Ecological Design for Dynamic Systems: Landscape Architecture’s Conjunction with Complexity Theory

Robert Mugerauer, Dean Emeritus, University of Washington, Departments of Architecture, Urban Design and Planning, and adjunct in Landscape Architecture. Box 355740, Seattle, Washington 98195 5740, U.S.A. Phone: +1-206-324-7946

Kuei-Hsien Liao, Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore, Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment, 4 Architecture Drive, Singapore 117566 Phone: +65 6516-3532

Ecological design adequate to help resolve current social-environmental problems will have to engage organisms, ecosystems, and cities as far-from-equilibrium, open, self-organizing systems. Because these systems are inherently dynamic, with elements co-constituting one another, the goal of ecological design should not be a specific condition or end state. Rather, the entire network of processes, especially the positive feedback loops from which a given system’s self-organizing capacity emerges, needs to be maintained. Thus, the task of fully ecological design is to avoid interrupting or impairing a system’s ability to maintain or transform itself; or, as is increasingly necessary, enhancing or helping restore damaged ecosystem dynamics. Thankfully, landscape architecture and allied design disciplines and practices are developing greater capacity to facilitate dynamic adaptive processes—substantially contributing to a transition from a first to a second phase of ecological design that operationalizes the new paradigm of complexity theory. In order to continue the transformation we need to make explicit and integrate the fundamental dimensions of this shift and the implications for design. To present a clear description and analysis that also emphasizes the actual physical changes that make an ecological difference the essay uses examples concerning hydrologic flow regime and flooding.

Keywords: Ecological design, complexity theory, dynamic systems, self-organization, adaptive processes, hydrologic flow regime, flooding.

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