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Syllabus for

Academic year
ARK176 - Design systems
Syllabus adopted 2012-02-22 by Head of Programme (or corresponding)
Owner: MPDSD
7,5 Credits
Grading: TH - Five, Four, Three, Not passed
Education cycle: Second-cycle
Major subject: Architecture
Department: 55 - ARCHITECTURE

The current course round has limited places. Please contact the student centre.
Teaching language: English
Open for exchange students
Block schedule: X
Minimum participants: 15
Maximum participants: 20

Course module   Credit distribution   Examination dates
Sp1 Sp2 Sp3 Sp4 Summer course No Sp
0108 Written and oral assignments 7,5 c Grading: TH   7,5 c    

In programs



Bitr professor  Jaan-Henrik Kain


ARK175   Systemic design

Course evaluation:

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For single subject courses within Chalmers programmes the same eligibility requirements apply, as to the programme(s) that the course is part of.

Course specific prerequisites

Qualification for the master programme. Bachelor Degree or similar in Architecture, Architectural Engineering, Interior Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Design, Industrial Design, Technical Design, Spatial Planning, Civil Engineering. Participation in one of the parallel design studios ‘Reality Studio Kisumu at Lake Victoria, Kenya, part A & B’ or ‘Sustainable Building, part A & B’ (or agree with the examiner on special arrangements for assignment 2).


When working with sustainable urban development, sustainable building or sustainable design you are supposed to integrate a variety of parameters into a whole design. However, the content, functions and interdependencies of urban landscapes, built environments and artefacts - regardless of size - are becoming increasingly complex and difficult to grasp. They can be seen as a mix of hardware (physical stuff), software (control and information flows), orgware (rules and administration), finware (costs and financing), ecoware (environmental concerns), shareware (commons, collaboration and generosity) and other "wares" - not to forget attitude and good looks.

Although the design process, by some, is seen as a more or less intuitive activity, a structured approach to planning, architecture and design can be helpful to manage the abovementioned complexity. This course aims to introduce systems thinking as such a structured support to design work. It thus aims to introduce systems thinking and its relevance for design, architecture and planning work. The course will have the form of an explorative research into the world of systems thinking - to investigate, discuss and develop how systems can be turned into design, and vice versa.

Learning outcomes (after completion of the course the student should be able to)

1. Have a basic understanding of how to use different approaches to systems thinking in design, architecture or planning tasks.
2. Structure knowledge through systems thinking by using selected approaches in system diagrams and illustrations (Assignment 1).
3. Tentatively analyze and synthesize complex knowledge by employing systems thinking in design work, i.e., by combining and integrating different systems approaches (Assignments 2 and 3).
4. Qualify such analysis and synthesis by developing design criteria (Assignment 3)
5.Translate the analysis, synthesis and design criteria into draft design proposals, using systems thinking as language of communication and justification (Assignment 3).
6. Reflect critically on the usefulness and relevance of systems thinking for design, architecture and planning (Assignment 4).



  • Theory and methods in the field of systems thinking are presented in lectures, films and literature, as well as through workshops.

  • The compulsory literature is discussed at a seminar.

  • Three course assignments are carried out where the content of lectures, literature and workshops is turned into design practice.

  • Throughout the course the students are required - as a fourth assignment - to write reflections on what they encounter in the course and then summarize these thoughts into a 2-3 page essay disussing the use of systems thinking in the design process.


The course runs parallel with three MPDSD design studios: 'Reality Studio Kisumu', 'Architectural Conservation' and 'Sustainable Building', as well as with studios in MPARC/MPARE. Three interlinked assignments are running through the whole course, where a small but complex design task is dealt with by applying systems thinking in description, analysis and synthesis. The assignments are carried out in small groups (3-4 students). The course is divided into three parts:

Part one 'the basics' consists of introductory lectures, a film, and lectures/workshops in Giga Mapping and Systems Dynamics - all of these feeding into Assignment 1.

Part two 'complex systems' involves lectures/workshops addressing more complex systems with regard to analysis and identification of leverage points - all of these feeding into Assignment 2.

Part three 'design systems and reflection' shifts from lectures/workshops to intense group work intermingled with a literature seminar and films. Here, the outcomes of Assignments 1 and 2 are translated into a simple design program that qualifies identified leverage points by defining necessary design criteria. The systems of Assignments 1 and 2 are further developed, synthesized and turned into design proposals in Assignment 3. Assignment 4 (the reflection essay) will also be concluded in this period and is supported by a group discussion.


The compulsory literature will be discussed in a literature seminar.


To pass the course and receive a passing grade:

  • 80% attendance at lectures, workshops, literature seminar and presentations/cross-crits. If missed, the literature seminar and presentations/cross-crits has to be compensated (see below).

  • Active participation in workshops, literature seminar and group work

  • Course assignments of sufficient quality
    (i.e. that fulfil the course objectives and presentation requirements)

  • To submit assignments on the scheduled deadlines to have the possibility of receiving a higher grade than 3
    Criteria for grading (3, 4 or 5) are found in the Assessment and Grading table

Examiner: Jaan-Henrik Kain, 0730 - 38 70 60,

Page manager Published: Mon 28 Nov 2016.