The idea of system

The idea of system, widespread in the scientific world, has a chance of being implemented even in architecture. It is worth highlighting some basic points that have provided suggestions for subsequent considerations contained in this paper. The famous book Uncommon Wisdom by Fritjof Capra  tells of important meetings with important members of the worlds of physics, biology, psychology, economics, politics and culture of the 1900s, that the author, a former “flower child”, had when travelling to every corner of the globe. However, it is in another book, The Turning Point, that Capra develops the scientific content discussed in those meetings, such as the studies of the American physicist Geoffrey Chew (1924). In contrast with the “quantum field theory”, Chew launches in 1961 the manifesto of the “S-matrix theory”. The central core of this theory is the “bootstrap” concept that indicates a system of “self-consistent” relations between elementary particles. In this perspective, a particle is no longer an entity ontologically determined in absolute terms but is defined only in terms of its relations with the entire corpus of all the others. Despite the new theory having been surpassed by further developments and experimental confirmation of quantum field theory, its influence on the construction of the contemporary world was notable.

According to the bootstrap theory, Capra argues that “nature” is not understood as a composition of elementary entities with certain basic properties, but rather as a dynamic fabric of interconnected events in which no part is more important than another. The reduction of nature to elementary components comes from Greek philosophy, which is dominated by the dualism of spirit/matter, while the conception of the universe as a dynamic fabric of relations is typical of Eastern thought and has always fascinated Capra, leading him to write his most famous book, The Tao of Physics. The theory of Chew is a philosophy of the “canvas”, “network”, a philosophy based, therefore, on a structure of relationships. In fact, the bootstrap theory is very close to a general systems theory. It insists on relationships rather than isolated entities and, as the vision of systems theory, it perceive these relationships as inherently dynamic. All that the worlds of science, culture and art produce, can and should flow into the world of design, periodically triggering the crisis of its doctrinaire systems, allowing fresh air to enter into the closed rooms of the disciplinary apparatus. If it were possible to apply the concept of network and system to architecture, it would be possible to get nearer to the essence of historic centers, for which the phrase “urban fabric” has been coined.

It is worth considering cities like Siena or Palombara Sabina, 10th century historic centre, as well as the very different Corricella, an ancient fishing village on the island of Procida, “architecture without architects” that developed over time. It is easy to see that the chorus of these centres is not the result of a mortification of formal pluralism and that the differences do not affect the substantial unity of the buildings. These three paradigmatic examples could also include some of the considerations made by Gregory Bateson [5], dealt with in the books by Capra and summarized in the imperative “to shift the focus from objects to relationships”. Perhaps the Middle Ages, is therefore the most modern era of our time? Perhaps the way of designing and building in the past, even with the construction of towers, cathedrals and ducal palaces, anticipated a “systemic” vision that is more advanced than what, in the globalized universe, we are able to produce today? It is not a question of construction methods, functions, architectural language, but of ability to see the land as a living network within which to create a dialogue with a new architectural intervention or a simple re-use of an existing building, such as in Procida.

An example of how to apply systems thinking to contemporary architectural design and what the transition from objects “architectonic” relationships could mean is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art by Steven Holl in Kansas City [6], the United States, completed in 2007. The project consists of five interconnected structures as opposed to a single large existing building. The five buildings give rise to new spaces and new points of view. Steven Holl fused architecture, art and landscape into a unified experience. The project was part of a larger project that led to the annexation of more than 15 thousand square meters of new exhibition space to expand the old structure, expanding the “Sculpture Park” as well as a new exhibition of the permanent collections. “The annexation – said Steven Holl – does not translate into an object: we envisioned a new model that fuses architecture and landscape. In contrast to the stone building, the lightness of the new architecture in glass lens meets the surrounding landscape that takes form in the sculpture garden”. It was as if Steven Holl wanted to renounce an architecture of individualism in favour of the idea of fabric between new buildings, old buildings, art and landscape, focusing on the design tension of the interconnections rather than on individual buildings, simple translucent glass blocks.

This is obviously just an example of how architecture can buy sobriety, without losing in creativity. Designing architectures as systems, rather than an alternative absolute to traditional design, stands as one of the possible ways to give new meaning, new features and new resources to the many empty and uninhabited buildings located in the rural Italian countryside that is crossed by highways, as well as to historic buildings located in small towns that are unmanageable due to their size, and entire ghost towns, with no inhabitants. A design that repairs the wounds inflicted on the territory, which heals wounds. Italy, unfortunately, bears all the hallmarks of this devastation. Nowadays, the discipline of Architecture of the Interior cannot only deal with the internal spaces of buildings and cities, but also the creation of new relationships “between architectural objects” existing within a system to be founded on its strategic and economic variations.


GAMBARDELLA C, SIEGEMUND J (2013). Smart communities and local company museums: two new concepts for the Mediterranean Museum System of Design and Applied Arts. In: HERITAGE ARCHITECTURE LANDESIGN focus on CONSERVATION REGENERATION INNOVATION Le vie dei Mercanti _ XI Forum Internazionale di Studi. p. 988-998, Napoli:La scuola di Pitagora editrice, ISBN: 978-88-6542-290-8, Aversa – Capri, 13/15 Giugno).