Living Systems Collaboratory

In the Living Systems Art + Design Collaboratory, a cohort of student artists and designers is being selected to develop 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.

Application Deadline: Wed Oct 14

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Everything is a System

Applicants are invited to respond 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 Design Lab (EMD) 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 Living Systems Art + Design Collaboratory cycle spans approximately four months, structured in three phases as outlined below. During each phase, creators receive financial support linked to their progress. The application deadline for the current cycle is Wed Oct 14, 2020.


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 EMD. 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 EMD. 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.

Application Process


To apply for participation in the Living Systems Art + Design Collaboratory, you must be a member of the DSS or a current student at UC Irvine. We encourage creators with a passion for systems orientation to apply. Selected collaboratory participants will receive financial support for each stage of their project. Creators working in all forms are welcome to apply. It's a plus if you're an artist and/or designer working in any visual medium: film, 2D, 3D, 4D, data visualization, etc.


As part of your application for the collaboratory, you'll submit a brief overview of your idea for a project responding to some aspect of how living systems approaches can help make a world that works for all life. If you already are working on a relevant project, please share the concept and current status. Or if your project concept is brand new, please share your ideas so far.

Application Deadline: Wed Oct 14

  • Applicants are invited to respond to some of these topics in your proposals:
  • Developing a deeper understanding of living systems, including linear and non-linear systems and the evolutionary ramifications of each
  • Is the universe a living system? Is it linear or non-linear or both?
  • Synergetics: the empirical study of systems in transformation, with an emphasis on total system behavior unpredicted by the behavior of any isolated components, including humanity's role as both participant and observer
  • What are the components of the living universe? Are we able to understand and replicate its highly complex functions using the least amount of complexity?
  • All members of nonlinear networks implement their assets in cooperation and partnership to achieve the long-term goals of the whole network, creating a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts
  • Human self-consciousness and the development of linear, analytical thinking and linear perception
  • The Digital Age as a nonlinear example -- how is it transforming how we think?
  • What can we learn from the Internet as a self-sustainable network? What is there to learn and mimic to apply it to the sustainability of the human network?
  • The human body as living systems metaphor: looking inwards to understand what’s outside
  • How might the Internet as a self-sustainable network provide guidelines for the process of sustainability in the human network?


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.