From Holistic Thinking to Holistic Practice

Dec 2016 | Design for Society, Master's Projects

From Holistic Thinking to Holistic Practice: A Systems Oriented Design Approach for Copenhagen’s Cloudburst Adaptation

Sebatian Bovbjerg and Arild Midtbø Kalseth

Master’s thesis at the Aalborg University in Denmark with Copenhagen municipality as partner. SOD was central to this project.

Sustainable Design (M.SC) (Master’s Programme)


As climate change, technological development, and liveability requirements are putting local governments under pressure to deliver new holistic aspirations to our increasingly congested cities. Urban planners are facing the responsibility of managing accelerating complexity within rigid public governance systems. The city of Copenhagen has now developed visionary and extensive plans for tackling climate change effects in a new cloudburst management system, promoted to deliver innovative green-blue and recreational urban areas over the next 20 years. The road has, however, been a bumpy one so far, and our exploration of the field tells a story of a municipal system struggling to align administrative procedures and critical regulatory considerations to new hydraulic requirements. Following an ‘infrastructuring’ approach inspired by Actor Network Theory, we seek to experiment with new methods within the Systems Oriented Design field to address the challenges of collaboration across planning domains in the municipal system. In our approaches to aid the Technical administrations of Frederiksberg and Copenhagen Municipalities to navigate the increasing complexity of cloudburst management, we found that planning practices and how collaborative planning is currently facilitated present a need for systemic design capacity. To allow for a more whole systems approach to the wicked nature of intertwined urban planning problems, our research concludes that mapping out complexity in collaborative work sessions and presenting systemic relations more visually might be a way forward to address these wicked problems in a more holistic practice.