An overview of architecture’s post-war history reveals that the 1970s, on a global scale, served as an incubator of participatory projects, where designers sought to involve users in the decision-making process of the built environment. In this presentation, I analyse the work of Raúl Di Lullo, an Argentinian architectural systemic designer and educator, focusing on evolutionary housing and how his proposals encompassing theories, methods, and buildings were articulated around the right of people to co-design their dwellings. Di Lullo was inspired by the notion of Wicked Problems by the German design theorist and systems thinker Horst Rittel, who had also called for a Second Generation of Design Methods. In this context, the designer and users played equal roles within a broader group of stakeholders, sharing design agency. By applying Rittel’s understanding of design to the problem of low-income housing in Latin America, Di Lullo also incorporated time, growth, difference, and variety as essential components in architecture. Based on graphs, he proposed a growth system not for the designer to create a definitive form but for this to be developed as users needed it.
With this study, I attempt to show a lesser-known section of the partially unexamined history of systems design in Latin America, where the political trauma of the 1970s slowed down its inquiry. Such histories, which shed light on design as a social practice, are early hints of a fragmented, critical, and uncertain climate of ideas that still prevails. My examination of various archival sources and oral interviews reviews this shift from traditional Modernism, which many designers did with the help of systems and cybernetics. Providing an account of Di Lullo’s attempt to design with the user, along with a broader array of practices, illuminates ethical and ecological questions which are still central to tackling the design challenges of the Anthropocene. Additionally, Di Lullo’s case illustrates how systems design in the early 1970s had already formed a global entanglement of knowledge, blurring the distinctions between centre and periphery.