Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Civil Engineering

Committee Chair/Advisor

Klotz, Leidy E

Committee Member

Ogle , Jennifer H

Committee Member

Putman , Bradley J


Aristotle theorized, 'The whole is more than the sum of its parts.' Design engineers often overlook this simple philosophy. We employ a reductionist approach when designing the built environment: engineering solutions for the individual parts rather than the system as a whole, creating and exacerbating problems in the process. A whole system, interdisciplinary approach that considers the interrelatedness of global issues is increasingly recognized as essential to finding truly sustainable engineering solutions (NSB, 2007). However, both the precise nature of this whole systems approach, and the best ways to incorporate it in engineering education remain undefined. To address this gap in knowledge, this research: (1) methodically reviewed the literature to define and unify the general principles of whole systems design; and (2) used the literature to develop a conceptual framework for whole systems design for sustainable infrastructure.
A systematic literature review guided by a predefined protocol used 13 search terms spanning the engineering, architecture, and planning disciplines to identify components of the whole systems framework. Sources identified in the literature review fell under five primary categories: sustainable development; architecture, planning, and urban design; engineering, environmental management and business; and systems thinking. Principles were extracted from the resources, empirically coded, and organized into a framework using concept mapping. The resulting framework was organized into three overarching categories: design processes, design principles, and design methods, with a total of 20 principles, or components of whole systems design. It combines the theories, perspectives, and practices of multiple design disciplines and experts making it germane for applications of design ranging from the microscopic level of a chemical, to the macroscopic level of a city, for example. Organizing the literature surrounding whole systems design aids in building consensus around the defining elements and sets the stage for future research on the subject.



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