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Thursday Complexity Post
September 25, 2014

Architectural Designs for Food of the Future   


Vertical farms are blossoming in several big cities, including Chicago, Kyoto and Singapore, with plants growing in artificial light in specially reconfigured buildings. The Brooklyn-based design firm Aprilli has expanded the idea with a proposal for a giant tree-shaped skyscraper the architects believe will maximize food production and improve local environment through water and air filtration and renewable energy output.


The Urban Skyfarm, winner of an A'Design Award, is described in a FastCompanyExist story by Adele Peters. Architects Steve Lee and See Yoon Park told Peters they envision the giant agricultural skyscraper in the heart of downtown Seoul, South Korea, a densely populated city with air pollution and other environmental problems. There's little space for on the ground farming there, and fresh fruits and vegetables at local markets are in demand but very expensive.


Urban Skyfarm by Aprilli Design Studio


The design mimics the shape of an enormous tree, with leaf-like open air decks built of strong but light weight materials that provide as much as 24 acres for growing fruit trees and plants like tomatoes. The more enclosed lower and inner portions of the structure have space for plants growing in a more controlled environment. The roots, trunk, branches and leaves have different characteristics to suit different farming conditions . The trunk houses a hydroponic farm for greens, and wind turbines and solar panels at the top provide energy to keep the whole mini ecosystem in operation. The solar panels generate energy for night time lighting and heat where needed for plant growth.


Another idea for agriculture in places where farms won't fit comes from JAPA, a design firm in Barcelona now called Forward Thinking Architecture. Architects there propose a system of looping towers that could float in harbors and provide new space for year round crops. In another FastCompany article by Peters, JAPA architect Javier Ponce explains that a network of towers called floating responsive architecture (FRA) is designed for Singapore-or any other densely populated city near water where food is expensively imported from long distances. Throughout the towers, which would surround the city, networks of sensors would monitor crops and communicate with networks in the city creating a data management system that would keep track of food supplies and purchases. Economists say as much as 30 percent of food is wasted, and Ponce says this system would aim for zero waste.


Kyoto Group - proposed network of towers around Singapore


While creative architectural vertical design may help supply nutritious food to urban centers in the future, many creative projects are already producing food in urban areas. One example is the work of entrepreneurs in Chicago who bought an abandoned factory building and transformed it into a multi-story indoor farm that produces everything from fish to salad greens to beer. Another example is Urban Farming Guys, a nonprofit based in Kansas City, dedicated to creating sustainable urban communities, starting with local food and water security, alternative energy and economic resilience.



Plexus in the field 

Listen to Plexus Institute President, Jeff Cohn, share one of the best stories to come out of work Plexus is engaged in with the Long Beach Unified School District in Long Beach, CA. Hear more about the project on the Complexity Matters blog.  



Remember PlexusCalls!




Friday, September 26, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Sensemaking: A Springboard to Action 
Guests: Nancy Dixon and Bruce Waltuck                 


The way people in an organization think together can create the meaning that leads to decisions and action. As the organizational theorist Karl Weick explains, "Sensemaking is a way station on the road to consensually a constructed, coordinated system of action." Nancy Dixon has researched the processes of sensemaking and helped create the environments where it can flourish. Bruce Waltuck has decades of experience with organizational change. Join this provocative conversation!

Nancy Dixon PhD. is a former academic turned consultant. Before starting her company Common Knowledge Associates in 2002 she was a tenured professor and Department Chair of Administrative Sciences at the George Washington University, and before that a professor at the University of Texas. She has a passionate interest in creating conversations that exploit the collective knowledge of an organization in order to address difficult organizational issues and to spur innovation. Her research has focused creating psychologically safe environments for both large and small group conversations. In her consulting practice she facilitates small and large scale learning events that involve cross-boundary stakeholders who are facing complex issues. She helps organizations move beyond a series of presentations to engage people in active learning processes. She has worked with a wide range of government and non-profit organizations, the US Army, the Defense Intelligence Agency, USAID, United Way World Wide, NASA) as well as corporate clients (Huawai, Bose, ConocoPhillips, Ecopetrol, Netherlands Railroad). Her facilitation skills and processes are able to bring together disparate groups and individuals so that they can find common ground and achieve breakthroughs in performance. Dr. Dixon's writing includes over 50 articles and eight books including a seminal book on knowledge management, Common Knowledge, How Companies Thrive By Sharing What They Know. Her latest thinking on collective sensemaking can be found in her blog at

Bruce Waltuck is an award-winning change leader, with more than 30 years of experience. Bruce worked 26 years at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), where he co-created the Department's breakthrough system for labor-management partnership and business process improvement. He later created a public-private partnership between the DOL and New Jersey's health care industry, yielding significant improvements in labor law compliance. Bruce has been a presenter to more than 20,000 people throughout the U.S., Canada, and Southeast Asia. He delivered a series of 22 lectures on labor-management collaboration in Brazil, as part of the USIA Speakers Series. Bruce's last Federal position was as Senior Advisor to the Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, where he led improvements in a $3 billion annual grant-making process, and conducted large-scale national dialogues on behavioral health. He has studied, taught, and applied concepts and methods from complex systems science to the work of organizational change. He has taught complexity to doctoral students in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for the past 10 years. He has recently been developing a framework for gathering stories and narratives in organizations. He will be launching a new story-harvest initiative with his colleagues at I-OPEN, where he currently serves as a Director. Bruce is also developing a new Fractal group in Philadelphia, to teach and spread the use of Liberating Structures. Bruce holds a degree in economics from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, and a Masters Degree in Complexity from the University of Western Sydney.


Friday, October 10, 2014- 1-2 PM ET
Commonplace Books and the Art of Synthesis
Guests: Laura Gardner, Victoria Ward and Sharon Benjamin             


For hundreds of years scholars, philosophers, scientists, artists and ordinary people have assembled commonplace books to record and preserve the bits of information, quotes, ideas and small treasures they found compelling and significant. Laura Gardner has studied these fascinating collections and the evolution such syntheses from the Medieval age through the digital age. Different from diaries, which tend to record events from a personal perspective, commonplace books, did reflect the inner life, choices and values of the people who collected the things they meant to remember for a lifetime. Today we find the human urge to collect and record in websites, blogs and Twitter.

Laura Gardner has been teaching art education at Winthrop University for ten years. She is an Associate Professor of Fine Arts, directs the Master of Arts in Arts Administration, and is the faculty advisor for the Master of Arts in Art Education. She completed her doctoral work in reflective Art Education at the Union Institute and University, Cincinnati Ohio, and her Masters degree from Bank Street College of Education/Parsons School of Design in New York City. Dr. Gardner began her career teaching art to young children in the Hudson Valley of New York. She is a letterpress printer and book artist and has worked as an illustrator and specialty painter in New York and the Carolinas. Her interests include reflective practice, holistic education, book arts, and letterpress. She has received numerous grants and awards in the areas of pedagogy, service learning, and arts education. She was selected for a Winter Residency in Letterpress at Penland in 2010 and has exhibited her artist's books regionally.

Victoria Ward founded Sparknow in 1997 out of a knowledge management programme at an investment bank and 16 years in exchanges, clearing, trading and operational risk. She has worked both in management roles and as a senior consultant, facilitator and advisor. She enjoys designing change, engagement and research programmes with others and applying narrative methods to complex cultural challenges to find sustainable solutions. From 1981, when she started work (on the day Sadat was shot - a nicely memorable Reuters newsflash on day one) to 1997 her experience is in hands-on business and risk management, research and product development and knowledge management. She was the first member of the LIFFE executive to be voted onto the Board, and did a term on the board of the FOA as well as being an early member of the FTSE Steering Committee and serving a term on the Financial Services Tribunal. She has a degree in languages and art from Selwyn College Cambridge, a certificate in working groups from the Tavistock Institute, an old open-holed oboe that I play with enthusiasm, rickety hands and nervous sight reading, in Bloomsbury Woodwind Ensemble, and Nordic walking sticks which I exercise quite regularly on the Heath.

Sharon Benjamin, PhD, is principal of Alchemy, a Washington D.C. based management consulting practice. She consults with multi-lateral, NGO and healthcare organizations. An adjunct at NYU, she teaches the leadership capstone course for MPA students. Her work supports leaders seeking to effect profound transformation -- within themselves and their organizations, pioneering innovative methods such as Positive Deviance. Her previous positions have included Vice President for Marketing for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C. and Director for Major Gifts for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She earned her doctorate in organizational behavior from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati where she has co-taught three leadership seminars. She has been active in the non-profit community, serving as Treasurer of the Board Earthworks, Chair of the Board of Directors of, and a member of Oceana's Board of Governors. 


Healthcare PlexusCalls

Wednesday, October 15, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Living Emergence: Life of a Change Agent 
Guests: Tony Suchman and Diane Rawlins                 


Being a leader in healthcare-or any complex organization today-requires resilience, agility, and maybe a few new skills. Leaders may find themselves dealing with outbreaks of new viruses or resistant bacteria, new patients with neglected health issues, or injuries and facility damage caused by extreme weather or warfare. Those whose education focused on the technical aspects of medicine or business may be discovering their need for relational skills--how to support collaboration, work in teams, and the engagement of all stakeholders.

Tony and Diane will join the call to share what they have learned while developing and teaching Leading Organizations to Health, a 10-month program that prepares organizational leaders and consultants for the challenging work of leading change. Please bring your own experience and add your voice to this important conversation.  



See all upcoming PlexusCalls on the Plexus Calendar.  

Audio from all PlexusCall series is available by searching the iTunes store for Plexus Institute. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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