Architecture and the Built Environment is working on a multi-year strategy that will prioritise three themes: urban inequality, the climate crisis and circular construction.
In large cities, the challenges that Architecture wants to work on all come together: the big differences between poverty and wealth, climate adaptation and sustainable building. (Photo: Flickr/ ZeroOne)

Architecture and the Built Environment is working on a multi-year strategy that will prioritise three themes: urban inequality, the climate crisis and circular construction.

Lees in het Nederlands

Urban inequality, the climate crisis and circular construction are the three areas for which the Faculty will make resources available in the years to come. “We want our four Faculty departments to work together more closely,” says Dean Dick van Gameren. He believes that these three themes create enough middle ground to do this. On top of this, they are socially relevant subjects. The Dean believes that it is the Faculty’s obligation to concentrate on these themes.

The Faculty is now outlining a multi-year strategy to define this direction. The report should be finished sometime next year. Van Gameren has not yet fixed a date. “We would prefer to sit round the table and discuss this,” he explains. But that is hard to do in the midst of the corona pandemic.

If you identify certain themes as priorities, does this not come at the cost of other research fields? Van Gameren explains that it is not yet clear how this will all work but that “You really should not think in terms of a major reorganisation.”

To bolster the themes, the Faculty will recruit 12 PhD candidates for a period of four years. Architecture and the Built Environment has earmarked budgets for six of these young researchers in the Faculty’s budget for 2021. The Executive Board will make a budget available for the other six doctoral degree positions. Earlier this year, about 10 tenure trackers were hired to work on these themes.

Why are these three themes so important? And what kind of research will they entail?

Urban inequality
The ‘urban inequality’ theme was spearheaded by Professor of Urban Geography Maarten van Ham. He has spent years researching how living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods impacts the development of children. “Even if you grow up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in a rich country like the Netherlands, it is still difficult to escape poverty in later life. Even more so, there is a big chance that your children too grow up in poverty.”

‘If you grow up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood it is difficult to escape poverty in later life’

Inequality is a persistent problem. Cities around the world are becoming more polarised. The richer and higher educated people are moving to city centres and the poorer people are moving to the outskirts. Cities are turning inside out as it were. This is leading to segregation in schools. Van Ham and his colleagues are hoping that research funding can be found more easily for their subject area if it is clearly stated as a priority.

Circular construction
Circular construction and scarcity of raw materials, two terms that are often used in the same sentence. One cause of the scarcity is the volume of concrete used around the world that is making sand a scarce commodity. And building with concrete is usually anything but circular as it is very hard to recycle. Or so explains circular construction expert Dr Bob Geldermans of the Department of Climate Design and Sustainability.

“Major changes need to be made throughout the chain,” continues Geldermans. “We need to think about mining raw materials, building design, construction technology and reusing materials.” His implication is that countless fields of research come together here. He hopes that by identifying circular construction as one of the Faculty’s themes, the subject will be pushed higher up the agenda – the political agenda among them – and that education and research will be streamlined.

Climate crisis
We need to use energy in the built environment more efficiently if we want to stop climate change. Residential neighbourhoods should be connected to heating grids, houses should be insulated better, solar panels installed on roofs. There is a multitude of ways to reduce the environmental footprint of cities. But it is complicated to optimise all the regulations. “Architecture and the Built Environment is working on this,” says Professor of Climate Design and Sustainability Andy van den Dobbelsteen, “but there are too few researchers by far.”

Not only should cities use less energy, they should also be adapted to remain liveable. The mercury in the last few summers in the Netherlands rose to over 40 degrees. “And these were temperatures measured outside the cities. The temperature in cities can easily be another five degrees higher. Our cities need to be more Mediterranean with greater attention being paid to sun protection. We usually focus on the winter in the Netherlands and adapt our houses to retain warmth. We need to think more about hot summers.”