Hogeschool van Amsterdam

CREATE-IT applied research

COVID-19 grant for AUAS 1.5-metre society project

5 Oct 2020 15:50 | CREATE-IT Applied Research

Over the next two years, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) will conduct research into the design of public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. In cities all over the world, measures are being taken to enable people to maintain a sufficient distance from one another. How can these interventions be designed in such a way that they also contribute to more sustainable and resilient neighbourhoods? Through the Societal Dynamics focus area of the ZonMW COVID-19 Programme, Frank Suurenbroek (Professor of Spatial Urban Transformation) and Martijn de Waal (Professor of Play & Civic Media) have been awarded a €500,000 research grant to find answers to these questions with an international consortium.

Over the next two years, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) will conduct research into the design of public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. In cities all over the world, measures are being taken to enable people to maintain a sufficient distance from one another. How can these interventions be designed in such a way that they also contribute to more sustainable and resilient neighbourhoods? Through the Societal Dynamics focus area of the ZonMW COVID-19 Programme, Frank Suurenbroek (Professor of Spatial Urban Transformation) and Martijn de Waal (Professor of Play & Civic Media) have been awarded a €500,000 research grant to find answers to these questions with an international consortium.

Many of the measures taken in the public space in recent months are aimed primarily at preventing the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing circles were painted in parks, streets and pavements were closed, and apps were created to enable people to check online to see how busy certain areas were before visiting. “Most of these are useful measures,” says Frank Suurenbroek. “But at the same time they are mainly temporary prevention and crowd-control measures.” In the From Prevention to Resilience project, the professors are investigating how such interventions can be designed in such a way that they also contribute to the quality of life in the city. Cities like Paris and Milan are already taking advantage of the crisis to make more structural changes in the design of public space, for example by reducing the use of cars making their cities more liveable. Suurenbroek and De Waal are going to study how interventions can also be designed and implemented from such a perspective at neighbourhood level.

From prevention to resilience

“We use the term resilience for this,” says De Waal. “This term refers to the ability of neighbourhoods and cities to deal with shock waves in a positive way.” On the one hand, this concerns ecological resilience: how can neighbourhoods respond to the effects of climate change? And on the other hand, social resilience: how can social networks of local residents support one another, learn from one another or take action together? De Waal: “Can we design measures for the public space that not only focus on prevention, but also strengthen the resilience of the neighbourhood?”

This can be done in various ways. “If you have to place barriers somewhere to ensure social distancing, use barriers made from reusable materials,” says Suurenbroek. He continues: “Another good example is a climate cube, a wooden structure with greenery on it, which can be placed near a supermarket, for example. This gives people a pleasant place to wait before they’re allowed in.” The design of the waiting area then contributes to the collection of rainwater, or the prevention of heat islands.

Social resilience can be enhanced by having local residents actively participate in the design of the interventions, for example in a makers lab. This can lead to new social connections, and residents can develop new skills in a design process. De Waal: “We also want to look at interventions that improve the quality of the public space.” Digital media can also help, for example by facilitating new ways of meeting or by making it easier to coordinate joint activities.

Cooperation and research through design

The study will be carried out in cooperation with a large number of Dutch and international parties. In the first phase, an international consortium comprising Harvard University, UCL Bartlett and the University of Sydney will identify current spatial interventions and their working principles. Interventions for social and ecological resilience will be collected and analysed in parallel with this. In the next phase, based on the lessons learned, a number of new interventions will be designed with the help of design and architectural agencies like UNStudio, The Beach, and the Research division of the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects (Bond Nederlandse Architecten Onderzoek). Collaboration with housing associations and municipal authorities will ensure that the target groups are also involved. Suurenbroek: “With the breadth of this consortium, we aim to ensure its usefulness and usability in practice – and to share the knowledge developed while the research is being carried out. “Time is of the essence, even more so now during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Based on the research and the experiments, a database of examples and a design framework will be compiled with elements that designers will be able to use worldwide. In addition, a community of practice will be established around the research, consisting of national and international researchers, designers and policy makers. They will provide feedback on the research results and also apply the lessons learned. Having such a learning network in which those involved reflect on current developments, will enable us to make knowledge about COVID-19 more accessible and to do so more easily. AUAS degree programmes will also be involved. Students from various programmes, including the Master’s programme in Digital Design, will participate in assignments and experiments in the study.

‘From Prevention to Resilience’ is a topical project and a good example of the AUAS’s focus on practice-based research and Dutch and international cooperation. The project is funded by ZonMw and headed by Wouter Meys, project manager in the Play & Civic Media research group. Internally, it is a partnership between the centres of expertise on Urban Technology, Amsterdam Creative Industries and Urban Governance & Social Innovation.

Contact: Frank Suurenbroek, Martijn de Waal, Wouter Meys