IAAC – Master in Robotics and Advanced Construction
Systemic Design – Impact & Economics Workshop
Faculty: Gonzalo Delacámara

Credits: Portrait Winner: “A sand tiger shark surrounded by tiny bait fish” © Tanya Houppermans (USA)/UPY2018


This workshop (a self-contained one in economics for architects and designers, thus non-economists) presents some of the main debates surrounding the contemporary global economic order and the existence of global challenges that would demand responses on that scale, such as climate change and a long series of manifestations of environmental degradation, inequality at different levels, challenges associated with the digital transition of the economy, etc.

Globalization tends to be thought of as a new phenomenon when, in fact, it is very old one, if with some more recent displays. More than 75 years have passed since the creation of the United Nations Organization or the Bretton Woods agreements that gave rise to the creation of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, all of which are key multilateral organizations to understand the current world economic and social order and to envision new ones.

It will be shown how nowadays it would be hard to think about sustainable business models, in a broad sense, without reflecting on the basis of rational criteria on the most relevant societal challenges.

  • Why are some countries wealthy and others poor? Why do some countries fail? Why do some low-income countries evolve as emerging economies and high-income countries sometimes stagnate? Is this macroeconomic context relevant for design decisions at a local level? To what extent?
  • Will we be able to take on the generational challenge of abating greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, decarbonizing the economy and facing an urgent transition in the energy model (including transport, which hits the largest share in terms of primary energy consumption)? Is this feasible at all with current urban design patterns?
  • Is it possible to guarantee that there will be enough water (meeting quality standards) for the entire population in the long term? Will we ensure energy security too? Are new cities or new urban (re)design contributing to the diversification of supply sources?
  • Can population growth and change be sustained with the resource base (including the natural capital) available today and in the near future? To what extent are urban settlements a part of the equation? Could we redefine from a design standpoint rural-urban relationships?
  • Will democratic culture prevail? What risks does it face? Are architecture and design a pendulum motion between top-down “benevolent dictatorships” and bottom-up “populistic approaches”? How to approach the dialectics between technocracy and populism?
  • Will we have the capacity to face decisions in a context increasingly conditioned by (sometimes irreducible) uncertainty?
  • Can we actually benefit from the existence of new technologies? Can we think of smart cities only on the basis of the industrial revolution 4.0 or is anything else needed?
  • Is it possible to grow with lower levels of inequality? Is it necessary to grow to redistribute or vice versa?
  • Will we be able to face the challenges in terms of public health, not only associated with the outbreaks of certain viruses but also with the increasing resistance of certain bacteria and other already visible threats?
  • Will the idea of ??guaranteeing shared value between companies and society, of reconciling the interests of shareholders and citizens be consolidated?
  • Will we observe security not only in a biased way but by looking at all its dimensions: climate, water, energy, food, terrorism, health, income …?
  • What role will innovation play in all this, from different points of view: social, financial, technological, institutional …? How to upscale innovative business and social models?
  • How would we explain a financial crisis like the one experienced since 2008, a recession we had not yet managed to recover from when COVID-19 broke out?

From the perspective of economic analysis, the workshop will focus on analysing the causes of current challenges and, at the same time, their intended and unintended outcomes. The world economic order, characterized by processes of globalization and regional integration, will be analysed. The main trends in the world economy will also be addressed. These issues will not be pondered in the void, in a timeless way, but linked to the moment we live in, to its structural and temporary features. In other words, we will analyse these issues at a time characterized not only by the public health emergency linked to the COVID-19 pandemic (caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus), but also by the stagnation trend in the world economy that had already been observed. We will also look at structural changes resulting from the transition in the energy model for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, the adaptation to climate change, and the emergence of new technologies of the industrial revolution 4.0.

Learning Objectives

At course completion, the student will:

  • Better understand the processes of globalization and regionalization, their main characteristics and their impact on the world economy.
  • Understand the causes and consequences of the main economic, social and environmental challenges society faces.
  • Have the analytical capacity not only to give opinions but to understand and explain phenomena on a global scale.
  • Have criteria to discern what others write or say about these topics, so that economic readings can provide better insights for design.
  • Have a more precise (and broad) idea about what the profitability of an investment is.
  • Understand the difference between economic growth and development.
  • Understand the value of interdisciplinary views and the need to embrace and manage complexity.


Gonzalo Delacámara (Madrid, Spain) is a Spanish economist who works worldwide (in more than 80 countries: the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North and East Africa, Central and South Asia), specialized in the economic management of natural resources: water, climate, energy, air pollution, oceans, biological diversity and ecosystem services, etc., with emphasis on their complex links to economic and social development models.

He is a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Department of Water Economics at IMDEA Water Institute (which stands for Madrid Institute of Advanced Studies). He is also the Academic Director of the Water Economics Forum, a public debate initiative with Nobel Prize Laureates in Economics and Peace, such as professors George A. Akerlof, Jean Tirole, and Mohan Munasinghe.

Gonzalo works for multilateral organizations such as the European Commission, to which he is ‘water policy advisor’ (through its DG Environment, Clean Water Unit), the European Parliament (which he also advices on climate change policy ), various agencies and programs of the United Nations system (UN Water, ECLAC, UNESCO, FAO, WHO-PAHO, UNDP, etc.), the World Bank Group (including its 2030 Water Resources Group initiative, but also the World Bank itself or the International Finance Corporation, IFC) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), inter alia. He is also a Senior Advisor and member of the OECD Water Governance Initiative.

Recently, he was also appointed as Vision Team Leader on the Value of Water and Ambassador of Water Europe (formerly Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform), member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Dutch KWR Institute on the integral water cycle, member of the Special Advisory Board of the International Desalination Association (IDA) and member of the Mission Assembly of the framework program of RTD and innovation of the European Union (Horizon Europe) on healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters.

Gonzalo teaches at postgraduate level in different institutions around the world. He has been a Senior Faculty Member of the Advanced Architecture Institute of Catalonia (IaaC). He is also a mentor in international programs to support female post-doctoral researchers: in Germany (Association of Leibniz Institutes) and in the United States of America (Techwomen). Gonzalo is also an author of a wide range of books and scientific peer-reviewed articles, as well as keynote speaker at global events.