. What’s happened in our lifetime is a transformation from one type of risk environment to another (…) It’s only when you have a future-oriented world that you need the notion of risk, because the notion of risk is a confrontation with the future, essentially. It’s about future time and the management of future time. What’s happening now is that we live in the most future-oriented society that has ever existed (…) What we have to deal with is a very, very interesting thing, which is very crucial to scientific innovation, which is exploring the edge between the positive and negative sides of risk (…) Now, when scientific innovations happen they impact on our lives very directly (…) tradition and custom, and nature itself, no longer structure our lives like they used to do (…) Now we know that whenever you drink a cup of coffee or you stick to water as you’re doing there, you’re calculating risk there (…) You can’t just turn to experts to give you an authoritative opinion in many situations, particularly in innovations, because they disagree. Therefore, you must have both a public debate and political and legal decision-making about these things. This is particularly true when different people say completely the opposite things, even though both seem to be equally eminent scientists. I’m not saying that in the end they wouldn’t find some agreement, because they might after years of research, but you have to deal with it now, plainly (…) You must restrict the role of the market in human life, and you must try and create a form of political thinking which is no longer half-theory.by John Brockman
Full article available here
The project team for ‘Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning’ ran by the Chinese Ministry of Education reviewed the international literature relating to skillful remote teaching, identifying some of the characteristic challenges that needed to be addressed. The Chinese project team advocated schools designing a blend of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and identified four essential technologically enabled pedagogical techniques that should be used in combination:
• Live-streaming teaching (lecture format)
• Online real-time interactive teaching
• Online self-regulated learning with real-time interactive Q&A
• Online cooperative learning guided by teachers
For each method, associated benefits and risks were identified – such as the fact that live streamed lessons were technologically challenging and that the real-time class discussion in a synchronous ‘lesson’ could be of a poor quality (…) To recreate the learning atmosphere of a face-to-face classroom, three pedagogical priorities were promoted: Building a sense of belonging to a community/ Providing timely feedback to learners/ Encouraging learners to relax and not be preoccupied with competitive achievement.
The Amsterdam City Doughnut is intended as a stimulus for cross-departmental collaboration within the City, and for connecting a wide network of city actors in an iterative process of change, as set out in the eight ‘M’s: mirror/ mission/ mobilize/ map/ mindset/ momentum/ monitor/ mmm!
The Doughnut’s ecological ceiling comprises nine planetary boundaries: ozone layer depletion/ climate change/ ocean acidification/ chemical pollution/ nitrogen & phosphorus loading/ freshwater withdrawals/ land conversion/ biodiversity loss/ air pollution in order to identify Earth’s critical life-supporting systems and the global limits of pressure that they can endure.
The inner ring of her donut sets out the minimum we need to lead a good life, derived from the UN’s sustainable development goals and agreed by world leaders of every political stripe. It ranges from food and clean water to a certain level of housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, gender equality, income and political voice. Anyone not attaining such minimum standards is living in the doughnut’s hole. The outer ring of the doughnut, where the sprinkles go, represents the ecological ceiling drawn up by earth-system scientists. It highlights the boundaries across which human kind should not go to avoid damaging the climate, soils, oceans, the ozone layer, freshwater and abundant biodiversity.
Between the social foundation and the ecological ceiling lies a doughnut-shaped space in which it is possible to meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet – an ecologically safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive (…) The Doughnut’s social foundation, which is derived from the social priorities in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, sets out the minimum standard of living to which every human being has a claim. No one should be left in the hole in the middle of the Doughnut, falling short on the essentials of life, ranging from food and water to gender equality and having political voice.
The scheme was based on the concept of doughnut economics as explained in 2017 Kate Raworth’s book: “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist.” Raworth, who is part of the team responsible for this initiative commented: “Who would expect in a portrait of the city of Amsterdam that you would include labour rights in west Africa? And that is the value of the tool.”
The Amsterdam City Doughnut, full report available here
Amsterdam to embrace ‘doughnut’ model to mend post-coronavirus economy, full article on Guardian available here
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can assist in:
⎯ identifying opportunities to improve the environmental performance of products at various points in their life cycle
⎯ informing decision-makers in industry, government or non-government organizations (e.g. for the purpose of strategic planning, priority setting, product or process design or redesign),
⎯ the selection of relevant indicators of environmental performance, including measurement techniques, and
⎯ marketing (e.g. implementing an eco-labelling scheme, making an environmental claim, or producing an environmental product declaration).
There are four phases in an LCA study:
a) the goal and scope definition phase: The scope, including the system boundary and level of detail, of an LCA depends on the subject and the intended use of the study. The depth and the breadth of LCA can differ considerably depending on the goal of a particular LCA.
b) the inventory analysis phase: The life cycle inventory analysis phase (LCI phase) is the second phase of LCA. It is an inventory of input/output data with regard to the system being studied. It involves collection of the data necessary to meet the goals of the defined study
c) the impact assessment phase: The life cycle impact assessment phase (LCIA) is the third phase of the LCA. The purpose of LCIA is to provide additional information to help assess a product system’s LCI results so as to better understand their environmental significance.
d) the interpretation phase: Life cycle interpretation is the final phase of the LCA procedure, in which the results of an LCI or an LCIA, or both, are summarized and discussed as a basis for conclusions, recommendations and decision-making in accordance with the goal and scope definition.
EN ISO 14040: 2006 available here
astronauts’ cabins as models for environmentally responsible landscape design and architecture/ space colonization has been the underlying ethic/ living in harmony with Earth’s ecosystem became a question of adopting space technologies, analytical tools and ways of living/ their aim was to escape industrial society/ life in a future ecologically designed world was focused on biological survival at the expense of wider cultural, aesthetic and social values of the humanist legacy/ their work was based on diagrams of energy flows as input and output circuits in a cybernetic ecosystem/ construction of self-efficient closed ecological systems within submarines and underground bomb shelters/ the turn towards space ecology emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the light of of alarming reports such as The Population Bomb (Paul Elrich, 1968) and Limits to Growth (Club of Rome, 1972) reinforced by the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo/ a way of designing which fed on its own ideas and gradually closed itself off
from developments in the rest of the architectural community. Its followers sense of self-sufficiency resulted in a sect-design for the believers whose
recycling of resources and ideas led to a lack of interest in an outside world simply described as ‘industrial’ and thus not worth listening to
ecological design is inspired by a biologically informed vision of humankind embedded in an Arcadian dream of building in harmony with nature
Chermayeff/ Alexander, Community and Privacy (1963): advocated for self contained ecological capsules, ecologically autonomous buildings to stop exploitation of natural resources/destruction of natural scenery. Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1969): cabin ecology as a model for understanding life on earth/ Earth as a huge mechanical ship travelling in space/ Doxiadis, Ecumenopolis: humanity was heading towards a universal city/ Ian Mc Harg, Design with Nature (1969): science-based modernist architecture and planning with respect for nature/ ecological crisis was caused by reckless laissez-faire economy, industrialization, greed chaotic urbanization, social structures fragmentation and lack of planning/ he pointed to the holistic ecology of the ‘Orient’, human would build and settle in a space buoy located between the Moon and the Earth/ one should make an ecosystem inventory of an environment, investigating its changing processes and then attribute values to the ecological aspects and determine a. what changes would be permitted and prohibited and b. identify indicators of stability and instability/ (influenced by) John Phillips, Ecology in Design issue of Via Journal (1968): holistic approach to architects and region planners/ they ought to include all forms of life in their designs/ John Todd & William McLarney, New Alchemy Institute and From Eco-Cities to Living Machines: Principles of Ecological Design (1980/ 1984/1994): how to survive an impeding catastrophe, closed ecological life boats that would keep afloat/ New Alchemists aimed at solar-heated and wind-powered greenhouse-aquaculture buildings/ Grumman Corporation, Grumman Lunar Module (1960s): they also developed other household system prototypes: a waste disposal system inspired by space recirculation technology, a sewage system inspired by the astronaut’s lavatory, and an energy efficiency system for homes that incorporated solar cells/ Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in California also developed related technology/ Integral Urban House (1972)/ BioShelter/ Alexander Pike: austerity in place of plenty/ his aim was to use ambient solar and wind energy, to reduce energy requirements, and to utilise human household and waste material/ Brenda &Robert Vale, Autonomous House, a shelter for the coming doom/ Kenneth Yeang: by imitating processes in nature, architects could find new environmentally
friendly designs for human life/ biological analogies for optimum survival/ a building was to be sealed off both environmentally and culturally from industrialism/ Phil Haws, Biosphere 2 in Arizona (completed in 1991): the first fully enclosed ecosystem, tested for a period of over a year
Anker, P. (2005). The closed world of ecological architecture. In Journal of Architecture, Vol. 10, no.5. DOI: 10.1080/13602360500463230