Architecture and Urban Ecologies

Proceedings of RSD6, Relating Systems Thinking and Design 6
Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway  18th-20th October 2017


Keynote relevant to this section

Michael Hensel:
Rights to Ground


Other section relevant to Architecture


Section relevant to Urban Ecology
Environment and Sustainability



Søren Sørensen:
Towards Embedded Architectures: Informed Non-standard and Information-based Design

Matteo Lomaglio:
Encoded ecologies of the Venetian lagoon: A multi-scalar data-driven computational approach for dynamic environments

Jeffrey Chan and Ye Zhang: 
A Systems Framework for Designing of Urban Commons and Sharing Practice: Three Case Studies in Singapore

Christos Chantzaras:
Architecture as Systems Design & Innovation Design Discipline


Towards Embedded Architectures:
Informed Non-standard and Information-based Design.

Søren Sørensen

This talk pursues the notion of informed non-standard architecture, which arises in the intersection between performance-oriented and non-standard architecture.

In the context of the built environment hard systems approaches and performance approaches has gone hand in hand since the 1960s. However, the introduction of a mixed systems approach in conjunction with design-thinking and research by design significantly changed the take on this and introduced a wider scope of understanding as to what performance and agency in architecture might entail. This entails three conceptual and operational aspects: [i] design and production of architectures, the design of which is informed by specific performance criteria, [ii] the notion of location and condition-range-specific design systems that take a middle position between universally applied designs and entirely bespoke architectures, and [iii] the development of a related design method entitled information-based design.

The 1990s witnessed increased experimentation with and intensification of computational design in architecture. This went hand in hand with the development of means of industrial production, especially computer-aided fabrication that began to be employed in architecture to facilitate the design and construction of complex geometries engendered by computer-aided design. At around the same time computer-aided design and computer-aided analysis were coupled in the attempt to capture, develop and utilize performative capacities, culminating in a series of publications on performance-oriented architecture and significant changes in architectural design and production.

This talk will show systemic research by design activities that focus on two types of design systems, one lightweight and adaptable to local conditions, and another that is massive that co-adapts with landscapes. This research is undertaken at the Research Center for Architecture and Tectonics and the Advanced Computational Design Laboratory at the Oslo School of Architecture.





Encoded ecologies of the Venetian lagoon: A multi-scalar data-driven computational approach for dynamic environments.

Matteo Lomaglio

designing dynamic environments
multi-scalar interdisciplinary approach
advanced computational methodologies

The paper and presentation will focus on a project that combines ecological and architectural scales and addresses the design and transformation of the environment of the Venetian Lagoon through advanced technologies. The project draws from a combined systemic and design approach and proposes a dynamic and varied attitude to landscape preservation and transformation. In so doing the project focuses on a multi-scalar approach to the ecosystem in which Venice is located. A multi-criteria analysis was undertaken based on available ecological, geological and hydrological information of the lagoon. The understanding of the complexity of this ecosystem made it necessary to investigate both current and innovative technological developments reflecting a diverse approach to ecological restoration of dynamic environments. This includes selective preservation and selective transformation in a dynamic an ongoing project for the lagoon, a proposed new botanical garden as a terrain vague, and the architectures and technologies that are key provisions in this complex process. 

For this reason it is of fundamental importance to define a complex network of relationships between the different pieces of information collected, in order to encode them together into an integrated set of generative algorithms. The aim of the thesis is the definition of complex systems of data-driven architectural strategies through computational tools. The focus is not only on the architectural scale, but the research and strategies involve the multiple scales of the lagoon, considering the concept of “scale” as determined by two main components, both the resolution (as far as spatial data is concerned) and time. The project aims to utilize the use of advanced computational methodologies in close relationship to geo-spatial information to inform architectural strategies at different scales. It also attempts to initiate a new approach for collaboration between disciplines such diverse and interrelated as geography, ecology, urban planning, computer science, Statistics and Architecture.


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A Systems Framework for Designing of Urban Commons and Sharing Practice: Three Case Studies in Singapore.

Jeffrey Chan and Ye Zhang

Urban commons
Systems Approach

“Inventive architectural solutions can contribute invaluably to the dynamics of common space creation. But architecture alone cannot guarantee that designed spaces will become commoned spaces, spaces of commoning and spaces-as-commons.” [italics ours] (Stavrides, 2016). 

Inexorably in a milieu characterized by the relentless privatizations and enclosures of neoliberal urbanism (Harvey, 2012), the counterpoise of the urban commons has found a steady traction simultaneously in different disciplines today. From critical urban studies (Harvey, 2012; Kip, Bieniok, Dellenbaugh, Muller & Schwegmann, 2015); sociology (Kornberger & Borch, 2015); urban design (Ferguson, 2014); planning (McLaren & Agyeman, 2015); architecture and urbanism (Stavrides, 2016), the study of commoning and the commons has increasingly taken an urban turn. Not only does the urban commons conceptually promise a new field of thought beyond the canonical dichotomy of public versus the private (Schwarz, 2016: 84), but it has also been suggested as a kind of commons that can increase in value while it is being consumed (Kornberger & Borch, 2015). 

In turn, these promises have prompted different attempts to design the urban commons, and how various sharing institutions can come to facilitate it (see Ferguson, 2014). Even so, there is still little systemic knowledge on how to either design for shareability (Schwarz, 2016: 87), or the urban commons (Stavrides, 2014). Unlike the commons of common-pool resources (CPRs) pertaining to how bounded communities collectively and sustainably manage woodlands, meadows, or fisheries (Ostrom, 2006), the commons in any city is situated in a system characterized by openness, value pluralism, and conflict. And unlike the goals of many commons in history—where the commons was established to maximize survivability and inclusivity of the least advantaged member of any community (see Linebaugh, 2008)—the goals of urban commons today are admittedly more plural, fluid and contentious (Stavrides, 2016). 

Here, we suggest that the design of the urban commons will benefit from a framework predicated on the systems approach. Relying on the systems approach (see Churchman, 1968; Churchman, 1979), this framework asks the following guiding questions for design: 

(i) What is the goal of either the urban commons, or the sharing system? 
(ii) Specifically, whose goals are these? How is attaining these goals consonant, or contradictory, to the goals of a larger system (e.g., the flourishing of humanity)? 
(iii) To what extent is this goal (or goals) appropriate, proper or justifiable? In other words, what is the ethics of this system? 
(iv) Who, or what, is the ‘enemy’ of the system to be designed (i.e., what are the variables that can oppose these goals or counteract the attainment and maintenance of these goals)? 

And because every design presumes a certain choice for a certain kind of urban commons, there is therefore also a need to ask this question: 

(v) Which commons is being championed at the expense of what other commons? What is the ethics behind choosing one commons over another commons? 

In this paper, we propose to analyse three case studies from a design studio conducted on the theme of urban commons and sharing. Each of these case studies presents a different system of sharing and posits different goals that then entail a different set of ethical issues and possibly, resolutions. Here, we briefly introduce the design studio and three case studies and then in a table summarise—tentatively— what some of the abovementioned guiding questions of systems approach may prompt for each case study. 

The studio explored what kind of urban commons and sharing system can be designed for regenerating a multicultural historical neighbourhood in Singapore. And design investigation was stratified to tackle the different dimensions of the neighbourhood respectively including urban infrastructure, public amenities, economic production, cultural consumption, etc. The three case studies analysed in this paper are therefore hypothetical proposals each addressing one single dimension of the neighbourhood. 

Case study A introduced a system of self-driving cars and energy generators. The former primarily serves as local taxis that facilitate residents moving around in the neighbourhood and in particular connecting to public transport nodes, while the latter produce electricity from the waste of the entire neighbourhood to power the self-driving cars. Residents can use the self-driving car service for free based on the amount of credit earned through contributing waste to the system. 

Case study B proposed to deinstitutionalise existing schools and complement them with an open education system using the redundant and/or temporarily underutilised spaces within the neighbourhood. In this system, both residents and visitors with certain expertise and certifications can offer open lessons for a mix of different ‘students’, who are expected to benefit from a diversity of exposures without paying extra school fees. 

The final case study proposed a physical–virtual marketplace for work within the neighbourhood. In this system, a number of digital screens are introduced to the neighbourhood centre as interactive public installations, where different QR codes that link to different work in constant change are displayed, and those who are interested and/or would like to earn extra income can scan the codes to apply for these jobs. The QR codes are deliberately kept offline and only displayed altogether in one place in order to bring residents or visitors to the neighbourhood centre. 

Case studies System of sharing Goal(s) of the system Counteraction to the attainment of goal(s) 

A Self-driving cars / 
Enhanced mobility/ 
Energy efficiency
Frugality / Parsimoniousness 

Teaching / Learning 

Knowledge proliferation / Community engagement 

Privatisation / 

Labour / Work 

Full employment / 
Optimal productivity 

Leisure / 

(874 words) 


Churchman, C.W. (1968). The Systems Approach. New York, NY: Delta Books. 

Churchman, C.W. (1979). The Systems Approach and its Enemies. New York, NY: Basic Books. 

Ferguson, F. (ed.) (2014). Make_Shift City: Renegotiating the Urban Commons. Berlin, Germany: Jovis. 

Harvey, D. (2012). Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. London, UK: Verso. 

Kip, M., Bieniok, M., Dellenbaugh, M., Muller, A.K. & Schwegmann, M. (2015). Seizing the (Every)day: Welcome to the Urban Commons! In M. Dellenbaugh, M. Kip, M. Bieniok, A.K. Muller & M. Schwegmann (eds.), Urban Commons: Moving Beyond State and Market. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser, pp. 9-25. 

Kornberger, M. & Borch, C. (2015). Introduction: Urban Commons. In C. Borch & M. Kornberger (eds.), Urban Commons: Rethinking the City. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 1-21.

Linebaugh, P. (2008). The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 

McLaren, D. & Agyeman, J. (2015). Sharing Cities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Ostrom, E. (2006). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. 

Schwarz, M. (2016). A Sustainist Lexicon: Seven Entries to Recast the Future—Rethinking Design and Heritage. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Architectura & Natura Press. 

Stavrides, S. (2014). On Urban Commoning: The City Shapes Institutions of Sharing. In F. Ferguson (ed.), Make_Shift City: Renegotiating the Urban Commons. Berlin, Germany: Jovis, pp. 83-85. 

Stavrides, S. (2016). Common Space: The City as Commons. London, UK: Zed Books.


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Architecture as Systems Design & Innovation Design Discipline.

Christos Chantzaras

Talking about architecture can be in broad terms divided in talking about buildings and talking about processes. Focusing on the latter, architecture is a way of thinking and looking at things, people, spaces and interactions, which is close to systems design. In 2015, Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, stated that “architectural education is the best systems design education in the world.” In regard of Russel Ackoff, who graduated first in architecture before turning to operation research, the question arises, what exactly are these skills, that architecture and architectural education have in common with systems design, and what distinguishes them.

The paper proposal and talk is a first approach to clarify similarities and differences by reviewing the architectural programming method. The method is seen as medium through which the skills of architects as designer of systems are becoming visible, recognizable and comparable. The talk during the RSD 6 Symposium will give a brief look back on the history, principles and application of architectural programming and outline its relevance for defining a new approach of architectural design thinking. As management tools and methods, coming from decisions attitude, a are reaching limits in dealing with rising complexity, uncertainty and alternative thinking, architectural programming can provide a bridge towards the design attitude in developing new systems of organizations and innovation processes bringing the skills of architects (as abstracting complex socio-technical systems, understanding context and interrelations, applying non-linear thinking for handling wicked-problems and the ability for synthesis) into the decision zone of management tasks.

Regarded as „research and decision-making process that defines the problem to be solved by design” architectural programming integrates elements of scientific research, project management and architectural thinking. Considering its basic principle to separate solution from problem and extensively examine context, content and complexity of a (building) project, it can be viewed as predecessor to the nowadays commonly applied Design Thinking method.

Selected projects from practice will be presented, along with student’s works and workshops, resulting from a newly created initiative on Architectural Entrepreneurship at the TUM Department of Architecture. The question of how to raise awareness for architecture as “Systems Design & Innovation Design Discipline” will opened for discussion during the RSD 6 symposium, as well as, what further steps may be appropriate for an integration into architectural education.


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