The City:

We are living in a time of sea change across the world, and the Netherlands is no exception. We are weathering crisis on many sides, facing major challenges.

In this context, I have chosen the city as a focus for my work. The city is a microcosm of globalization, a challenge being confronted worldwide. Our diversity sets us apart, but to thrive, we must build unity and cohesion, sharing small spaces and limited resources peacefully.

For me, the vital question in this is how can we create opportunities for the city?

I believe part of the answer lies in social cohesion, bringing the city’s spaces and societies together through thoughtful urban design and planning.  Against the background of a highly individualized and polarized society, I want to focus on design that creates connections and encourages collective growth.

To succeed, we must first ask: what cohesive forces bind us today and what role does architecture play here? A city is the expression of its people, its institutions, and their needs and priorities. The built environment is shaped by the people who use it. Perhaps, however, it can it not only reflect the character of a city, but influence it, as well. Can it create a sense of belonging and social cohesion?

The Public Space:

If the answer is yes, then much of that creation begins and exists in the public space. Even in the midst of ever-increasing individuality and personal isolation, the public space still necessarily plays a supporting role in each of our lives. Architecturally, these spaces can be transformed from simple necessities to shared spaces of collective influence and intelligence. They form in us social links to politics and trade; a net of spaces that can provide once-disconnected city dwellers a venue to join with others in weaving their own urban fabric. It is a mosaic of spaces that form the public life of a city. By shaping our environments, the public space influences our relationships with one another and with our society as a whole.

Informal Settlement:

While public spaces form the formal skeleton of a city, another major facet of my work centers on the informal settlements that often spring up around them. Today, nearly one billion people are slum dwellers.

UN-HABITAT estimates indicate that in 2001, 924 million people, or 31.6% of the world’s urban population, lived in slums. In developing regions, slum dwellers account for 43% of the urban population, compared to 6% of the urban population in developed regions. In 2001, Asia had 554 million slum dwellers, or 60% of the world’s total; Africa had 187 million slum dwellers (20% of the world’s total), while Latin America and the Caribbean had 128 million slum dwellers (14% of the world’s total). Europe and other developed countries had 54 million slum dwellers, or 6% of the world’s total. It is projected that in the next 30 years, the number of slum dwellers worldwide will increase to 2 billion if no firm or concrete action is taken to arrest the situation.

Beside their physical implications, informal settlements always become political and urban planning issues, as well. In some places, urban planner/architects totally ignore informal settlements, or want radically to slope these areas.

But I want to look for different answers that can begin to incorporate the informal settlements into the character and life of the city.

During my research in Brazil and Venezuela, I was inspired by the informal settlements I found there. The houses are an expression of their culture; their use of materials is unconventional, but befitting of the environment. The choice in building materials, how they handle waste and how energy is used is very sustainable, and even where and how the houses are built into the ground maintains a strong connection with the environment. The houses are able to grow with the requirements of the inhabitants.

I am focusing on how I can take these innate advantages and bring them together with the services of a municipality – like preparing the infrastructure – and combine them to create a livable neighborhood.

Looking for new ways:

In my work, I want to find new ways to approach the challenges we face today.

I am looking for new strategies in urban design that can move development forward in informal settlements. I am seeking out new ways of designing, including new techniques in slum upgrading and sustainability.

And because we live in a fast-paced world, we have to re-think our ways of working. I want to understand and experience other cultures, then bring them into a new context, bringing the advantages of the old to combine with the new to create built spaces that are positive for both humans and the environment.