Living Systems Collaboratory

In the Living Systems Art + Design Collaboratory, a cohort of student artists and designers is developing creative projects that aid people in perceiving the biological, social, ecological, philosophical, spiritual, mathematical, political and technological dimensions of life as a unified whole, inspired by living systems, and considering both nonlinear and linear relationships.

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Everything is a System

Collaboraory participants are responding to this year's collaboratory theme: "everything is a system."

Systems philosophy helps us to understand that humans occupy a self-organizing living system (our planet) with an inherent capability to sustain life. Living systems are cognitive entities with an inherent tendency to structure themselves in nonlinear network patterns capable of performing highly complex functions with minimum effort.

Observations suggest that people tend toward two different perceptions; linear and nonlinear thinking. There is a deeper simplicity within the living world. Human beings are an interconnected and inseparable part of this nonlinear living system, but too often we employ linear thinking strategies that risk making the human network unsustainable.

The nonlinear nature of the digital era is an indication of the emergence of the planet's ongoing processes of self-organizing and self-awareness. For humanity to synchronize with this process we must simply look to systems theory and network theory (which provide the essential and universal behavioral patterns of living systems) as guidelines for harmonious and creative participation with our living planet.

About the Collaboratory

UC Irvine's Emergent Media Research Group (EMRG) is partnering with the Design Science Studio (DSS), a program of the Buckminster Fuller Institute and habRitual, to operate the Living Systems Art + Design Collaboratory. DSS is an educational incubator for art that explores Buckminster Fuller’s principles of Design Science to propel us into a regenerative future, based on a curriculum that introduces the system view of nature that Bucky cultivated and spotlights creative applications to spark and enrich ideation, followed by a collaborative development period that initiates community-building with other creators, sharing knowledge and ideas about Fuller’s principles and Design Science, and supporting each other in the creative process. The program will culminates in a series of digital showcases. Buckminster Fuller was inspired by nature, and we currently know more about living systems than we ever have. Through creative expression, members of the DSS co-create in service of a world that works “for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone”.

The current Living Systems Art + Design Collaboratory cycle spans approximately four months from November 2020 through March 2021, structured in three phases as outlined below. During each phase, creators receive financial support linked to their progress.


In the Incubator phase, creators develop their initial proposal into a proof-of-concept prototype, Working within an iterative design framework facilitated by DSS and EMRG. Creators receive a start-up financial award upon acceptance.


In the Development phase, selected Incubator projects are supported for further exploration and development into fully-realized form, again mentored by DSS and EMRG. Creators selected for this phase receive an additional financial award.


In the Presentation phase, completed projects from the Development phase are polished for online public presentation. Creators selected for this phase receive an additional financial award linked to the public exhibition of their project.


As Buckminster Fuller reminded us, we live in an “eternally regenerative Universe.” Living systems are regenerative by nature. A design scientist taps into the regenerative capability of ecosystems to discover elegant solutions. Regenerative design offers a framework in which humans are part of a larger, living whole. Regenerative development is a process that focuses on the ability of human beings to co-evolve with nature so that our planetary home continues to express its potential for diversity, complexity and creativity. When we understand the principles of regeneration, we celebrate life.