Category Archives: Debate

The Spatial Interdependencies Beyond the City


Design as Politics’ Marta Relats will be in Berlin next week to talk at the public symposium REGION AS CITY: The Spatial Interdependencies Beyond the City – organized by ANCB in collaboration with the Leibniz Universität Hannover and the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin.

Marta will present the key outcomes of the 2012 design workshop ‘Shrinking Regions, Growing democracy’ in which Design as Politics’students explored a democratic urban future for the Prignitz region.

The event takes place at 12 May 2014, 3:00pm and will be in English. Admission is free. Please register at

NEW! Graduation Studio 2014/2015

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The Design as politics team is very proud to announce our 2014/2015 TU Delft Master graduation Studio: New Utopias on the Ruins of the Welfare State.

During this studio, we will try to find the utopian thinking that comes up when old orders collapse. We are living in an age where nation states seem to become weaker and weaker, under the influence of privatisation, localism but also of globalisation and supra-national politics like that of the European Union. Countries seem to be both falling apart in small fragments as well as being dissolved into huge global networks.

Architecture and Urbanism have for a long time been dependent on the nation state. We cannot imagine doing without a strong government and huge public investments for developing housing projects and public buildings, or for designing huge and even utopian visions for new cities and regions. Architecture and planning are starting to lose their traditional role and authority to represent the nation.

But is this a bad thing? Can we imagine a world without the state? Can we imagine architecture and planning without public authority? Can we imagine a purely community based design? Now that we see the structures and certainties of the twentieth century crumbling around us, the new ideas are coming from small, autonomous even anarchistic communities and initiatives. Here we find the imagination of new societies: on the ruins of the welfare state.

Utopian thinking and design happens when you imagine what to do when forced to start all over again. With this studio we ask students to imagine their ideal small community, as a radical alternative to the large systems that we are living in but that cannot function much longer. After painting their ideal utopian community, the students are asked to develop plausible ways of realizing them. All scales are allowed, all ideologies are allowed, all levels of realism are allowed, as long they are consistent, imaginative and relevant to the problems our cities and regions are facing right now.

New Utopias on the Ruins of the Welfare State, will offer an intense Msc3 and Msc4 studio, that offers great freedom in defining and developing your own idea, but also collective workshops and lectures by specialists in the fields of architecture, planning, philosophy, art and politics.

How to apply?
If you are an architecture or an urbanism student at Delft University of Technology, willing and able to dedicate yourself to a studio that is at once rigorous and experimental, freethinking and super-pragmatic, individualist yet with a strong team spirit, then send us an email describing your utopian community and your motivation to join this studio (max. 1,5 A4 / 600 words), and include some examples of your previous writings and designs before May 7th 2014.




The Republic of Veneto


“Ballot” is not originally an English word: It comes from the Venetian word ballotta, or “little ball.” For centuries, councils elected the Doge of Venice, who ruled the city-state, with small silver and gold balls. Now Venetians have put their modern equivalent to good use in a bid to declare independence from Italy. And they have a pretty good case to make for restoring their once-mighty republic.

Last week, in a move overshadowed by the international outcry over Russia’s annexation of Crimea,, an organization representing a coalition of Venetian nationalist groups, held an unofficial referendum on breaking with Rome. Voters were first asked the main question—”Do you want Veneto to become an independent and sovereign federal republic?”—followed by three sub-questions on membership in the European Union, NATO, and the eurozone. The region’s 3.7 million eligible voters used a unique digital ID number to cast ballots online, and organizers estimate that more than 2 million voters ultimately participated in the poll.

On Friday night, people waving red-and-gold flags emblazoned with the Lion of St. Mark filled the square of Treviso, a city in the Veneto region, as the referendum’s organizers announced the results: 2,102,969 votes in favor of independence—a dubious high number of 89 percent of all ballots cast—to 257,266 votes against. Venetians also said yes to joining NATO, the EU, and the eurozone. The overwhelming victory surprised even ardent supporters of the initiative, as most polls before the referendum estimated only about 65 percent of the region’s voters supported independence….

……Read more of the original article on Atlantic Cities

Els Leclercq on Radical Contextualism

Radical ContextualismLondon_Skyline

The TU Delft chair of Urban Design recently organized a symposium around the theme of ‘Radical Contextualism’, as a farewell to their professor Henco Bekkering. Design as Politics’ PhD candidate Els Leclercq attended the symposium, while wondering what contextualism really means for the fast growing cities of the 21st century

Radical contextualism was the aptly selected theme of a recent conference held as part of a series of events to bid farewell to the visionary Professor in Urban Design, Henco Bekkering.

The concept and theory of radical contextualism was discussed and explored – from both a local and a global perspective. Is design based local and regional  contextualism a parochial response that ignores our increasingly globalised world, or is global contextualism one that ignore the traditions, history and culture of indigenous place and space?

A number of speakers made an eloquent call for a strengthening of a regionally and city based context driven design approach in order to sustain places that display a strong resonance with their historical culture and established urban morphology arguing that the alternative is merely leading towards homogenized, and increasingly characterless neighbourhoods; places that could be anywhere around the world. The globalised context was generally considered a threat and not a solution.

The prospect of creating the ‘generic city’, as spoken about by some of today’s urban thinkers – eg Rem Koolhaas – was shunned by the majority of the speakers. It was argued that such an approach does not create the longue duree, the key ingredient that has and continues to elicit such enduring love with certain cities; cities that have so demonstrably evolved within a given identifiable context following long established parameters.

While following this argument and considering the practical application of designing and developing parts of cities into practice, I couldn’t help wondering if this vision on city design, is feasible in the fast growing cities of the 21st century. Increasingly in large expanding cities around the world, private developers are building for their primary market – the investment industry; they are producing a ‘product’ and that product is becoming increasingly standardized and recognizable regardless of whether it’s on London’s or Shanghai’s riverside. The focus seems to be rapidly shifting from the secondary market – the local habitants, to this transient investor led primary market.  Who benefits?

Showing a potential Chinese developer around development opportunity sites in London recently, the interest was not in the contextual. It was in the location in terms of reputation and transport links combined with the ability to build quickly and tall, in phases, to prescribed parameters that produce a product known to ‘shift’ quickly to an international investor hungry audience. The developer felt sure globally recognizable design standards were what his potential buyers are after.

So how do we address the need for radical contextualism as promoted by the speakers at this conference with the reality of private investors, money and globalizing and hence homogenizing spaces in a world where clients are less and less made up of public bodies and local people but more and more by internationally operating corporate bodies?

Els Leclercq is an urban designer and researcher and is currently undertaking a PhD at Desgin as Politics, examining how users perceive the inclusiveness of our contemporary urban public space in times of a retreating government and a growing role for market forces in all facets of our social, economic and cultural life, including the development of our cities. She also is a partner in studio Aitken, a practice for urban design and research. 



Braudels Donkey – Historians and the Mediterranean as a Political Project

Design as Politics’ professor Wouter Vanstiphout has recently contributed to Harvard’s New Geographies magazine about The Mediterranean. The article is now turned into one of our own publications. Available here, especially for you!

The Mediterranean region, at the intersection of three continents, is one of the most important areas on earth–culturally, politically, and ecologically. In the article, Wouter looks through the eyes of the French historian Fernand Braudel towards recent political and financial developments, and wonders: what unites the Mediterranean? What can Braudel teach u about the region? And what about our ‘own’ European cities?

Hoog Catharijne’s Concrete Rigidity

Catharijne RigidityWestern-entrance-830x629

Last month Design as Politics, together with Failed Architecture and the University of Amsterdam, organized a workshop and debate on the redevelopment of Utrecht’s central station area, and the adjacent Hoog Catharijne business and shopping centre. The workshop and debate focused on the financing models behind large-scale real estate projects and the historical roles and responsibilities of architects and planners in designing these. Our aim was to discuss Hoog Catharijne’s original and current redevelopment plans with experts, students and local stakeholders as part of the Design as Politics graduation studio ‘Follow the Money’.

Jan Loerakker and Tim Verlaan of Failed Architecture wrote a nice piece about the events. Read more…

Debatavond: Track Changes

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Track Changes in Sao Paulo

The upcoming public event in The New Institute will bring the debate program ‘Track Changes’ – which took place during the Sao Paulo architectural biennale – back home to the Netherlands.

Last November, an international group of architects, urbanists, economists, developers, politicians and architectural historians talked in Brazil about the fierce changes which society undergoes in periods of economic, political or social crisis, and about the role which architects and urbanists can play in this. The themes ‘What’s Your Crisis?’, ‘Bottom-up Is Not Enough’ and ‘We the People’ were the guidelines for these debates.

‘Bottom up is not enough’ led to the most severe debate in São Paulo. While the biggest part of the attendees agreed with this statement, the opinions were sharply divergent on how this should be put into practice.

Michelle Provoost (Crimson Architectural Historians) will introduce this theme at the New Institute on the seventh of March, followed by a debate moderated by René Boer and Mark Minkjan of Failed Architecture. Hedwig Heinsman (DUS architects), Rients Dijkstra (Maxwan architects + urbanists / Governmental advisor on infrastructure and the city), Indira van ’t Klooster (editor in chief of A10 new European architecture) and Design as Politics’ Wouter Vanstiphout will discuss the outcomes of Track Changes and it’s significance for Dutch Architecture and Urbanism.

Track Changes is part of the international program of The New Institute, which is focused on dialogue, the mobility of international knowledge and agendas in the field of design. The debate takes place on Friday 7 March from 19:30 – 21:30 in the auditorium of The New Institute. Entrance fee is € 7,50, but students and ‘friends of the new institute get in for  only € 3,75. You can buy your tickets here.

ATTENTION: the event is Dutch spoken.