SYSTEMS THINKING – 23 -Design Implementation Processes

Post 25 -by Gautam Shah


Systems : When things come together to represent a working whole, it is for two reasons: 1 as realism, where things coexist on a location (space) or are concurrent for an occasion (time); 2 as an abstract web of inter-connectivity or interdependency of things. Eberhardt Rechtin, defines a system as: “a collection of elements which, interrelated and working together, creates useful results which no part of the elements can create separately”. In both the cases things interpolate to manifest a system. The interpolation could be due to proximity, some commonality or complete suffusion.

Sub systems embedded in a larger system (in ADSL Modem/router) Image by Mike1024 on en.wikipedia

Simple and Complex systems : Simple systems are holistic and so balanced or with thermodynamic equilibrium due to little interference from external environment. Compared to this complex systems, affected by many external energies are continuously varying. Complex systems often seem boundless, nested and are effusive. Simple systems have definitive edges, and are like small buildings, newspaper or a computer programme. Complex systems have diffused boundaries due to convergence of other systems. Complex systems are such as our own body, city administration or internet. Nature’s systems are very extensively spread reaching to infinity, and include atmosphere, planetary or food chains.

Earth Water and Air > Edge less -convergent systems (Aarde water en lucht) > Flickr image by Rookuzz

Systems’ Edges : Systems, be they real, virtual or hypothetical, are all defined by their edge conditions. The edges, when are break-less, create a holistic or closed ended entity. But with nodes or the breaches an open-ended system comes into being (a node= nodus -Latin = knot is either a connection, point of joint, a redistribution point, an end or terminal point). A hypothetical or abstract one is completely suffused and so is omnipresent.

Green House -a nature’s system with edges > Pixabay image by Mariamichelle

Designed and Natural Systems : In a designed (intentional) system nearly all sub units have a purpose of their in being with the others. In designed systems the sub units are selected, prepared, modified, manufactured, for being together in a particular format. In a complex system only a few sub units are relevant to other units. Here some sub units occasionally and due to their position remain latent. Natural systems are usually large and complex. Here the sub units do not reveal themselves, unless their order is probed.

A complex system is one that by design or function or both is difficult to understand and verify’ (Weng, Bhalla and Iyengar).

Respiratory System > Wikipedia image by LadyofHats

Familiar Systems of Buildings, Furniture, etc. : Systems in buildings occur both as holistic and components systems. Buildings show convergence of many different systems such as environmental, structural, openings, barricading, etc. Furniture systems emerge due to frequent resetting of arrangement and reassignment of functions. Furniture systems are apparent on count of modularity, utility, typology, styling etc.

Mechanical, Electrical Plumbing MEP systems of services as a comprehensive system in a building > Wikipedia image by Eric T Gunther

Building as a system : Traditional building systems are simpler because the components are individually dealt, drawn, built and serviced. This makes it easier to deal with them in different time, space and by different agencies. Buildings have to operate in a larger context, and so nodes, boundaries, edges, connectivity, modularity, are inevitable. Buildings with very large footprints and strong community concerns have this imprint. But buildings conceived for the sake of systematization are strongly disciplined bound and often sited anywhere, irrespective of climate, orientation, location or terrain.

Base of 30 St Mary Axe, London UK Diagrid > Wikipedia image by Arpingstone

Architectural Systems

Good architecture may be viewed as a ‘partitioning scheme,’ or algorithms, which partitions all of the system’s present and foreseeable requirements into a workable set of cleanly bounded subsystems with nothing left over. It is a partitioning scheme which is exclusive, inclusive, and exhaustive. A major purpose of the partitioning is to arrange the elements in the sub systems so that there is a minimum of interdependencies needed among them’.

The need for complexity in building system occurs due to the pursuit of the unusual. To conceive a system that is complex yet fully integrated requires multi-disciplinary approach. For complex building external experts arrive to offer solutions but without comprehension of the totality’.

Pre-cast panels’ construction > Flickr Image

Systems approach in building Design :

‘Modular design, or ‘modularity in design’, is a design approach that subdivides a system into smaller parts called modules or skids, which can be independently created and then used in different systems. A modular system can be characterized by functional partitioning into discrete scalable, reusable modules, rigorous use of well-defined modular interfaces, and making use of industry standards for interfaces’.

Biomimicry is one such order that is subsumed in buildings. Complex systems often exhibit hysteresis, a phenomenon in which the reaction of the system to changes is dependent upon its past reactions to change. (Hysteresis = history affects the value of an internal state). This sort of memory retention or recollection (such as of previous exposure to magnetism is the working principle in audio tape and hard disk devices or recovery from complicated deformations in the state of substances) is just one facet of system behaviour. It is sought to be seen as simplistic and stand-alone hysteresis.

Systems Thinking : Systems thinking concept began to emerge post 1920s. It began from realization that small catalytic events occurring in different time and space, cause significant change in complex system. Often identification of such scarce events helps to acknowledge existence and scale of the larger domain. Systems thinking recognize circular causation or iteration, where a variable is both the cause and the effect of another. It accepts the nonlinear and organic interrelationships between things.

Traffic is a nonlinear problem with organic relationships > Ho Chi Minh city Vietnam > Wikipedia image by Lars Curfs (Grashoofd)

Systems Engineering : Systems Engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of integrated or holistic systems. It starts very early, usually precedes the planning or concept design stage. It combines the contribution of all technologies, circumstances and human expertise. At another level it considers the business and its various needs like finance, logistics and marketing into one larger perspective.

Red Fort Plan (before 1857) New Delhi, > Wikipedia image by Goran tek-en

 Systems thinking in Design : Designers see the space design as bubbles or doodles of function modules, each recognized with non-material barriers, and of proportional extent. This is a mental process and manual expression, of the intents. It needs conversion to a scaled layout, and workshop or site details. To carry on the original essence of design through dimensioning, material definitions, styling, etc. and more importantly for confirmation by all stack holders is a difficult endeavour. Only clarity that comes through is delineation of space delimiting barriers and space servicing elements. The elements that form these two categories are mutually not exclusive, so a cohesive system without gaps, overlaps or repetition must occur.

Leonardo, the Italian Space Agency -built multipurpose Logistics module for space station > Wikipedia image by NASA

Types of Systems : Systems have different connotations depending on who considers it such as people concerned with buildings, architects, interior designers, structural engineers, builders, promoters and occupants. To compound the problem, many different ideologies from other fields are being implicated here. Some of these include: Components and Systems approach, Holistic or Unified approach, Prefabrication and Modular coordination, Dimensional coordination, Dimensional preferences, System building, Industrialized building, etc.

Openness translates into a synergy for collaborative working. Open systems have mass and energy transition across the edges, such as water pond, building or earth’s atmosphere. Closed systems are like the balloon, little transfer for mass, exchange energy across the border. A system is called an isolated or insulated system when it is not dependent on exchange of mass or energy. Some take the classification further, meaning, a self-sufficient system is one, which subsists on its own enthalpy.

Open ended System > Richard and Goddard Buildings Uni of Pennsylvania campus by Louis Kahn (1957-61)

Open-ended Systems : In open-ended systems, components designed or manufactured by different vendors are used. The success of such a system depends on the adaptation of measures, standards for materials and codes for procedures. Open-ended systems are wasteful because of the built in reserves or additional capacities. The built in capacities in the open-ended systems do facilitate future replacements, improvisations and up-gradations. Open-ended systems generally result from mature and multi trial endeavours. Where large number of people are involved in design and execution and where these processes are likely to take place in different time spans, the system automatically becomes open ended. Open-ended systems are also called ‘open architecture entities’.

The Parthenon -acropolis Greece > a closed ended system > Flickr image by Sam valadi

Closed-ended Systems : In a closed ended system the components are not interchangeable or replaceable. Components designed for a particular situation are neither usable nor adoptable in another situation. Closed systems are very wholesome or compact compared with open systems. Later usually have a skeletons types frames structures (infrastructure) and are loosely held. Closed systems are rigid and not easily improvisable, whereas open systems allow up-gradation. Closed ended system being compact, have no redundancy. Closed ended system become totally useless with even minor changes in their environment or working. Close ended systems generally result from first ever (prime) or unique creative effort. Spontaneous and one man creation tends to be closed system, unless a conscious effort is made to make it an open system. Closed-ended systems are also called ‘proprietary systems’.




Published by

Gautam Shah

Former adjunct faculty, Faculty of Design CEPT University, Ahmedabad and Consultant Designer

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