On June 7, 2022, the Section of Urban Design at TU Delft organized the first design challenge ‘Metropolitan Club: 90 Days in 90 Minutes’, in collaboration with the municipality of Amsterdam. With a good turnout of designers from practice, teachers, students and municipal designers, we experienced a dynamic and enriching afternoon in which we collectively set ourselves the goal of achieving an integrated urban design as far as possible—in just 90 minutes. The case study was the area between the A4 and De Nieuwe Meer and de Westelijke Tuinsteden.
In order to consider as many layers, perspectives, techniques, and insights as possible, we invited participants to implement three design methods, in subgroups working in parallel. Unravel Layers dealt with the unbundling of the city map in the layers of its natural, technical and social ecosystems. Evolutionary Tree implied collecting as many out-of-the-box ideas as possible and reducing them to a number of unexpected three-dimensional urban compositions. And to employ User Experience as method, eye level principles and ingredients that are important for specific target groups in daily use in the city were considered.
In a short period of time, pairs within the subgroup analyzed the natural, technical and social ecosystem layers on multiple scale levels. By superimposing these layers, a lively discussion arose about the places where a lot of valuable information overlaps, precisely in places where the map remained empty. By considering future developments, an analysis and vision of current and future urban structures was created. This idea connected the recreational landscape of the Nieuwe Meer via north-south thematic urban axes going below and above along the A4 highway towards the western garden cities. The development of a new HOV line along the highway is seen as an opportunity for Transit Oriented Development and urbanization aimed at the suburbs, which must be easily accessible.
The out-of-the-box group came up with many different design options in a short time. These were created by means of various exercises, such as finding a shape and describing a concept in one word. The initial set of inspirations were out-of-the-box and out-of-context, coming from domains such as art, poetry, film or history. The design technique was sketching, with foam models, and objects or collages. After a number of rounds of ideas, an extremely climate-robust, future-oriented and nature-inclusive concept was presented in which the water is given free rein and is given space in extreme weather. urban settlements are designed as islands with various climate adaptive measures. The development reverses the development principle, mobility and infrastructure are no longer supporting, but the landscape becomes supporting. the neighborhoods nestle in nature and are designed as new forms of living together.
The third group worked from the perspective of the user and the experience on the street. Specific target groups such as the elderly, children, women or migrants were examined from the perspective of user experience. Important topics in the discussion were social safety, comfort, legibility and orientation, and daily needs. The guiding question was: is it possible to develop a 15-minute city based on livability which caters for different target groups? As a result, the group developed principles at eye level with specific dimensions in which overview, orientation, experience and meeting opportunities were central. The principles were linked together via a system of social infrastructures that connects different neighbourhoods.
The different outcomes were interwoven through 3D/VR presentations—facilitated by TU Delft’s VR-Lab—a debate and discussion. The first conclusions were that the ecological and climate-adaptive urban islands landscape concept developed by the Evolutionary Tree group appealed to the imagination, generating a lot of enthusiasm with the narrative that is contagious—a foundation to continue on. However, the looseness of the islands should be better anchored to the urban and programmatic structures analyzed by the Unravel Layers group. Ideas like TOD development cannot be set aside, it is precisely around these nodes that urban development could come first. The third group also sharpened the ideas of the island-like development. Human scale, a village-like feeling, and social cohesion are essential in the city of the future. Large-scale ensembles were discussed but the small-scale was introduced: design proposals should be conceived and tested through the eyes of a child, the elderly, a woman, or a migrant. At the level of (social) program, considering the design of routes of daily life and, above all, the possibility of interaction benefits several of these groups.
In the concluding conversation, the design challenge was evaluated and reflected upon. 90 minutes is very short time, yet the advantage of that is that there is no time to think and talk, one must think through drawing and doing. It was perceived by the participants as positive how layered the insights can get in such a short period of time working, and how an open discussion fostered integration. It was a challenge to link 3D and VR at this speed, and also to integrate the three models at the end. With an improved workflow, we expect to get more out of this in next versions of the Design Challenge.
The event was moderated by Robbert Jan van der Veen and Víctor Muñoz Sanz, and counted with the contributions of: Stefan van der Spek, Maurice Harteveld, Luisa Calabrese, Teake Bouma, Leo van den Burg (TU Delft); Erik Pasveer, Huib Burger, Tanja Potezica, Mark van Vilsteren (Municipality of Amsterdam); Ann Aepen, Jens Berken, Sanika Caratkar, Larissa Muller, Rosalie Moesker, Anna Kalligeri (Polis Platform for Urbanism); Mary Brown McGregor (Fieldfactor), Frank Marcus (Frank Marcus Architects), Mirian Maia (ZUYD); Noor van Everdingen, Laura Barnett, Jair Lemmens (VR-Lab); and TU Delft’s New Media Centre and Teaching Lab.
On September 20th and November 29th, 2022, we will host Design Challenges with, respectively, the municipalities of The Hague and Rotterdam. We will evaluate the three events separately, but also give a reflection on the program as a whole and compare the cases with each other.