AGATHÓN | DEALING WITH COMPLEXITY | Knowledge, design, and management of the built environment


Architecture Civil Engineering Urban Studies & Planning Complex Systems

CALL FOR PAPERS N. 16 | 2024

DEALING WITH COMPLEXITY | Knowledge, design, and management of the built environment

abstract submission deadline  |  July 7, 2024

The International Scientific Committee, for AGATHÓN no. 16 | 2024, which will be published in December, proposed the theme Dealing with Complexity | Knowledge, design and management of the built environment.

Complexity (from the Latin verb ‘plectere’ = to weave, ‘cum’ = together) is a condition in which many elements intertwine together to form a unit. Various definitions can be found in the scientific field: in the volume Complexity – A Guide Tour, Melanie Mitchell (2021) explains complexity by arguing that when faced with defining something that one does not know, one defines it as something unknown and over which they have no control; George E. Mobus and Michael C. Kalton (2015), in Principles of System Science, define complex systems as nonlinear – and therefore reticular – systems made up of parts, nodes, lines, and interactions that connect them according to logics that are not always known and sometimes privileging certain relationships over others; Ceruti and Bardi (2021) argue that complexity – as well as that which is complex – cannot be simplified, and that one of the characteristics of complex systems relates to the fact that they are not entirely predictable, and finally that their governance and control are important because failure to understand complex systems makes it impossible to manage them. Federico Butera (2021), in his volume Affrontare la Complessità (lit. Dealing with Complexity), through a broad vision and exhaustive data, portrays the particular condition in which our Planet finds itself: although mainly informative, the volume is based on the results of scientific research conducted by International Organizations and academics to restore a profoundly complex reality in which climatic and environmental phenomena affect human and social ones, and vice versa (Fioramonti, 2021) and reveal how the biosphere is governed by a system of multidimensional relationships and interconnections, for which even small changes in a specific context determine chain reactions in different spheres, affecting both nature and human beings on a global scale.

If in the past man was one of the many factors that modified the ecosystem, today anthropogenic activity is considered one of the main causes of climate change and the rise in land and sea temperatures, to such an extent that the era in which we live has been named Anthropocene (Crutzen and Stoermer, 2000): since the second half of the century, human activities and progress (scientific and technological) have produced tangible and exponentially accelerated effects on the biosphere, on the one hand making the balance of its ecosystem precarious, on the other affecting security, health, well-being as well as the availability of goods and livelihoods of its inhabitants (Meadows et alii, 1972; Apreda, D’Ambrosio and Di Martino, 2019). The ‘complexity’ of the Planet’s condition is evident: climate change, according to Amitav Ghosh (2017), is not a danger in itself, but rather represents a ‘threat multiplier’ that stresses and amplifies the instability and insecurity already present in some areas of the world, even more so because many industrialized countries have already greatly exceeded their relative ‘biocapacity’ (Beyers and Wackernagel, 2019), effectively becoming ‘ecological creditors’ (Świąder et alii, 2020). Thomas L. Friedman (2016) also notes how the condition in which we find ourselves is ‘complex’ and in continuous and exponential evolution: the Planet we inhabit will be very different from the one we know as early as 2030 because it is subject to the three ‘forces’ of Moore’s Law with ‘technology’, the Market with ‘globalization’, and Mother Nature with ‘climate change and biodiversity loss’ all pressing simultaneously on the biosphere.

In this view, ‘complex’ should be brought back to its etymological meaning of ‘woven’ or ‘held together’, connecting different forms of knowledge in the virtuous circle of a body of knowledge articulated in a systemic view of the real world based on the principle of ‘co-evolution’ of social and ecological systems (of culture and nature) and the awareness that it determines; on the one hand, the interweaving of multiple causal chains (e.g., although the pandemic crisis is a health crisis it has also become a biological, ecological, economic, social, cultural and spiritual crisis) with interdependent effects, and on the other hand, effects that also retroact on causes since causality is circular (Bateson, 1979). According to Ceruti and Bardi (2021), unfortunately, it isn’t easy to translate this vision into the workings of everyday life and to guide both the observation of the world and the project, which is an expression of our being in the world. 

How we live, regardless of where this happens, has an impact on the biosphere and determines chain reactions in different areas that affect both nature and human beings on a global scale: climate change, health risks, loss of biodiversity, indiscriminate use of non-renewable resources, inequalities, and accessibility contribute to a condition of ‘polycrysis’ Morin (2020) that amplifies the state of uncertainty about our future and the vulnerability of the entire ecosystem, especially since the actions put in place do not address the cogent environmental issue in a systemic and holistic key.

Therefore, the question is, how to transform complexity from challenge to opportunity? How to deal with the complex issues that concern the knowledge, the design, and the management of the built compared to the now essential pragmatic indicators of environmental, social, and economic sustainability? Which strategies, measures, actions, and tools can Architecture disciplines implement in a holistic view and with a systems approach to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement (UN, 2015a)? How to identify those with the best cost/benefit ratio, capable of producing synergies for the achievement of the largest possible number of the Sustainable Development Goals promoted by the United Nations (UN, 2015b)? How to rethink extractive (production-based) economic systems and direct them toward regenerative ones (based on the enhancement of that which already exists and of services)? How to put into practice new systemic design approaches capable of addressing today’s complexities from their roots, developing solutions through which entire societies can intentionally transition to a more sustainable, equitable, and desirable long-term future, including through co-created visions capable of informing the solutions of the present and paving the way to a desirable future (Tonkinwise, 2015)? How to place knowledge and learning into a system to better understand the multidimensional, fundamental, and global issues of the current era in their irreducible complexity?

Based on these reflections, AGATHÓN, in addressing the disciplinary areas of Landscape, Urban Planning, Architectural and Urban Composition, Engineering, Architectural Technology, Design, Restoration and Recovery, and Representation, proposes the theme Dealing with Complexity | Knowledge, design and management of the built environment, with the aim of nurturing an open discussion through the collection of essays and critical reflections, research and experiments, projects and interventions, exclusively of a multidisciplinary and multiscalar nature, innovative and sustainable, addressing issues such as, but not limited to:

• holistic and systemic approach;

• multidisciplinarity and spatial and temporal multiscalarity;

• relationship between ‘sufficiency’ and ‘growth’, between environmental protection and well-being;

• symbiosis between nature and artifice;

• sustainable development, urban regeneration, and climate change mitigation and adaptation;

• synergies and compromises between the different SDGs;

• synergies and compromises between ecological, energy, and digital transitions;

• globalization and glocalization;

• new systems, forms of living, and public space (types and typologies, passive solutions, flexibility of use, mixed-use, accessibility, land use, albedo, space quality, etc.);

• new systems and forms of urban agricultural production (community, horizontal and vertical), and relationships between built, food production, energy, water, waste, biodiversity, sales and consumption, environment, ecosystem, and technologies in a logic of circular urban metabolism;

• new systems and forms of mass and customized industrial production;

• new forms of product/service/system for users (from ownership to sharing; experience design; timelines; touchpoints, gamification, etc.);

• digital tools and technologies for capturing and analysing big data and open-access digital platforms for sharing and managing data across the entire built life cycle (from landscape to small-scale artefact);

• integration and implementation of digital tools for contextual knowledge, project modelling and simulation, and built environment management (e.g., with the integration into Digital Twins of data collected in real-time from sensors);

• integration between life cycle assessment (LCA), ecosystem services assessment (ESA) and environmental risk assessment (ERA/VIA) tools;

• interaction between physical and virtual space (virtual reality, augmented reality, ‘geotagging’, ‘location-based’ advertising, etc.);

• tools, methods and languages of biophilic and ecological design amid performativity, aesthetics of the natural and communication, beyond ‘greenwashing’ (formal, perceptual, symbolic aspects);

• optimization and advanced process management (design, production, product, service, end-of-life, reuse/recycling), non-renewable resources and scrap/waste, for the implementation of sustainable and traceable product life cycles and the energy efficiency of the built environment;

• efficiency and circularity in the use of resources (zero-waste, value chain, urban mining, material bank, bio-material, re-manufacturing, recycling, up-cycling, design for disassembly/durability/flexibility, etc);

• digital manufacturing for the production of sustainable artefacts, products and materials (3D, 4D, 5D) at both large and small scales, also through nano- and biotechnologies;

• …….