Building for Well-Being research project kicks off

Creating an attractive residential environment in densely populated cities

15 Mar 2022 09:47 | Faculty of Technology

How can we promote urbanites’ well-being at the same time as tackling the housing crisis? The Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) is researching this question using new technologies in the Building for Well-Being consortium. The two-year action research, financed by a RAAK-mkb subsidy from the SIA coordinating body, produces insights that provide the building industry with evidence-based design solutions to create attractive residential environments in densely populated cities.

The Netherlands faces a severe housing shortage, especially in the Randstad conurbation. The new government has promised to build 100,000 new houses a year. This will often imply that even more houses are built in cities. ‘At the same time, buildings and districts have to meet a growing number of criteria. Think, for example, of the integration of sustainable heating facilities, the use of circular materials, and the installation of charging points for electric vehicles. Budgets have not kept pace with all of this,’ says Frank Suurenbroek, professor of Spatial Urban Transformation at the AUAS. ‘It’s all about keeping people’s well-being in mind.’

Evidence-based insights

New district developments already take into account how people experience their surroundings but often with little evidence-based knowledge. ‘We’re going to change this through Building for Well-Being,’ says Gideon Spanjar, senior researcher at the Chair of Spatial Urban Transformation at the AUAS. ‘Advanced biometric technology now enables us to generate evidence-based insights into which factors contribute most to a high-quality residential environment in a densely populated city.’

The consortium, consisting of eighteen partners, researches how people experience the urban environment, how it affects them, and how this can be taken into account in the design process. Theoretically, incorporating greenery and different types of materials in facades could prevent people from feeling overwhelmed by high-rise buildings. How this works out situationally for the different types of users of the street space is less clear however.

Layout, greenery and architecture

’People don’t necessarily choose the shortest walking route to the office or shopping centre: the layout of the street and the presence of greenery but also the architecture of the buildings play a big role. Dense residential areas certainly have situations that cause stress. But there are also streets that are highly valued by users and that contribute to people’s well-being,’ Spanjar explains.

The Building for Well-Being partners include design firms specialised in architecture, urban design and landscaping as well as sector organisations. In addition, there is an advisory board consisting of commissioning parties for spatial design projects and leading academics who are internationally active in the field of neuroarchitecture. Besides the Chair of Spatial Urban Transformation, the Chair of Responsible IT at the Faculty on Digital Media and Creative Industries (AUAS) is also closely involved in the project.

Advanced technology

Measurements are done for three types of users (residents, passers-by, visitors) using advanced technology. ‘We use eye-trackers that register what people look at and for how long,’ Suurenbroek explains. This takes place in a laboratory setting with a screen onto which different urban situations are projected; outdoors with a mobile eye-tracker; and in a virtual-reality environment created on the basis of design plans made by architects in the consortium.

‘This research will provide us with more precise knowledge about which design applications contribute to users’ well-being, as well as when and why,’ Suurenbroek says enthusiastically. Moreover, the research also provides valuable knowledge about the use of this technology in the design process. This also gives designers more clout to convince their clients to apply innovative solutions.

Stimulating dialogue

The consortium explicitly stimulates dialogue and reflection in the practice of spatial development. ‘We bring parties together to share their knowledge and experiences. Based on this principle we, as researchers, also enter into a dialogue with municipalities about the criteria for area development,’ Suurenbroek says, ‘It might be possible to sharpen the criteria to include both sustainability and experience.’

Suurenbroek and Spanjar have high expectations of the project. ‘The building sector has responded enthusiastically to our approach,’ says Suurenbroek. ‘Not only because of the link we make between experience and design solutions but also because we seek dialogue.’ Spanjar adds that ‘Creating a sustainable, resilient and high-quality residential environment is only possible if we enter into a dialogue and different disciplines collectively shape the assignment.’

Sensing Streetscapes

Building for Well-Being follows in the footsteps of the Sensing Streetscapes project from the Chair of Spatial Urban Transformation. That project successfully explored the application of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and eye-tracking for designing buildings and urban areas.

Chair of Spatial Urban Transformation

The Chair of Spatial Urban Transformation at the AUAS carries out practice-based research into our cities’ spatial transformation tasks, and the innovations necessary and feasible in this time to meet them. The research focuses specifically on the relationship between the physical and social aspects of densification and urban renewal. The research projects are demand-driven, inter- and transdisciplinary, multiannual and always collaborative, working with partners in the sector: commissioning parties and contractors in the spatial development sector (municipalities, developers, design studios and housing corporations). Co-creation and learning sessions are a permanent component, so that the first lessons and perspectives for action are shared during implementation with professionals in the field. In addition, the research group regularly moderates and provides lectures and publications in Dutch and international professional and academic forums and journals.