NYU ITP Bodies and Buildings 2012 Syllabus


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Mondays 11:00 – 1:55 at NYU ITP

Why is it so hard to care for our planet and ourselves. We seem hungover from a century of prosperity and ingenuity, unable to invent economic models that create jobs, improve health, and restore the earth. Eager ITP students are better equipped than MBAs to envision and hack our way out of this trap, but often lack an understanding of the mega forces of business, regulation, and bad cultural habits that keep us from saving ourselves. But don’t despair! We’ll get busy, and make things again – but also provide you with conceptual scaffolding upon which to build your worldchanging ideas.


Our tools of understanding include deep design thinking, and systems thinking. By focusing on two systems in particular: human bodies, and the buildings that humans make, we will examine the environmental and social impacts of the economic systems. Bodies are in trouble right now – despite reaching the peak of productivity the US now leads the world in the rampant growth of chronic diseases that lower life expectancy, and reduce life quality. Buildings are not in enough trouble – they account for the largest source of both electricity consumption (68% of global use) and greenhouse gas emissions (48% of global emissions) in the world.

In this course we will discover what Dana Meadows calls “leverage points” as places to intervene that would transform the system as a whole.


This is a lecture course, and the syllabus is built to provide students with a systems thinking approach to problem solving. The objective for the final presentations is for students to generate a concept that can be applied to improve human health, building health, or both. The goal is for students to articulate a solution, and argue persuasively for ideas to become reality (vs. moving straight to working prototype in usual ITP fashion). Assignments will involve in person class presentation, and class participation is required. The course is structured to provide iterative opportunities to build and strengthen ideas – rooted in user-centered design, grounded in the realities of sustainable cost models and growth plans, strengthened by students’ ability to stand up and tell their stories.


ITP grades on a pass/fail basis. This class is weighted as follows:

Documentation: 20%

Constructive critique and participation in class discussions: 40%

Final presentation: 40%

Office Hours:

To be announced

Class Schedule:

1. Introduction to systems thinking, January 28, 2013



Reading: Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System

Part 1: Bodies

2. Bodies – The Obesity Epidemic, February 4, 2013

Reading: 2012 World Happiness Report

Mindfulness and the Quantified Self

A counter view of Weight Watchers by a long time member at Jezebel

3. Bodies – The Open Health Data Movement, February 11, 2013

Reading: US CTO seeks to scale agile thinking and open data across federal government via Strata Rx

Video: Anything with US CTO Todd Park (formerly CTO HHS) on open data and health care, such as this one: Changing Behavior and Changing Policies: Todd Park

– February 18 President’s Day –

4. Bodies – Beginning of Life Care, End of Life Care, February 25, 2013

Selected Readings from Wit: A Play by Margaret Edson. 1999. Faber and Faber.

5. Quick Concept Pitches: Solving for Privacy in Health Tech, March 4, 2013

(5 minute in class presentations and feedback)

6. March 11: Guest Speaker: Sara Holoubek. Other industries enter health care

– Spring Break March 18 –


Part 2: Buildings


7. Clean Tech Failures, Clean Tech Long Term View, March 25, 2013

Reading: Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust by Juliet Eilperin, Wired

Transforming Clean Tech into Main Tech by Vinod Khosla, Forbes


8. LEED and the Passive House Movement, April 1, 2013

Understanding Citizen Science and Environmental Monitoring

9. CoGen Field Trip, April 8, 2013

TBD – on site visit to a passive house build or retrofit

10. Generative Architecture, Responsive Design, April 15, 2013

Readings from: Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling

The Architecture of a Well-Tempered Environment by Reyner Banham

Phase 3: Concept Development and Final Presentations

11. Concept strengthening – design thinking exercises, business case building, April 22, 2013

12. Final Presentations (1) with guest critics, April 29, 2013