Autumn 2022

Systems Thinking in the Age of Transition
Elena Cogato Lanza, Anna Pagani

The course introduces students to the use of the notion of system to trigger and guide radical changes of the territory and cities. This use can be conceptual as well as instrumental; it can intervene in the diagnostic or in the prospective phases, and involve a number of disciplines.

Within this framework, the course provides an overview of the way a system approach has been operationalized by two different disciplinary and scientific traditions: the territorial project, and systems science. The starting point is the injunction to the use of systems thinking formulated in the book The Limits to Growth (1972), which identifies most of the current global crisis dynamics. The release of the third update, 50 years later, provides the setting for a review of the simulated scenarios and the models on which they are based.

Through the lenses of the territorial project, three sessions are devoted to three major themes addressed as systems: (i) green spaces / park system; (ii) mobility / the exit from Automobility; (iii) / territory as an ecosystem / agro-food system.
Through the lenses of systems science, a one-and-a-half-days session combines lectures and workshop addressing complementary chapters, ranging from systems and their dynamics to human-environment interactions (i.e. socio-ecological systems, urban systems, urban metabolism). Overall, the course is a platform for experimentation ; it explores existing convergences and bridges to be built between a systemic discourse and the tools of spatial design in the age of transition.


– The students use systems thinking to identify issues in the context of their fall semester project, set goals for their interventions, and critically reflect upon the interrelated effects of their designs of the transition

– They are expected to include a Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) into their project; the map evolves in parallel to the increased knowledge of the context that they’re designing in

– At the end of the course, they hand in a report of 2-3 pages introducing the CLD and describing how and the extent to which systems thinking supported them in framing their urban designs and acting upon it