Problems: Machine age problems are concerned with simple systems, boundary closed, passive parts, fully observable, and analysis and reductionism methods of understanding, and, on the other side, systems age problems are concerned with complex systems, boundary open, purposeful parts, partially observable, and synthesis and holism methods of understanding (…) To think systemically is to understand the difference between machine age problems and systems age messes.
Observe: Development of multiple perspectives and first-order and second-order observations; integration of both soft and hard perspectives; apart from the technical, organizational, social, economic, environmental, political and human perspectives should be included
Think: Convergence and divergence; analysis and synthesis; decoupling a problem in a manner that allows identification of outcomes, their derivative outputs etc.
Model: relations between scales of space and time (…) all models are wrong but some are useful (…) a model must contain two or more mental constructs that can serve as variables and establish relationships between variables and/or their values
Simulate: systems thinking + simulation= systemic thinking
Solution: the means needed in the attainment of specific, purposeful goals; understanding stakeholders, their motives, circumstances, context, factors, conditions, values and patterns (…) it is articulating current and desired states for a mess
Gallón L. (2019) Systemic Thinking. In: Leal Filho W., Azul A., Brandli L., Özuyar P., Wall T. (eds) Quality Education. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-69902-8_58-1
Just spent the last couple of hours listening to Prof. Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University. This was a 11 year old lecture on emergence and I’ve enjoyed every single argument and every single story he said. I can’t believe how lucky we are to have access to this kind of input on the click of a button. Interestingly (and also ironically) enough, he concludes his lecture discussing bottom-up emergent phenomena: people not needing experts or blueprints to tell them how to go about, just randomness and simple rules that in high quantity produce quality. This is around the time first xMOOCs showed up and connectivist theory was taking off. I can’t believe how related the two are.
Just watched 2011 Adam Curtis 3-episode BBC series under this title of a poem by Richard Brautigan. I strongly recommend that you watch this documentary (link available here); Adam Curtis is a master at creating consistent narratives (remember ‘the century of the Self’). In the meantime, here is the poem the series owe its name to, dedicated to all my friends the cyberneticists.
I like to think (and the sooner the better!) of a cybernetic meadow where mammals and computers live together in mutually programming harmony like pure water touching clear sky.
I like to think (right now, please!) of a cybernetic forest filled with pines and electronics where deer stroll peacefully past computers as if they were flowers with spinning blossoms.
I like to think (it has to be!) of a cybernetic ecology where we are free of our labors and joined back to nature, returned to our mammal brothers and sisters, and all watched over by machines of loving grace.
These two resources, read in parallel, offer a fascinating read. I have mentioned the Whole Earth Catalog before when discussing ecological architecture, but up to now I hadn’t quite investigated what it was about. Fred Turner’s article ‘Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy’ discusses the Whole Earth catalog in detail and how Stewart Brand -the catalog’s master mind- sought to establish a common ground for all dispersed individuals living in communals in the 1960’s by offering a venue where they could communicate and form a single social network. These individuals had stepped away from agonistic politics and the bureaucratic myth of ‘objective consciousness’ and sought to change the world by establishing exemplary communities and change the consciousness of individuals.
The catalog presented reviews of hand tools, books and magazines arrayed in categories (..) It also established a relationship between informational technology, economic activity and alternative forms of community that would outlast the counterculture itself and become a key feature of the digital world
The catalog aimed at creating ‘a countercultural style of consumerism’ by making product suggestions but also to ways of thinking and speaking; a transformation of the self. Personal power believed Brand, develops from the power of the individual to conduct his own education and environment.
After the significant success of WEC (the catalog was fully operational for ten years after which Brand continued to publish additional versions), back in the 1980’s when Brand was approached by Larry Brilliant (founder of Network Technologies International) to help him promote computer conferencing systems, Brand came up with the idea of WELL. By now an online platform (a bulletin-board system then), WELL is based on the countercultural conception of community to create a network forum.
Brand wanted The Well to appeal not just to the Whole Earth crowd but to a wider audience: he wanted hackers, he wanted journalists (…) At the same time, he had a hunch that, in addition to electronic dialog, there should be a strong face-to-face element to The Well (…) He sensed that the most interesting possibility to arise from knitting electronic dialog into the fabric of everyday life would lie not in championing either the virtual or the human-contact model but rather in finding the place where they overlapped (…) But probably the most important of Brand’s early convictions for The Well was that people should take responsibility for what they said
For many members of the WELL, on-line collaboration offered a chance to revivify the spirit of the counterculture farms while also establishing and supporting a new type of individual professional, one that cultivated professional and interpersonal networks and key sources for future employment. The latter was directly related to the changes in 1980’s company culture and the dismantling of hierarchical systems towards the formation of corporations. WELL technology and thematics supported this new type of individual. Interactivity was instantaneous and yet collective: it was possible to exchange smaller, time-sensitive pieces of information, ranging from data on a not-yet-announced technology to a bit of gossip and the forum could enhance the reputations of its users.
I keep that WELL has been ‘a non-hierarchically organized social form in which scattered individuals are linked to one another by an information technology and through it the experience of a shared mindset.’ As web communication had not yet been centralised, these forms of network exchange were the first manifestations of networked online learning communities: people learned from each other. Whilst WELL perhaps focused more in the interaction part than content sharing, and despite its shortcomings, it represented a more democratic medium for co-existence where everybody had a name and were accountable for what they believed and wrote. Thus we come to the second part of the title ‘back to the future’: on our way ahead we fell behind on what made networked communication so alluring in the first place. The possibility to openly speak our minds but to also stand up for and take responsibility for what we are saying.
Turner, F. (2005). Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy. The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community, Technology and Culture 46 (3), pp. 485-512. Full paper available here
Hafner, K. (1997). The Epic Saga of The Well: The World’s Most Influential Online Community (And It’s Not AOL). The Wire magazine. Full article available here
The platform presents viewer with an understanding of how innovative systems can emerge by way of employing systems thinking and new technologies for tackling complex problems. It monitors and explains the restructuring of existing units into new organisational forms that bring transformative change into a complex system.
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.
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
This is an experiment in the framework TU Delft led Horizon 2020 Project called REPAiR: two MSc courses were transformed to integrate aspects of different fields of expertise. Students were introduced to two resource flows that were previously identified as key flows by the local stakeholders: food waste, and construction and demolition waste and were expected to show a deep understanding of CE and its spatial implications
(…) incorporating the concept of CE in an integrative manner in urban design and planning courses is challenging because of its metabolic and complex nature (…) (1) the city is a complex, self-organizing system, where economy is an important factor, but not the dominant one; (2) the focus of CE approaches on the production side of the value chain and the under-representation of the need for sustainable consumption patterns as crucial aspect for the transition towards a CE; (3) the exclusion of land as a resource although it is one of the most valuable resources of regions; (4) the neglecting of infrastructure, both as a resource, but also as an instrument to steer circular policies; and (5) that the dominant approach ignores the importance of different scales for closing resource loops (…) overcoming these inadequacies requires the integration of expertise on resource flows and industrial processes.
Challenges of integrating practices of circular economy in education were overcome by collaboration with researchers in a situated environment that allowed: “an enhanced problem definition, a substantial participation of societal partners in education and an enhanced valorisation of student work via partner institutes.” Supporting course elements were also integrated such as lectures; workshops and tutor preparation. An overall of 200 students participated in the courses whose work was later evaluated as to the integration of CE principles and resources flows.
One clear effect of the integration of the CE concept into teaching was that the students understood that they needed to address challenges from a systemic perspective rather early into the design process.
References: Wandl, Alexander, Verena Balz, Lei Qu, Cecilia Furlan, Gustavo Arciniegas and Ulf Hackauf. “The Circular Economy Concept in Design Education: Enhancing Understanding and Innovation by Means of Situated Learning.” Urban Planning 4, no. 3, (2019): 63-75. DOI: 10.17645/up.v4i3.2147, full article available here
In 1973, following the strikes that beset the British construction industry during the early 1970s, Alistair McAlpine commissioned a design program for his construction company, Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, that aimed to increase production efficiency and improve labour relations. Cedric Price’s proposal took the format of a two-volume report and a Portable Enclosures Programme (PEP) which, while presenting a critical view of building sites, also demonstrated his ambition to go beyond the immediate brief, employing architectural knowledge and thoughtful design to respond to pressing societal issues and human necessities.
The project emphasizes “the social role and responsibility of the architect by rethinking traditional field practices and pursuing strategies to initiate social progress through critical research, new tools and experimental attitudes” (Domus, 2017). The designer becomes the moderator of social activity (Herdt, 2016).
To qualify labour on building sites, Price acknowledged the need to reframe the relations between the multiple actors involved, from government to service suppliers, from technical staff to workers’ unions. He often stressed the importance of communicating to everyone, from the workers to the administrative personnel, the purposes and goals of the report, introducing “a participatory form of Company planning” and resisting the tendency for decision making to be “too top heavy.”
AMS Science for the City #12 – May 7 at Pakhuis de Zwijger – on creating a circular kitchen: the business model behind the components, the products and food you use, and choices you make – share your ideas on the topic!
(…) systems matter more than networks. Networks don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist and are shaped by the environments in which they exist. Networks are ephemeral. Systems exist to preserve. Systems exist as predictive agents. It’s hard to control people in networks – they have too much agency, they can do what they want. The lack of controlability makes it difficult to achieve intended outcomes in networks. When agents want a clear outcome, they turn to systems. Systems preserve power.
George Siemens, (2019). I was wrong about networks. Full article available here
1984: twenty people from MIT and Paul Cashman of Digital Equipment Corporation organized a workshop to explore technology’s role in the work environment. they used the term CSCW to describe their findings
Office Automation, an earlier approach to group support, had ran out of steam. The problems were not just technical but understanding human requirements. OA practitioners needed more info on how people worked in groups.
CSCW: it started as an effort by technologists to learn from economists, social psychologists, anthropologists, org theorists, educators etc/ it became a place for system builders to share experiences and tell others about tech constraints through tele-videoconferencing, collaborative authorship applications, electronic mail.
CSCW draws from all rings and from preexisting development culture. There is however, a great interest in small groups applications. Product developers focus more on human-computer interface/ Organizational system developers fixate on functionality.
The greatest challenge of CSCW is being multidisciplinary: it represents a merging of issues, approaches, languages, making sense is a lively process. It can be frustrating when the others are ignorant of work one considers to be basic. Participants from different domains use the same terms in subtly different ways.
References + Image
Grudin, J., 1994. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: History and Focus. In Journal Computer, Volume 27 Issue 5, May 1994, Page 19-26, available here