Designing inclusive cities

A couple of weeks ago Hassnae Bouazza gave an inspiring lecture at Delft University of Technology as part of the Design as Politics lecture series. In her lecture she connected social issues of emancipation, Islam and feminism to architecture and urban planning, from the inside out. Recordings of the lectures can be found here, but you can now also read the full text of the lecture at frontaalnaakt.

Mariko Okada in Woman of the Lake (Yoshishige Yoshida, 1966). Source: Lipstick Trouble

Designing inclusive cities by Hassnae Bouazza
Shahira Fahmy was a young and influential Egyptian architect before choosing acting as a career. She now stars alongside Isabelle Hupert in Claire’s Camera, directed by Hong Sang Soo. She says in this video clip that she doesn’t know how architecture lead her to acting.

Let me take a guess: in designing, you try to make a better world. More beautiful, more comfortable, you also try tell a story. Each design, building, concept has its own story to convey. You make people’s lives easier, you give them freedom, a place to repose, you emancipate them. In acting you also tell stories, stories that people can relate to, you lift the lid on taboos, visualise delicate subjects, you celebrate stories – and you create beauty.

When I was thinking about this lecture I had a zillion thoughts and ideas and the challenge was to structure them. I had a long talk with Design as Politics’ Professor Wouter Vanstiphout in preparing this talk and what at first seemed like a dare, namely link emancipation and feminism to design, very quickly became very obvious. But of course design and feminism are not only linked but intertwined. If you think about it, everything connected to progress has inevitably to do with emancipation and feminism, be it vacuum cleaners, big supermarkets, take away meals, that make people’s lives easier and give women in more traditional societies room for a career – to buildings that take into account the needs of the modern female. Let me give you an example.

Public toilets
Last week a judge ruled in a very interesting case a young lady had filed: it was 2015, after hours, she had to pee, couldn’t find a toilet, and decided to pee in a corner on the street. A police man saw her, but of course he did, police men never miss an opportunity to squeeze money out of people, fined her and she decided to fight the fine, reasoning that she didn’t have a choice, because of the lack of public toilets for women. There are plenty of urinals, but no decent places for women to go and relieve themselves. The judge acknowledged there are few public toilets for women, but that’s ‘because men tend to urinate in public more often’, he ruled that she should have used a urinal.

So the logic is this: men break the law by urinating in public and the state rewards them by providing urinals. I’m sure you know what those urinals look like: stinky, dirty. I always imagine the stench when I walk past one and keep my distance.

Urinals were designed for the comfort of men. An acknowledgment of the idea that a man has to do what a man has to do. So what about women? Why is it perfectly normal to find urinals in city centers, but do city councils just assume women don’t need toilets? Which of you smart minds will be able to think of a solution that is so much more appealing than the few public toilets we have now and which I for one avoid at all cost. So, who will help out the modern day woman and design an attractive, clean solution for her.

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Bersih 4: Street Protests as a Form of City Making

Cities and architecture are not devoid of politics. Produced and governed through political processes, they often become the canvas upon which power is mapped. But this can also backfire. A square, designed to provide the setting for showing off the architectural grandeur of an institution, often becomes the very place where the populace gathers to protest directly against the powers that be.

Written by design as Politics PhD Candidate Nural Azlan, originally published on

In the same way that power is represented through the urban form, the occupation of iconic urban spaces directly challenges the power structure by contesting the functions and symbolisms of that space, as in the example of the student occupation of Tiananmen Square in 1989. The choice of protest space can also highlight the cause, as in the case of the occupation of Zucotti Park in 2011, a semi-public urban space owned by a corporation, which the Occupy movement chose to illustrate the social inequality caused by irresponsible financial practices. The Occupy protest gave Zucotti Park a new meaning, making it an icon in its own right. It challenged the significance of the space by filling it up with bodies that were not supposed to be there.

The barricade. The empty space illuminated beyond is the symbolic Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square). Source: Malaysiakini, 2015.

Bersih 4
I thought about this question as I was observing the Bersih 4. protest in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the final days of August 2015. The authorities did not give Bersih permission to organize the two-day long protest in Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in central Kuala Lumpur. The City Hall stated that Dataran was unavailable on those dates (29 and 30 August), due to preparations for the celebration of Independence Day on 31 August. Instead of contesting the space, as they tended to do in the past, Bersih complied with the decision and chose to occupy the vicinity of the square instead. In previous protests, directly defying the authorities had at times resulted in violent clashes – with Bersih participants cast as anarchy-loving troublemakers, a charge which obscured the cause of the protests. By avoiding a clash and not giving the authorities any semi-legitimate reason to throw them out, attention could be fully focused on the cause of the protest, which called for a structural reform of the government due to the 1MDB financial scandal, involving public money.

Serious about complying with the authorities’ demand, Bersih set up their own barrier to the Dataran, about 100 meters from the one installed by the police, forbidding their own protesters from entering the space. After one of the protesters broke through the Bersih barricade, it was fortified by a human chain, adding an extra layer of protection. In the occupied road-space several clusters of protesters with different activities emerged, such as workshops on activism, experience-sharing sessions, or ad-hoc exhibitions of protest posters. The biggest crowd-puller, though, was a makeshift stage where the organizers and opposition politicians gave speeches, and where performances, such as singing and stand-up comedy, were carried out. The cool air brought by the night was a welcome contrast to the oppressive tropical heat of the day, making the space more festive. As the crowd grew bigger outside the barricade, Dataran Merdeka remained empty save for the rehearsal of the state-sponsored Independence Day celebration.

Symbolic space vs meaningful place
Dataran Merdeka is an impressive rectangular space located in the midst of a more organic urban fabric and defined by rows of colonial buildings. Formerly known as the Padang (‘field’ in Malay), it was a British colonial spatial instrument of town-planning employed in British Malaya, serving a number of functions from military drills to cricket games. The name was changed to Dataran Merdeka to commemorate independence from 450 years of colonial rule. The Dataran is thus loaded with constructed meaning: spatially representing the might of the Empire during colonial times, the celebratory name change after Independence signifies the triumph of the nation in prevailing over the former colonial masters. Due to its perceived importance as a national symbol, its use and function are highly regulated, so that only spectacles such as the Independence Day celebrations and revenue-generating corporate events are typically allowed. Since the Dataran has served the state as a rallying tool of nationalism, not as a space of independence, its opportunity to become a true public space has been lost. The space is not yet independent.

On the other hand, the adjacent space which eventually became the focus of the occupation is actually a big road junction connecting the more symbolic Dataran with the spaces of everyday life such as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (TAR) and Jalan Tun Perak. Humbler in scale, these streets and small squares form a representative segment of the historic core, where people go to work, shop, play, and live their everyday lives. These spaces also carry vestiges of colonial practice, such as segregation, with Jalan TAR associated with the Malay Muslims, and Jalan Tun Perak serving as the border between the Malay and Chinese communities. However, a closer inspection reveals that these borders have been slowly blurring, with more recent immigrant enclaves overlapping at their boundaries. Where the Dataran is preserved in all its colonial glory, the spaces around it are more dynamic and adept to change.

The inverted city
The Nolli technique of mapping is a reduced representation of the city, which highlights urban spaces by presenting them as voids defined by the solids of the buildings and other structures. Hence, the composition of the urban space is made explicit by leaving it bare instead of highlighting it with a thick marker. Up until 1748 when Giambattista Nolli created his surveying technique to represent the city of Rome, city plans were mostly presented as birdseye perspectives, a more cluttered form that did not always show the structure of the urban space clearly. The reduced representation coupled with the direct angle from above is more revealing.

A Nolli map of the area around Dataran Merdeka. Kuala Lumpur grew prosperous around the confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers in the 1850s. Source: author.

What if we applied the analogy of the Nolli Map to street protests? This is now easier to illustrate with the use of drones to monitor protests, just as was done at Bersih 4. If we substitute the building footprint with the actual footfall of people in the streets, the location of bodies in space then becomes the structural element of space – the collection of solids which define the voids. The street events, including protests, become an exercise of inverting the city where the building density is transferred into the streets. The high number of people moving together through the streets makes visible the exasperations that have been circulating in the discursive spaces of coffee shops and the media; a visual statement that the power wielded by the authorities derives from the people. The empty Dataran Merdeka in this instance represents a vacuum of trust in the authorities, or on a more positive note, just like the voids of the Nolli map, the potentials of public space.

Therefore the empty Dataran, a symbolic space prepped for the state-sanctioned spectacle, stood in stark contrast with the spaces of everyday life, full of people performing their democratic right of dissent. On some level, this could be read as the public turning its back on the the authorities’ official narrative, in refusing to contest the national symbolic space. Claiming a banal piece of infrastructure and ignoring the more elaborate symbolic space presents the potential of the public to create a new representational space over the one established by the authorities. This process of inverting the city is also an act of defiance, which ironically started with the intention of complying with the demands of the authorities.

An inverted map of the same area. Yellow molasses represent the Bersih protesters. Source: Author

Notes on mapping
In mapping protests, especially when they are spread out over a period of time in a space of everyday life, we should also consider the temporal aspect of people going to and leaving the protest. This makes the spatial demarcation of the protest almost impossible, in contrast to protests in more defined symbolic spaces. Protests in such spaces may have barricades around the protestors, or entrances to the urban space, or a live fence of bodies forming a tight mass in urban space (usually in the shape of a circle). In the case of Bersih 4, however, the barricades were around the Dataran, and the protesters were outside of the barricade, not bounded by any spatial constraints, free to come and go as they pleased. It was therefore interesting to observe how the protesters situated themselves in the streets. Groups of people engaged in activism workshops or sharing sessions made way for smaller groups of people huddled together to settle in for the night, and the crowd continued thinning out further from the centre of action. The edges of the crowd were extremely permeable, since there were no barricades, structures or even police barriers demarcating the space of protest.

That lack of a demarcation of the protest space, and the constant flow of people coming and going, made estimating the crowd size rather challenging. Although the organizers stated their intention that Bersih 4 would take place over the course of 34 hours, they also did not specify how long the protesters should maintain a constant presence at the protest site. The size of the crowd was in constant flux during the two days of protest, and as can be expected the estimates offered by both organizers (500,000 at peak) and the authorities (50,000 at the most) varied wildly.

The ephemeral city
To a certain extent, the Nolli map analogy illustrates the potential of street protests as a form of urbanism. That is, city-making by the citizens, as bodies autonomously coming together create fluid new spaces in contrast with the more permanent structures installed by politicians and experts who decide the form of the city. Although ephemeral in nature, such acts of protest may affect the urban space in creating new long lasting meanings and icons, perceived differently by the public and the authorities. This could potentially translate into changes in the treatment and governance of the space by the authorities, and in how the public utilizes and engages with the space. More importantly, it underscores the point that cities are not there just for labour and consumption;

If the success of protests was measured by whether their demands were immediately met, then Bersih 4 could be swept aside as another spectacle, an illusion that the voice of the people matters. In this era of next-day deliveries and constant updates on social media, our short attention span requires instant results, and it’s too easy to dismiss peaceful protests as lacking potency among more sensational events. Protest veterans have told me that this particular Bersih rally felt more muted than its predecessors. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possible long-term gain of a rising political awareness among an increasingly depoliticized public, conceived by events constantly occurring in public space. Just as the power structure can be read through symbolisms planted in the urban form, taking to the streets manifests the power of the people.

Nurul Azlan is a PhD Candidate at the Chair of Design as Politics, TU Delft, where she is working on her dissertation; Seditious Spaces: Protest in Postcolonial Kuala Lumpur. Nurul is interested in the power structure that shapes and governs public space in postcolonial societies, and how social media plays a role in redistributing that power. The author would like to thank Malaysiakini for their generosity in providing the drone photos in this article.


Design as Politics Lectures: What Design can do About…

Recently we started a new lecture series in Delft, raising the question what design can do about some of the mayor issues that dominate the social-political debate these days.

Following the format of so-called confrontation lectures we’ll discuss urbanism and architecture in relation to Finance, Welfare, Emancipation, Safety, Democracy and Migration, together with our students and a non-architectural expert, opinion maker, journalist or politician. Each lecture starts with and introduction by Design as Politics’ Professor Wouter Vanstiphout, followed by a statement by a special guest speaker. Subsequently an architecture student or PhD candidate is asked to respond to kick off a debate with the audience. 

During our first session we discussed the relation between Architecture and Finance with economist and publicist Heleen Mees and urban researcher Rene Boer. We talked about the influence of China on the global financial market, rising profits, declining labour income, the position of women on the labour market and the speculative design of a Special Social Zone in Amsterdam. 

The second session was completely dedicated to emancipation, feminism and the role of architecture. For this we invited journalist and writer Hassnae Bouazza who talked about architecture as a tool for emancipation, by taking into account the needs of its users, the domination of male thinking in planning and governance, the creation of beauty and the right to pee. We asked architecture student Brigitte O’Regan who is part of the TU Delft Feminists movement to respond on her lecture. Brigitte stressed the need for gender equality in the University, backed up by Wouter Vanstiphout’s introduction on the position of women in science.

Both sessions sparked a lively debate and gave lots of food for thought. For all of you who couldn’t make it: don’t worry! They have been recorded! So check them out here and here and join us for the next session on Friday 27 October about Architecture and Welfare with Zihni Özdil – member of parliament for the green party. We’ll keep you posted about the exact time and location on our facebook page.

Alamar Travel Guide E-Publication

In the spring of 2016, Design as Politics and The International New Town Institute took a group of TU Delft Master students to Cuba in order to explore Alamar, a new town just east of Havana. Based on our research and on-site experiences, we have developed a travel guide for this mostly undiscovered New Town.

Alamar is one of those New Towns which look remarkably familiar at first glance. An abundance of standardized walk-up flats, modernist social housing off 5-6 storeys of a similar kind that Western European New Towns excelled in during the 50s and 60s. Organized in neighborhood units, each with their set of shops, schools and services. A lot of open, green spaces in between and ample provision for cars and traffic.

But no matter how familiar this cityscape looks: this is Cuba and everything is different from what it looks like. To start with: this New Town was not built in the 50s but in the 70s, in a quite extraordinary way, completely different than its European family members. Even if they share the same DNA, Alamar is not only shaped by the modernist canon of postwar new towns, but just as much by the revolutionary ethos of Cuba after the triumph of the revolution in 1959 and it even bears the marks of the pre-revolutionary period under the regime of President Fulgencio Batista. At second glance, this peculiar mix makes up the unique character of Alamar, New Town ‘at the sea’.

This publication is part of a series of Alternative Travel Guides initiated by the International New Town Institute. Other issues have been made for Milton Keynes (UK), Cergy Pontoise (France) and Nowa Huta (Poland)

De Rol van Ontwerp: Placebo, Therapie of Kwakzalverij?

In June 2016, the International conference ‘Building the future of Health’ took place in Groningen, discussing game changing concepts for healthy Ageing and the built environment. Design as Politics’ Wouter Vanstiphout was asked by the conference organization in collaboration with the Board of Government Advisors, to write a piece about the relation between architecture, urbanization and healthcare. A short version of the text was already published in Dutch magazine ‘de Blauwe Kamer’, but now it’s here for you all to read (if you understand Dutch). Edited by Cassandra Wilkins.

International Social Housing Festival: Migration and mobility in cities in the West

As part of the International Social Housing Festival, Crimson Architectural Historians and the ISHF research team are collectively organizing an event about Migration and mobility in cities in the West.

All over the world, cities are challenged to accommodate newcomers. This not only contributes to the current refugee crisis in Europe, but also to the preexisting urgent need for temporary accommodation for migrant workers and an increasing demand for flexible housing. Our cities are increasingly defined by the dynamics of temporary inhabitants: expats, refugees, international students, and migrant workers moving in and out. The influx of individuals to cities is expected to be a permanent phenomenon that requires a permanent strategy. How may cities better adapt to a phenomenon that has always shaped and defined urban development and will continue to do so in the future?

In the framework of International Social Housing Festival 2017 in Amsterdam, Crimson is presenting the first research results of their project A city of Comings and Goings, which runs parallel to our graduation studio about migration, mobility and the city.

The event will start with an introductory presentation, followed by four presentations on Aarhus (Denmark), Prato (Italy), Vienna (Austria) and London (UK), in which our international researchers will discuss the current migration challenges in these cities and the specific spatial solutions that are being offered.  The event will conclude with a panel discussion, in which Dutch professionals from different backgrounds will react to the presentations and consider what lessons can be learned for the Dutch situation. The panel will also reflect on what migration means for cities more generally, and how architecture and planning can contribute to migration challenges .

Experts include:
Achmed Baâdoud (Stadsdeel Nieuw-West Amsterdam), Perry Hoetjes (Stadgenoot), Payman Hanifi-Moghaddam (Seedz Rotterdam), Desirée Uitzetter (BPD Gebiedsontwikkeling), Hassnae Bouazza (journalist), Francine Houben (Mecanoo architecten), Cihan Bugdaci (Gentleman A.R.T.) Goof van Dormolen (VWN) and Michelle Provoost (Crimson Architectural Historians)

The event is free of charge and takes place on June 18, in Het Schip Museum, Amsterdam – Torenzaal. More detailed information on the program & registration at Please note: there is only a limited number of spots available!

Graduation Studio 2017/2018 – A city of Comings and Goings – Part II

How can we design buildings, cities and landscapes that make the best of our restless, migratory, lives?

We are very happy to announce that we will continue our research into the spatial dimensions of migration with a new edition of the graduation studio: A City of Comings and Goings – Designing for migration and mobility. This studio starts in September 2017 and is open for students of the Architecture, Urbanism and Landscape Architecture tracks at Delft University of Technology. Interested students can apply until April 23th!

Migration and mobility define how we use our cities and landscapes. Climate change, conflicts and a globalised economy keep us constantly on the move, whether we are rich ex-pats, hard working labour migrants, young international students or refugees. Looking at the world around us, there is no reason to think that migration will remain at the same level or even decrease. Our cities will increasingly be characterised by a coming and going of people, population growth and contraction, the emergence and disappearance of amenities and enterprises, and a constantly changing racial profile. In this studio we challenge you to develop new perspectives, new solutions, new utopias or new research into this topic. How can we design buildings, cities and landscapes that make the best of our restless,migratory, lives?  That profit from the constant exchange of people, that can withstand the pressures of a growing and shrinking, ever changing population?

This studio is framed within the approach of Design as Politics; critical, bold, research-based design with a strong narrative. While focusing on the theme of migration we will give you the freedom to develop your own project based on your own fascination and interpretation. We will organize lectures, workshops, a field trip and group discussion to feed you with new ideas and inspiration for your project, while at the same time challenge you to take your own position.

Are you ready to become a Design as Politics Graduate, 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 apply for this studio! Send us an email ( explaining your motivation to join his studio or project proposal in max 1,5 A4 ( 600 words). Also include some examples of your previous writings and designs. Deadline for application is on Sunday 23 April 2017. Only limited places available. We will inform all applicants about the selection before may 1st.

Course Code Architecture students: AR3DP110
Course Code Urbanism students: AR3U100

AirportCity or #FortEU: Workshop with FailedArchitecture

In December we asked Michiel van Iersel, Rene Boer and Mark Minkjan of the research collective Failed architecture to organize a workshop for our graduation students taking part in the studio  ‘A City of Comings and Goings’. They came with the idea to focus this workshop on the border landscape of Schiphol Airport, the main hub for migration to and from The Netherlands.

Together with the Rotterdam Harbor, Schiphol is one of the ‘mainports’ of the Netherlands. Since its origins, exactly one hundred years ago, the airport has become one of the leading aviation hubs in the world. Almost operating at full capacity, they process up to 500.000 traffic movements per year. Instead of just being as a place to get on and off planes, it has grown into an real Airport City, with a mixture of shops, banks, restaurants, meeting areas, hotels and even a casino –  a concept that is now shared with other airports around the world.

But this seamless shopping environments and transparent terminals, stands in sharp contrast with Schiphol’s security regime. During an intensive three-day workshop at Schiphol Airport and the Amsterdam Museum, students were asked to move beyond standard architectural analysis and to develop a statement or intervention responding towards schiphol’s border landscape – ideally hacking, reinforcing, subverting, breaching or visualize the (sometimes invisible) border of the airport. This resulted in three totally different proposals that shed a different light on Airport City Schiphol.

Choreographing Schiphol Airport – the Game
After visiting the airport, the first group of students stated that Schiphol is not a physical space with social and political consequences, but rather a social and political subject with spatial consequences. Its border landscape is not just outlining a physical territory, but a mode of existence. To translate this statement into an intervention, the group consisting of Yi Yu, Olivia Forty and Ramon Cordova, saw the limitation of movement at the boarding process as a planned sequence that hinders the opportunity to move freely. It is a scenario with a non-ending choreography in which everybody takes part of a pre-assigned role without being conscious of it. As in most choreographies, actors play different roles and not everybody can have the same degrees of apparent freedom. This is where the border landscape manifest itself and divide actors in two main groups: us and them.

But who creates this division? The choreography doesn’t have a single director but rather a set of them. To answer this question, the group developed ‘Schiphol Airport: the Game’, that attempts to show the reality of the airport, as well as a part of the society we live in. The game gives you a sequence of scenarios present in the process of taking an airplane. It points out that even contingency is planned, in order to make freedom of movement impossible. Schiphol Airport: the Game is not trying to solve a specific problem, but rather encourages players to engage in the question on how airports, borders and society can look like if we question the reason behind certain things.


Parallel Runaways
Although there are no permanent residences on the terrain of Schiphol, the airport is frequented by a uniquely diverse community: business men, prostitutes, homeless people and employees. Jere Kuzmanic, John Lau and Lena Knappers were fascinated by the parallel worlds that exist at the Airport. Their project consist of a printed booklet and audio material for three guided tours, that will open your eyes and suck you into the at first glance invisible worlds of employees, security services and weirdo’s that dwell around Schiphol. Each of the stories is made in a way that it gradually engages the person who is doing the tour into these parallel realities until there is no way back.

The Serviced World – tour makes you realize that Schiphol Airport has more than 6500 employees. They are part of different services, like security, customs, commerce supply, cleaners, luggage handlers, runway services, cooks, administrative agents, undercover immigration officers and taxi drivers. There is a whole parallel labyrinth of spaces which are used by employees and prohibited for others. During the tour, participants try and find these spaces by discovering all the doors without signs on it or doors marked with a red circle with a white dash. Additionally, try to push your luck by actually pretending you are an employee, carrying out a task!

The From Safety to Detention – tour shows you the border landscape of the Netherlands and makes you aware that you precisely behave according to the script. Unless… The World of Strange People leads you to the bunch of weirdo’s who are in and around Schiphol. You wouldn’t expect it but there are homeless people, prostitutes and airplane spotters all around the airport. They are not visible for everyone – you can only see them when you really start looking…  

Border crossing
The last proposal from the group of Signe Perkone, Alon Sarig and Giulia Spagnolo illustrated the Schiphol border landscape by making illegal practices visible during the boarding process. The safety off-board brochure in your front pocket at your seat, informs you about your options for your ‘escape to freedom’. Offered packages provide different options to either dig, clip or make your way to freedom. To illustrate this proposal best, the text below goes over the speakers in the airplane.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign. If you haven’t already done so, please stow your ‘escape to freedom’ package underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead locker. Please take your seat, fasten your seat belt, and act naturally as if you were not entering the country by stealth. If you are seated next to an emergency exit, please read carefully the special instructions card located by your seat. This is especially important, if you are stowed away by the wheels of the plane. If you do not wish to perform the functions described in the event of an emergency, please ask a flight attendant to reseat you, but at the same time we advise you not to draw attention to yourself. If you are using our economy escape package, we suggest you use the flight time to rest and gather your strength for digging. If you are using our luxury package, relax and enjoy the flight, while not forgetting to insert the bionic lenses and put on the identity mask before security checks upon arrival. If you have any questions about our flight today or about how to use any of the items in the escape package, please don’t hesitate to ask one of our flight attendants. Thank you and we wish you a successful escape to freedom.”

A special thanks to Failed Architecture, the Amsterdam Museum and our host and inspiration: Schiphol Airport. Text by Anouk Klapwijk and Lena Knappers

WE CARE A LOT! – Final report

In the autumn of 2016 we conducted a research and design project commissioned by the Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands (Rijksbouwmeester) as part of his program ‘Oog voor de buurt’. The topic was aging and healthcare in Dutch neighborhoods. Together with students of the architecture master track, two Design as Politics Alumni and the International New Town Institute, we took a closer look at two specific cases: elderly home Humanitas in Deventer and the assisted living facility ‘Buiten Zorg’ in Zuid-Scharwoude – a village in the province of North-Holland. This led to two reports, one for each area, in which we made recommendations and proposed design interventions for a better integration of healthcare in those neighborhoods – responding to the current and upcoming changes in the Dutch healthcare system which is aimed at living at home as long as possible. We also organized a symposium around this topic. Wanna know more? You can now find both reports on our issuu account here and here (in Dutch only)

Another 4 years!


We are very proud to inform you that the chair of Design as Politics will continue for another four years! This was announced yesterday at the presentation of the new action-agenda on spatial design, titled Working together on the power of design (Samen werken aan ontwerpkracht) by the Dutch national government. As a consequence we’ll continue to spam you with our opinions, research projects, lectures, design studio’s, workshops, exhibitions and articles until at least the end of 2020. Whether you like it or not.

Minister Schultz van Haegen of Infrastructure and the Environment (IenM) and Minister Bussemaker of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) came to our faculty yesterday to present their new agenda to a large audience of designers, students, policy makers and researchers from all around the country. Focus for the next 4 years will be on social-spatial issues that have to do with our changing world, whether it is climate change, the future of mobility, migration, the energy transition, healthcare or education. ‘These questions require an innovative approach and revolutionary new solutions, while at the same time the changing roles between government and society ask for new ways of organization and collaboration.‘ Also the new environmental planning law which will be enacted in 2019 (de omgevingswet) ‘requires new knowledge and skills for an integrated and participatory approach. The new Action-agenda departs from these changes and aims to contribute to the quality of our environment by means of design.


25 years of architecture policy, 8 years design as politics
Already since 1991, the Dutch government has been making policy especially focused on architecture and the built environment. Through this policy, the government has supported the work of multiple institutions that are active in the field of architecture and urban development. This has led to an enormous amount of innovative design studies, educational programs, research projects, debates and exhibitions that fuel the Dutch architectural debate. The Chief government architect has therefore taken the initiative to organize a traveling exhibition about the history and influence of 25 years of architectural policy in the Netherlands. The chair has been proudly part of the last 8 years and we’re honored to remain part of this agenda for another term. The exhibition is currently on show at our own faculty @ BK-Expo and will move to the New Institute at the beginning of January.

Workshop: Democratic integration in Feijenoord, Rotterdam


As part of the graduation studio ‘A City of Comings and Goings – Designing for Migration and Mobility’ a workshop was organized by Design as Politics PhD candidates Nurul Azlan and Els Leclercq about political and democratic integration of inhabitants with a migrant background in the neighbourhood Feijenoord in Rotterdam-South.

Just as in many European countries, the influx of refugees in the Netherlands is a prominent issue in the social-political debate. Opponents often refer to the failed integration of migrants who came to the country in the ‘60’s, of mostly Moroccan and Turkish origin. The long-term impact of inhabitants with a migrant background on neighbourhoods, the fear of losing the ‘Dutch identity’ and the rising tension between various groups in society is often a central issue in this debate. Feijenoord is one of those neighbourhoods that has changed a lot over the past decades and the group of non-western migrants has increased up to 76% of the total population. In addition, the district faces an accumulation of socio-economic problems such as high unemployment rated, a low education and income level and a high percentage of school drop-outs. Also there is a lack of services and amenities in the neighborhood and much of the public space is of low quality and underused.

While the Rotterdam authorities have received multiple subsidies from the Dutch government in order to improve the impoverished quarters of the city and a lot of money actually was spend on Feijenoord, it does not seem like the neighbourhood has improved much. Some public spaces were refurbished, but the inhabitants are still facing the same problems as before the regeneration, while the level of participation on any political scale remains low. In this workshop the students were therefore asked ‘how public space or the public sphere could contribute to, not the cultural but the, political/democratic integration of migrants? During a full day in neighbourhood centre ‘de proeftuin’ in Feijenoord, the students were challenged to design spaces or processes that could establish an environment for a new democratic public sphere in which (temporary) migrants (or all citizens) can feel part of the bigger system. Students could either concentrate on spatial design, or also develop apps that could trigger engagement with the public space. This resulted in three totally different, sometimes slightly provocative, proposals.

Vote For Space
The first group of students (Anouk Klapwijk, Giulia Spagnolo and Ramon Cordova) imagined a new way to approach participative design. They created a democratic device that allows people to directly choose and intervene in their own environment. The concept consists of an app that allows people to choose physical spaces for potential urban developments. Moreover, it also allows to choose the function that the space would get through a collective decision. The management work would be ultimately translated into a physical intervention based in a collaboration scheme. While the app is developed for Feijenoord, it leaves open possibilities for further development in the rest of the city, the country and even the world.


The app is based on four steps of participation by the user. The first step is about marking empty spaces. Users take a picture of an empty public accessible space that they feel is suited for developments. This space then gets marked on a map. The second step is called brainstorming. Users can brainstorm about the activity they want to take place in that particular space. Three categories are provided to keep it simple and clear: nature, culture and sports. In order to inspire the user, for each category an example can be found. Step three in the process is voting. Users can vote on their preferences for the development of a particular empty space. The app also allows the users to see the statistics for this space, in order to encourage discussions and campaigns for the development of one space. After the voting process, a decision can be made about the favourable category in which the development for this particular empty space should take place. For the creation and construction of the new space, a responsible inhabitant needs to be assigned within the neighbourhood. The difference between a survey and a more participatory application like ‘Vote for Space’ is that the inhabitants are not only answering the “question”, but also choose which spaces are at “question”.

Istanbul on the Maas – Feijenoord as a test case for an autonomous zone
The second group of students (Alon Sarig, Lena Knappers, Yi Yu) were fascinated by the pirate TV satellite receivers, that characterise the urban landscape of Feijenoord and that could be seen as the most visible physical manifestation of ‘binational urbanism’ in the area. The people who live in Feijenoord simultaneously divide their life between two worlds – the urban everyday life of Rotterdam and the cultural, political and social content from their previous home (in the case of Feijenoord mostly Turkey) that they receive on their TV sets. Untitled 3In the context of Feijenoord, the aim of this group of students was to explore a speculative scenario of a new form of autonomous zone. Instead of an ongoing reality where the migrants in Feijenoord are being forced to integrate in the Dutch society by forbidding for example the satellite dishes on the facades of their houses, they explored the opposite approach: ‘exter-grate’. An exclusive autonomy for the migrants. A place where the migrants of Feijenoord can develop their own distinct social, political and cultural environment (one that does not necessarily correspond to the Dutch or European values or norms). A symbol of local pride that at the same time creates new financial opportunities (such as new forms of tourism and media distribution).

The primary act of ‘Istanbul on the Maas’ was to define the Western part of Feijenoord as a physical and political entity. In order to express autonomy through geo-political operation, they transformed several of the existing informal activities (the informal beach, the community centre and pirate TV satellite receivers) that are already taking place in the island into formal attractions, institutions and landmarks. Ones that will eventually convert and declare the area as a self-governed neighbourhood-state.

The Burkini beach, that was transformed from the existing informal beach serves as a unique emancipatory space for the island’s women. As a reaction to the expelling of muslim women wearing burkini’s from European beaches. A public space that would shape a new political reality through emphasizing public realm.
The current community centre of Feijenoord, where inhabitants from the neighbourhood are meeting each other, where different residents are working together and where new ideas for the area are developed, could become the governance building of the island. This institution will play an important role in the political and democratic participation of the ‘Feijenoorders’. In the city-state democracy is brought back to the local community.
The TV tower, is formed from the existing three social housing towers at the entrance to Island. The buildings, once represented the welfare state integration oppression governed by the Dutch state, are now transformed into a huge telecommunication tower, that independently receives data from middle eastern TV channels and transmit it exclusively to the citizens of the island ‘Istanbul on the Maas’, will turn the migrant condition (that might be seen as an obstacle in the way for full integration) to a local symbol of pride and economical prosperity.

Come Dine With Me
The last group (Olivia Forty, Jere Kuzmanic, Signe Perkone and John Lau) took the fact that more than 40% of the people in Feijenoord is unemployed and that a correspondingly large amount of people report being lonely. People in this area lack access to common social structures, such as connection between the individual and society, opportunities and inter-personal connections. In particular, there is no public place, where these kinds of connections could naturally arise. The students argued that space needs to be democratised, in the sense that people need to feel that they are in charge of it, and can take full advantage of it in all its capacities. The question is then: what can connect all these people with their various backgrounds and problems? Their answer to this was ‘food’. Food is universal and it is the most easy and common way of engaging with other cultures – which is preferable in areas where people are less open to socialising. While consuming food is generally viewed as a social practice, making it is normally much more intimate, either done in private or with family. The premise is that, if people not only eat together but prepare the food together too, that will create more space for real interaction and productive encounters. For this it is necessary to take the private function – the kitchen – outside of the private realm – the house – into the public. In this way communal cooking and dining can become a platform for dialogue, a step closer to building a strong community that can fight for improvement.  This communal dining can be event-based, or rather in the mood of a festival or weekend-market, with the aim of building interest and encouraging self-organising and taking initiative. This can also involve healthy competition between members of different communities and cultures. The concept is inspired by the old-school game ‘snake’ with the idea that the dining tables can gradually move across the area picking people up along the way. In that way the tables and the dinner parties can become a physical link and an advertisement.



Research on Design and Legislation


The past few months our chair has been intensively working on a research concerning one of the biggest legislative changes in Dutch history. All the laws concerning the (built) environment, twenty-four in total, will be merged into one overarching environmental planning law (‘de omgevingswet’). Let alone the extensive legislative consequences, this system change will undoubtably impact the way that cities are designed and planned in the Netherlands.

The notion of change for Dutch planning and design has been the start of our investigation. In a series of interviews researcher Jelte Boeijenga and research-assistent Nina Bohm tried to find answers to questions such as: What is the new context designers will have to work in due to the legislative change? What are emerging opportunities for local governments to use design in order to achieve societal goals? What expertises and instruments do designers need to develop in order to answer to the ambitions of the new law?

From these interviews we recognised two developments of rising importance. Firstly, there is an explosion of information availability on the urban environment. That offers an opportunity to develop a platform, an interface, on which all that information is gathered and can be used to jointly design the environment. Secondly, this decentralising law anticipates on strong local-political forces. There, we see an opportunity for designers to employ design in order to contribute to societal and political agendas.

Last month we tested these hypotheses on two future, urban challenges: ‘City and Highway’ and ‘The Energy Transition’. Two focus groups consisting of lawyers, designers and societal experts engaged in our thought experiment on the future relation between law and design.

At the moment we are finalising a research report that explains all our findings from the past few months. In this publication the designer perspective will be very important, as we all too well realise that a broader conversation in the urban design community on this topic has yet to be started. To help instigate the discussion we plan to organise a public event to present and debate our research findings within the Faculty of Architecture end of this year. Keep an eye on this blog and the ‘Ontwerp en Wet’ twitter account for more information.

Recently an informative article based on our intermediary research findings last may has been published in the Faculty magazine B-nieuws.