Centre of Applied Research Technology

From Prevention to Resilience: Designing Public Spaces in Times of Pandemics

Possible answers and applicable solutions through action research and research through design


Circles appeared on the grass in parks, streets and sidewalks were cordoned off for 1.5 meters. In cities all over the world, measures were and are being taken to keep people at a sufficient distance from each other. Until now, these have been temporary and preventive measures aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19. But can these interventions in the public space also contribute to more sustainable and resilient neighborhoods? So that prevention also forms the seeds for reconstruction? This ambition is stated in the project From Prevention to Resilience. In this project, the AUAS, together with a national and international consortium, will look for possible answers and applicable solutions through action research and research through design.

Frank Suurenbroek (Professor Bouwtransformatie) and Martijn de Waal (Professor Play & Civic Media) have joined forces for this ZonMW project. Cities such as Paris and Milan are already using the crisis to implement more structural changes in the design of public space, aimed at, for example, reducing the use of the car and making the city more livable. Suurenbroek and De Waal will investigate how interventions can be designed and implemented at neighborhood level from such a perspective. Resilience is the core concept here.


The term resilience refers to the ability of neighborhoods and cities to deal positively with shock waves. On the one hand, this could be ecological resilience: the challenges surrounding climate resilience and circularity - and how to deal with these at neighborhood level. And on the other hand to social resilience: how can social networks of local residents support each other, learn from each other or take joint action? But also, how can interventions in the public space also offer opportunities for the future for young people?

That can be done in different ways. If you do have to place fences somewhere to create distance, have them made of reusable materials. Another good example is a climate cube. This is a wooden structure with greenery on it, which can be placed near a supermarket, for example. Then people can wait in a pleasant place before they can enter. The design of the waiting area contributes to the collection of rainwater or the prevention of heat islands.

Social resilience can be strengthened by having local residents actively participate in the design of the interventions, for example in a makers lab. This can create new social connections, and residents can acquire new skills in a design process. We also want to look at interventions that enhance the residential quality of the public space. Digital media can also be helpful in this regard, for example by facilitating meetings in new ways or by making the coordination of joint activities easier.

The elderly and young people are central

In developing these resilience values, we also look specifically at two target groups for whom interventions in the public space are crucial. Elderly people because of the health risks related to Covid-19 and young people who are at greater risk of economic vulnerability, especially in the socio-economically weak neighborhoods.

Operationalization and Work Packages

Our research is operationalized along four work packages. First of all (WP1) we develop an analytical framework. In this framework we operationalize the concept of resilience. The resilience concept has its origins in ecological sciences with a systemic perspective. Gradually this has been broadened with a perspective on the social dimension (liveability, co-creation) and a transformation-oriented approach. In our research we build on the City Resilience Framework as a basic model. Within this framework we focus on the domains: Infrastructure and Ecosystems and Economy and Society. These domains are operationalized in seven parameters: flexible, redundant and robust (ecological resilience - infrastructure and ecosystems), inclusive, reflective, resourceful (social resilience - Economy and Society) and integrative, which focuses on relationships and an approach to co-design. This framework is the starting point for the analysis of existing interventions.

In WP2 we systematically research existing Covid-19 related interventions in public space in urban settings. Parallel, existing projects in public space - aimed to strengthen its ecological or social resilience - are systematically collected as well. Our national and international project consortium plays an important role in this data collection. The collected interventions are analyzed and categorized according to the analytical framework. Moreover, the deconstruction of its working elements are translated as 'program of possibilities', consisting of building blocks with which new designs can be developed that are promising to link resilience values to 1,5m interventions in public space.

In WP3 these new possibilities are systematically explored in a number of design trajectories. Here we work with local partners in The Netherlands to explore design interventions and their effectiveness in relation to resilience in a variety of neighborhoods. WP4 translates the results from the Research-through-design trajectory and literature research to a design framework with best practices and guidelines. The aimed results are an annotated portfolio with examples that can serve as building blocks for practical applications, whitepapers with design guidelines and a community of practice.

(International) collaboration

The research is carried out in collaboration with a large number of (inter)national parties. In the first phase, an inventory will be made of current spatial interventions and their effective principles, together with an international consortium consisting of Harvard, UCL Bartlett and the University of Sydney. In parallel, interventions for ecological and social resilience are collected and analyzed.

In the following phase, a number of new interventions will be designed based on the lessons learned and with the help of design and architectural firms such as UNStudio, The Beach and the Bond Nederlandse Architecten Onderzoek. Collaboration with housing associations and municipalities ensures that the target groups are also involved

Students conduct practice-oriented research

Education plays an important role in research. Students from various study programs, including the Master Digital Design, participate in assignments and experiments in the research. They form the basis of the design of various (digital) interventions.


From Prevention to Resilience "stands for practice-oriented research and (inter)national collaboration. This project is made possible by: ZonMw and led by Wouter Meys, project manager at the Play & Civic Media lectorate. Internally, it is a collaboration from the Center of Expertises Urban Technology, Amsterdam Creative Industries and Urban Governance & Social Innovation.



National consortium partners

  • Gemeenten Amsterdamm Den Haag, Zwolle, Utrecht, Breda, Almere en Haarlemmermeer
  • Woningbouwcorporaties: Rochdale, Eigen Haard
  • Ontwerpbureaus: UN Studio
  • Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving
  • Bureau The Beach
  • BNA onderzoek
  • Wandelnet
  • Pakhuis de Zwijger
  • Netwerk Zorg en Wonen

International consortium partners


Published by  Faculty of Technology 9 November 2020

Project Info

Start date 01 Sep 2020
End date 01 Sep 2022


Wouter Meys