Course syllabus


ACE445 Design systems lp3 VT24 (10 hp)

Course is offered by the department of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Contact details


Ioanna Stavroulaki, 


Ioanna Stavroulaki, 

Lars Marcus,

Meta Berghauser Pont,


Ioanna Stavroulaki, 

Evgeniya Bobkova,

Student representatives

MPDSD      Helge Berntsson
MPDSD       Bijia Li
MPARC    Karla Patricia Olvera Covarrubias
MPARC        Ani Tsikoridze

MPDSD Tove Sofia Carolina Källander

Course purpose

The course purpose is to introduce system thinking in the design process and provide the theoretical, conceptual, and methodological tools to apply system thinking in a design context.  As stated by UNESCO (2017), system thinking is one of the key competencies for sustainability, crucial for the achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals. Systems thinking competency is described as “the abilities to recognize and understand relationships; to analyse complex systems; to think of how systems are embedded within different domains and different scales; and to deal with uncertainty.” (UNESCO, 2017, Education for Sustainable Development Goals: learning objectives)

In line with that statement, the focus of the course shifts from describing cities, neighbourhoods, and buildings as areas, as blocks, as objects, as geometries, to describing them as systems, as networks of relations. The design focus of the course shifts as well from designing areas, objects, geometries, and forms to designing spatial structures and shaping systems. The course aims to help students to gain a deeper understanding of the concept of 'location' in all scales from a system perspective, to distinguish between local and contextual qualities and to make informed estimations of potential system effects. It also aims to train students to reflect on their own design work from a system perspective and guide them in intentionally applying system thinking in their design process




Course literature

The compulsory and elective literature will be included in the Course description (PDF)


Buildings, neighborhoods and cities are besides local things, especially elements in intertwined urban systems. To understand them we need to understand the systems they are part of and their position within them. There are different urban systems - some physical networks (for example mobility systems, roads, railways, green and blue infrastructures) and some immaterialnetworks, for example social, information or economic networks. We will focus on the spatial networks, because these are the ones that are more directly influenced by architects and urban designers. The immaterial networks, such as social networks, interaction or collaboration networks, economic networks and clusters are also related and indirectly influenced by the spatial networks, and we will comment on that two-way relation during the course.

Besides always being part of larger systems, cities, neighborhoods, and buildings construct their internal spatial networks and configurations by way of their own spatial layouts and organizations, be it the layout of streets in a neighborhood, the layout of rooms in a building, and so on. In other words, a building is at the same time conditioned by the urban systems due to its location and conditioning each room by the internal spatial organisation.

In the course the focus shifts from describing cities, neighbourhoods, and buildings as areas, as blocks, as objects, as geometries, to describing them as systems, as networks of relations. The design focus of the course shifts as well from designing areas, objects, geometries, and forms to designing spatial structures and shaping systems.

Within each spatial system, places (e.g. rooms, buildings, blocks, neighbourhoods, cities) as locations, have a different role to play. Different conditions, potentials and challenges arise from their relative position within the network, from the relation of each location to all other locations. How connected every location is to all other locations, makes it more or less central, more or less accessible, more or less integrated or segregated in the system, more or less visible or hidden. In other words, the network of relations creates hierarchies between locations.

This fundamental system perspective applies to all scales of spatial design. Systems and networks are inherently multiscalar and so are system effects. They can be found in all scales.

One of the greatest systems effects especially important for architects and urban designers is the structuring of movement, co-presence and social encounter in all scales of building and urban space. We will focus on these system effects in particular, as they have deep implications for social sustainability, driving a lot of urban processes as the development of local markets, or socio-spatial segregation, but also for the social relations and social networks constructed and for shaping human behavior in space and spatial experience.

Course design

The course is explorative and uses research-by-design to investigate how system thinking can be introduced in the design process and be applied in a design context. The course consists of lectures, seminars, workshops, design exercises and reflective texts, through which relevant theories and methods are presented, tested, discussed and applied.

The course consists of two related parts. The first part will explore system thinking and design in 3 different scales; city scale, neighborhood scale, building scale. Concepts will be introduced and discussed in spatial terms to enable design explorations.

Students in group assignments will take the same design-analysis loop iteration:

  • Identify/describe the network. Distinguish between local qualities and contextual qualities
  • Analyze the network using easy methods and tools
  • Intervene and change the network through design actions
  • Reflect on the system effects of the design interventions

The second part is an individual project that develops through individual assignments. Each student will choose an earlier design project of any scale to use as a case study for the individual project. The aim is to apply the concepts and methods introduced in the first part on a relevant and familiar project to allow for deep personal reflections and adaptation of system thinking in each student’s design process.

During the individual projects peer feedback will complement the teachers’ supervision.

Changes made since the last occasion

This is a new 10hp course that is based on a former 4.5hp course (ARK178 Design Systems). The added elements mainly include an individual project (Architectural design project 7.5 c), digital tools laboratories and peer-feedback sessions.  

Learning objectives and syllabus

Knowledge and understanding

1. Demonstrate the understanding of system thinking and its relevance for architecture and urban design within the sustainable development agenda
2. Describe relative location in multiple scales and distinguish between local and contextual qualities, and system effects.

Competence and skills

3. Analyse accessibility, proximity, visibility and centrality using Space Syntax descriptive-analytic methodology in multiple scales
4. Discuss patterns of co-presence, movement, social encounter and interaction, spatial inequality, and social exclusion as system effects of spatial structures related to social sustainability
5. Apply system thinking in a design context and purposefully design and re-design spatial systems and structures

Judgement and approach

6. Assess a design work from a systems perspective and make informed estimations of potential system effects in relation to social sustainability

Link to the syllabus on Studieportalen.

Study plan

Examination form

For the first 3-week module, each week is concluded with a group presentation of the week's exercises. At the end of the 3-week module, a report is compiled from each student group including the results of the weekly exercises.

The individual project concludes with a final presentation and report. The contents of the final presentation and report are described in the Course Description (PDF).

The grade is a weighted average of the following aspects:

  1. Group assignments, including weekly presentations and final report concluding the 3-week module (40%)
  2. Individual assignments, including final presentation and report concluding the individual project (40%)
  3. Oral peer feedback to 2 other individual projects (15%)
  4. Active participation with discussion points in seminars (5%)
  5. Attendance: less than 70% attendance pulls down the grade

The course examiner may assess individual students in other ways than what is stated above if there are special reasons for doing so, for example if a student has a decision from Chalmers on educational support due to disability.

Course summary:

Date Details Due