System D Academy, 2014–2016

System D Academy, 2014–2016

Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam

The Turtle 1 Car. A System D production, built from scratch in an African car community. Photo: Teun Vonk, 2012.
February 21, 2014
System D Academy, 2014–2016

Sandberg Instituut
Master programmes, Art and Design of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie Amsterdam
Fred. Roeskestraat 98
1076 ED, Amsterdam

T +31 20 5882400
[email protected]

What is System D?
System D comes from the French word débrouillard—which means self-reliant and resourceful. It is all around us. More than half of the world’s population is working and living in System D; off-the-books, in jobs and houses that are neither registered or regulated. Here System D lies at the surface. It is also found in highly formalized societies although it has become less visible upon going underground.

Why study System D: the human system?
The human condition has not successfully been put into one formula. In the end, human nature defies formalization. Maybe the best way to describe the human condition is via System D, wherein humanity engages in flexible, social and whimsical interrelationships. Self-organization and cooperation is in our nature.

Modern societies can learn from System D. If we look at highly advanced societies such as the Netherlands, we see big systems have attempted, but not necessarily created, the best way of organizing our habitat. Formalized systems are based on abstract ideas, rational models or static ideologies, which are in conflict with the human condition.

The System D
The System D Academy explores informal and self-organizing systems. By learning from System D, we will seek alternatives to the formalized systems we are presently locked into. The Academy is itself informal as it is developed from scratch and built up by trial and error. We will learn by doing.

Our mission
How can we deformalize the formal in order to revalue our needs?

Who are we looking for
The System D Academy is looking for potential System D citizens. You have to be willing to work from scratch and be interested in the process and not so much in end results. You have to work independently but be loyal to the general aim of the program: to create a System D Academy. We are looking for a broad variety of stupendous people from design, art, public space, biology, sociology, social and political science to name a few.

First year
The first year will be a boot camp for acquiring skills in System D. We will gather knowledge in three ways: lectures, field excursions and action research. We will invite a variety of guest speakers, including scientists, hackers, political activists, artists and entrepreneurs to enlighten us with their experiences of the informal. The field trips are meant to research System D in action. All the input results in action research to put new ideas into practice.

Second year
After a year of training we will bring System D into practice. Every student will contribute his/her own project. The aim is to create a strong fundament so that the Academy can maintain growing when the course is over. Studying System D is for life.

The staff of the System D Academy consists of four tutors. Every tutor has its own specialty in how to explore new terrains and communities. Together they form a team that builds up an archive, a network and various strategies. Types of tutors consist of a Librarian (for collection and database production), a Journalist (documentation of process and editorial), a Designer (to make the intangible take shape) and an Artist (an action research specialist). Together with you, we will build the fundaments of the System D Academy.

Course directors
Melle Smets (NL) and Cynthia Hathaway (CA)

More information on the Turtle 1 Car project can be found at

Please visit for further information and an online application.



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Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam
February 21, 2014

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