Lets Work! Da Lang Fever 2.0

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In the Fall of 2015 the Design as Politics graduation Studio ‘Lets Work!’ visited the Chinese City of Shenzhen on a factfinding excursion. Part of our visit was focused on Da Lang  – a migrant neighborhood in the north of the city. The International New Town Institute, who is working in Da Lang for many years, helped us to set up an amazing program. In order to  thank them for their great efforts, we made this poster as an virtual addition to INTI’s contribution to the Shenzhen Biennale titled: Da Lang Fever 2.0, which is focused on the transformation of a vacant hotel into a place for the empowerment of  migrant workers.

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Shenzhen can rightfully be called the ‘Manchester of the 21st century’ since, just like the northern English town in the nineteenth century’, it is the capital of the current industrial revolutions. It is the place where the most important industrial activities take place, where innovation happens on a tremendous pace and where the urban form, the social structures are most affected by industry’s transformations.

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But Shenzhen is of course also a a consciously planned community, based on the twentieth century model of the New Town. Therefor it is also one of the places in the vast international network of New Towns kept up by the International New Towns Institute, with which our faculty has a close relationship. INTI had been working for some years with the community of Da Lang in the north of Shenzhen, a typical Shenzhen collage of rationally planned factories, densely packed and more organically grown urban villages, that is now making a fast and sometimes harsh transition from pure manufacturing to more design and knowledge based activities. This means that many of the existing urban villages, with their low educated migrant workers communities are threatened with expulsion and the demolition of the urban fabric.

In the middle of this contested urban situated, lies a gigantic, monstrous neo-classical husk of a never opened hotel. INTI has been working with the local community to use this building as a base where the lively culture and entrepreneurship of the urban villages might take root and express itself to the outside world, as a way to assert the value and existence of the existing community, and defend it against the blind replacement with another, rocher class of workers.


In a day long workshop on the site, and then further design workshops in Delft, the students of the grad studio, translated INTI’s ambitions into an architectural/economic scenario for the building, filling up its endless cavernous halls and long hallways with cultural, economic, domestic and community programs.

The ambition was to show how a building like this could become a hub for a community with many different identities and activities, and could harmonize its existing qualities and people, with the exciting new future it faces as a center for design and fashion based industries. Also the Design as Politics students and tutors used this scenario as a way to report on the mind boggling richness, the density and the inventiveness that they found on the streets and in the buildings of this most dynamic of New Towns.

Our intervention questions the ability of the current top-down approach to planning. to fully regenerate the neighborhood whilst maintaining its identity. Our proposal considers how the hotel structure could be repurposed to create some of the socio-economic conditions necessary to regenerate the neighborhood whilst also incorporating the needs of the existing population of migrant workers. To achieve this, an accessible space catering for all the daily activities of a migrant worker is provided. Spaces for education, production, consumption, dwelling and leisure are provided, as well as the urban circulatory infrastructure needed to engage with though surrounding area. Through the integration of different programmatic functions we believe an active, collaborative environment may be nurtured giving opportunities to migrant workers to acquire the necessary skills and equipment to become entrepreneurs.

The design for the hotel in Dal Lang is not just a group design for the reuse of a building, but also the mémoir of a trip.


A debate about the future of Rotterdam


Design as Politics professor Wouter Vanstiphout will join the debate ‘Roterdam, the neverending story’ on Thursday (21 Jan) at 20.00. Together with Zihni Özdil he will respond to an essay by Paul van der Laar, Eeva Liukku and Jacques Börger about the future of Rotterdam.


“Rotterdam is a cold, unfriendly, ugly and sombre city.” This is what inhabitants told social psychologist Rob Wentholt about Rotterdam in 1968. Wentholt researched the reconstruction of the city after the Second World War and the perception of inhabitants about the city centre. He interviewed people from different neighbourhoods and presented his work in the book ‘De Binnenstadsbeleving en Rotterdam’.

After the bombings of the Second World War, Rotterdam was rebuilt rapidly into a modern, functionally furnished city with an extensive transport network. In 1950, 1955 and 1960, the municipality of Rotterdam celebrated these results with big events: Ahoy Rotterdam, Energy ’55 and the Floriade with the Euromast. The municipality aimed at making people proud of their city again. In the second half of the sixties, however, these feelings seemed to change. In 1966 a movie came out about Rotterdam with the title ‘Stad zonder hart (city without a heart).

Nowadays the picture is completely different again. Rotterdam is booming. The number of inhabitants is growing and Architectural icons like the new Central Station, the Markthal, and off course Holland’s biggest building ever, ‘The Rotterdam’ by Rem Koolhaas have led to international recognition. According to the Lonely Planet Rotterdam is even one of the best destinations for a city trip in 2016.


But how do we prevent Rotterdam from becoming just another touristic flagship of city marketing? And how to maintain the city’s rough edge, which gives character to this city that, is never finished? And what do the inhabitants of Rotterdam actually think about these recent urban developments? What could be the future for this city? Is Rotterdam going in the same gentrified direction as many European capitals? And what does this mean for local residents?

To find out the answers to these question, Museum Rotterdam, the Willem de Kooning Academy and Rotterdam viert de stad! are repeating Wentholt’s research 75 years after the beginning of the reconstruction of Rotterdam by asking Rotterdam’s inhabitants about their experience of the city. What exactly is Rotterdam celebrating after these 75 years of reconstruction?

Wouter Vanstiphout and Zihni Özdil will discuss the future of Rotterdam in the Timmerhuis on the 21st of January. The debate will be led by Rineke Kraaijenberg and starts at 20.00 h. You are welcome to join!

A Different Approach To Migration

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While many European countries, cities and villages are discussing how to solve the ‘migrant crisis’, the rural village of Riace in the South of Italy has found its own way to turn the influx of immigrants and refugees to revive their shrinking village. We at Design as Politics wonder what other places in Europe can learn from the approach in Riace? Why are migrants for example not located in areas where work is available? Can we deal with the refugee crisis not only as an isolated problem, but also as a far more widespread phenomenon? And can we think of ways to bring multiple interests into the picture? … We don’t know the answers yet, but will for sure keep (re)searching, discussing, and talking about this issue. We have an event coming up this week together with Crimson Architectural Historians, and more to come next year, that’s for sure! We’ll keep you posted.

Along the coast in Riace, a small rural village in Calabria, Italy, signs are placed saying: ‘the beach and the sea are free for those who come here to swim, and for those who arrive here swimming.’

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Riace – once an almost abandoned village, which was in danger of becoming a ghost town as people left to northern Italy for jobs during the economic growth – has today secured its own future by offering homes and jobs to migrants who arrive in the village. At this moment over 400 hundred refugees and migrants from twenty-five nationalities are living in Riace and make up one quarter of the total population.

Welcoming refugees allowed the village to preserve basic public services such as schools, as well as shops and businesses that had almost all vanished. “Without foreign children, this school would have remained closed” says teacher Maria Grazia Mittica. “But the number keeps changing. Because foreign children come and go.”

According to the mayor of Riace, Domenico Lucano, the arrival of these people creates optimism – both for the people who arrive, as for the citizens of the village itself. “Whatever the challenges, this has to be a better solution for migrants than being locked up in a holding center where their children cannot go to school.”
Some years ago, the mayor of Riace contacted the owners of since long uninhabited houses asking them to make the houses available for refugees and migrants. The houses would be refurnished and a little rent would be paid. Most of the owners agreed. A foundation was established, named ‘Citta Futura’, which would receive 30 euros per day of the Italian State, intended for housing, language training, medical costs and workplaces. The Citta Futura hands out token that can be exchanged for food in local shops. The refugees receive monthly 250 Euro for their daily needs. They can earn additionally 500 Euro if they work. Special workshops are established where migrants can learn old crafts.

30 Euro per day per migrant might seem like a lot of money, but staying in a huge refugee camp costs about 70 Euro per day per migrant. The Riace funding comes from a national protection programme for refugees and asylum seekers, SPRAR, and is granted for one year stay for each new villager. If the year is over and the refugee has not found employment at that time, s/he has to go. According to Lucano, 10 percent of the migrants can stay after one year in the village. Others look for jobs elsewhere in Italy or abroad. It seems sad that many of the people have to leave after one year of living in Riace, but they at least have had the opportunity to learn the language and a profession, while they also have had access to medical care. Conversely, they keep the village alive. Without these people, Riace would be an empty town.

Riace might seem like an extreme example, but we think lots of European cities can learn from the approach of this village in Calabria.

Can we for example locate migrants in areas where work is available to them, like in Riace? In the Netherlands the majority of the refugees are staying in thinly populated parts in the northeast, while most job vacancies are located in the Randstad. This makes it very difficult for migrants to learn the language and to integrate.

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Can we deal with the refugee crisis not only as an isolated problem, but also as a far more disseminated phenomenon, and can we think about how to bring multiple interests in the picture? Migration has fundamental causes and it is an illusion that one can solve the refugee crisis by strengthening borders and finding ‘regional solutions’ as some people are arguing. Refugees and migrants spend over a billion euro a year in order to reach Europe, while Europeans pay a similar amount to keep them out. Europe’s restrictive immigration policy has been a windfall for the companies that serve it and for human smugglers. Can’t we use this money for creative solutions instead of paying these companies and smugglers?

The real problem in our cities, countries and societies today is not migration, but the inability to take in and adapt to new residents. By looking at the refugee problem in isolation we are denying that migration has become a fact of life and one that will not increase in the coming decades.

Announcements and upcoming events:

  • The first event around this topic  will already take place this week in the New Institute, together with Crimson Architectural Historians, Wouter Vanstiphout and Michelle Provoost will discuss the  Spatial Implications of the immigration Crisis.  Reading Migration – Nieuwe Instituut, Thursday 17 december 20.00 – 22.00.
  • Starting in January next year, we will host a series of seminars around the spatial dimensions of migration at the Berlage – Center for advanced studies in Architecture and Urban Design. More info Soon!
  • At the beginning of next year we will publish a Design as Politics Long Read on migration and design – coming soon!
  • In the course of next year we will organize a symposium on his topic together with the OTB Research institute for the built environment. More info Soon!
  • And more… (but you’ll hear about that later)

New Towns Elective Course 2016: Havana Open City

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We are very happy to announce that our New Towns elective course in collaboration with the International New Towns Institute will start again in April 2016!  In this special edition, we’ll be focusing on Havana, the capital of Cuba. Enrollment for this course starts next Monday, 23 November.

Havana is a city at the cusp of enormous change; the communist government is gradually opening up its economic system, while the United States are relaxing their boycott. This means that one of the most beautiful historic cities, with one of the most spectacular positions around a deepwater bay on the Caribbean, is open for the forces of the globalized economy.

In its existence of more than half a century shielded from capitalist pressures, it has however developed some unique characteristics and strengths. It has one of the most complete systems of urban agriculture, managing to feed virtually the entire city. It has a healthcare system based on prevention which makes it both cheap and effective. And its beautiful 17th century downtown area is one of the most impressive examples of development through heritage conservation. When Havana will change, will these qualities survive, or will they be sacrificed to a neo-liberal redevelopment strategy? The question this project wants to answer is how Havana can have its own specific form of urban transformation, that will redefine its strengths,in the context of an open society and an open economy. With INTI we will try and answer these questions by focusing on one of Havana’s youngest and most adventurous areas, the New Town of Alamar, large urban area with mainly prefab apartment blocks with 90.000 inhabitants, on the eastern side of Havana.

The project will consist of a number of lectures, a two week study trip together with the International New Town Institute, the CUJAE University of Havana and the Embassy of The Netherlands in Cuba. More info here

Real Architectural Solutions For Health Care In Dutch Neighbourhoods

We care a lot! How about you?

Humanitas, a nursing home in Deventer, the Netherlands, accepts local students to live in their home for free, under one condition: the group of students must spent 30 hours each month with (some of) the 160 senior residents. The project aims to create positive social interactions, beneficial to all inhabitants of Humanitas, both students and elderly. By doing this, Humanitas intends to improve the liveability and ‘community feeling’ of the residents of the nursing home and neighbourhood. According to Humanitas managing director, Gea Sijpkes, ‘students bring the outside world in’.

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Today, a trend of decentralizing healthcare can be recognized. Budget cuts by the Dutch government have made it increasingly difficult to get a subsidised place, with the paradoxical consequence that some nursing homes are left with empty rooms. This current ‘emptying out of the care homes’, the closing down of medical centres, and the shift to providing healthcare at regular homes instead of moving people into care homes, creates lots of vacant real estate in the middle of our cities and communities. As a result also social functions are disappearing. This has an especially large impact on areas built in the years after World War 2, in which neighbourhoods where carefully planned around nursing homes and other social real-estate.

Much international attention was paid in the news about the young students moving into the nursing home in Deventer. Considering this a social solution, would it also be possible to come up with spatial solutions in order to redefine buildings and places left open because of the transformation of the healthcare system? How can a neighbourhood be intensified as a meeting place? And how can architectural design contribute to social integration and innovation between the young and old?

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The Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands (de Rijksbouwmeester) has asked Design as Politics to start a research and design project to explore the spatial dimensions of the changing health care system as part of his programme ‘Oog voor de buurt.’ We have involved some of our best students, the International New Town Institute and two talented young designers to conduct this research. Two locations have recently been selected as our case studies. In close collaboration with the involved municipalities, the health care organisations and other related insititutions we will look for option to find new ways to strengthen the relationship between the nursing house and the neighbourhood. The aim is to find solutions that can be applicable to other locations as well.

Read more about this project on the website of the Chief Government Architect (in Dutch): http://www.collegevanrijksadviseurs.nl/actueel/nieuws/2015/10/10/oog-voor-de-buurt-ontwerp-verbindt

Who Builds Your Architecture?

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While looking at work in relation to architecture at this year’s theme of the Design as Politics graduation studio, we of course came across the fuss again about Zaha Hadid’s Quatar World Cup Stadium. Even more interesting is that the debate that arose around this project, triggered Laura Diamond Dixit, Tiffany Rattray, and Lindsey Lee to focus their contribution to the Istanbul Design Biennale on migratory paths of workers as well as working processes in design and construction.

In 2014 many people disagreed with the comments of star-architect Zaha Hadid on the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar. It was announced that more than 1200 migrant workers had died during the construction of the Quatar World Cup Stadium, which Hadid had designed. Probably, no one was more critical on Hadid than reviewer Martin Filler from The New York Review of Books, denouncing her carelessness to the estimated one thousand laborers who had died.


However, Hadid had a disparagement suit against Filler and told the BBC during an interview that there had not been any problems in Qatar. She considered it not the duty of the architect to deal with the terrible conditions of migrant construction workers laboring on multi-billion dollar projects. According to Hadid, architects don’t have the power to do anything about this.

Is Zaha Hadid mistaken about having no influence on worker’s conditions regarding the buildings she designs? How can architects ensure human right protection extended to those who build architecture worldwide? How do architects, designers, engineers, manufacturers, consultants, production line workers and others contribute to building processes, and who takes responsibility for the illegal migrant workers?

In a project exhibited at the Istanbul Design Biennale, visitors can discuss and experience what participation in an architectural complex building implies in the context of global mobility. In this project the convergence of global workforces on a building site is illustrated in schedules and maps, supported by reports from sources such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documenting all sorts of issues in regard to migrant construction workers. The migratory paths of workers as well as processes in design and construction are imagined, and connected to ideas on solution and intervention. Could this exhibition pursue architects, like Zaha Hadid, to advocate for better working and living conditions on building sites around the world?


Sources images: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/14/qatar-reform-labout-laws-outcry-world-cup-slaves ,   http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/al-wakrah-stadium/ ,   http://www.e-flux.com/journal/who-builds-your-architecture-an-advocacy-report/.

Upcoming Public lectures

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We have two amazing public lectures coming up next week as part of our graduation studio Lets Work! – Industry, Architecture and the City.

The first is on Monday 29 September, by Design as Politics professor’ Wouter Vanstiphout about the theme of this year’s graduation studio and what this means for Architecture and Urban Design. Albert Kahn’s daylight factory, Cedric Price’s Fun Palace, the precariat, robotization, off- and onshoring, the share economy. It’s all part of this brand new Design as Politics lecture! So join us on Monday 28 Sept. at 08:45 in Room B at the TU Delft Faculty of Architecture.

For the second lecture we’ve invited Economic Geographer and Urban Planner Ronald Wall – head of the Urban Competitiveness and Resilience department at the Erasmus University. Ronald will give an interesting perspective to the topic of work and urban development. He will talk about the relationship between global and local economic development, urban competitiveness and what this means for the design of our cities. The lecture takes place on Tuesday 29 September at 15:45 – 17:15, , TU Delft Faculty of Architecture, Room B

Lecture Ronald Wall

Wall is specialised in urban economic development, city network analysis and urban planning. He worked for various mayor urban planning offices like OMA, MVRDV and West 8 as well as for the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) –  working on planning in China, Ghana, South Africa, South Korea and various European countries. He worked for the Berlage Institute / South Korean government on the development of a new town in South Korea and worked with Volume/AMO and the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, on research concerning Middle Eastern cities and their economic networks with other cities around the world.