Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Larry Hirschhorn


This dissertation presents a systems concept of systems design. The author argues that modern design is trapped in an atomistic-holistic paradigm which has curtailed the major benefits promised by the systems approach to tackle the pressing problems of our time.

It is conjectured that the trouble lies in the lack of an appropriate interpretation of what it means to conceive something as a system. The fundamental notion underlying the, systems view of the world is the concept of whole. Nevertheless, to be able to “see,” describe, or design something as whole one must approach it as a unity rather than, as the atomistic-holistic paradigm enforces us, as a set of interrelated components. Therefore, the dissertation is focused on the task of developing a way of designing or

describing wholes which is consistent with the systems view cf the world. The principles underlying such a view are investigated by way of contrast, i.e , by examining design processes which are based on a atomistic mechanistic paradigm.

The criticisms raised against atomistic mechanistic design unravel systems principles such as, that a whole can never be described or designed in isolation of a context of meaning, or that the description of a whole involves the construction of a bipolar, self-referential construct through a process of interpretation.

Having unearthed these systems principles, the author uses them to develop a general systems concept of design. The outcome is a holistic, interpretive conception of the design process. Accordingly, it is shown that the design process starts with a primeval distinction of the object to be designed (a project), and then continues with a gradual interpretation of the is-ought to bipolar structure which constitutes the project. Each interpretation supplies the designer with a vista of the whole, and the unfolding of different vistas help him/her to gain understanding and comprehension of their design.

The dissertation ends with the presentation of a case study of curriculum design carried out by the author in the University of Los Andes, in Venezuela, where the system concept of design both was born and found its ground for application.

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