Design Research – Conversation Pieces & Urbanism

Conversation pieces as generative and speculative urban design instrument –  An alternative approach for participatory and inclusive urbanism

As societal and environmental issues increasingly impact our world, politics cannot keep up the pace in which they appear. While there is an urge for quick fixes we know that “solutionism” won’t help us in dealing with these kind of wicked problems from it’s root. A serious debate about our dreams and desires might. The time and context seem to be on our hand to reintroduce an utopian way of thinking: speculating on a society as we yearn it to be.

Urban designer and researcher Ruben Ferwerda works as a lecturer and researcher at Saxion University of Applied Sciences. Fascinated my narrativity, migration and utopian thinking he aims to explore ways to combine idealism and intuition with his own practice in urbanism. He believes that urban designers could fulfil a role in getting the co-creation of a common desired future to start and translate this narrative into usable urban design, tools and strategies.

Praktijk Urben Maart 2017-01


Conversation Pieces

In his design research Ruben searches for triggers to start a dialogue and debate about the complex issues society is dealing with that affect our living environment. He and his students worked on several projects about refugee housing and camps and the phenomenon of ephemeral cities. By designing and making models, games and installations that act as conversation pieces and provoke interaction he has found a way to discover and reveal latent and tacit knowledge that usually remains under the surface. These pieces act as abstract and neutral carriers of narratives in which the spectator’s and participant’s imagination is being addressed and projected. Because of their tangibility the conversation pieces become physical touchpoints from where dialogues start and the further design process is being fed.


Alternative for participatory and inclusive urbanism

Ruben proposes this method as alternative design approach in participatory and inclusive urbanism than is being practiced today. As a part of his thesis Ruben also aims to clarify the role of design research and storytelling for his students in urban design. The findings in his quest are translated into education and workshops on methods and techniques for students and designers from other disciplines to work with and to elaborate on in future.


Research Day, Master Design

During a previous edition of the Master Design’s Research Day Ruben staged a setting to interact with the public. Around a few of his conversation pieces he invited the public to reflect on the topic of migration and the role of urban development in housing refugees and migrants. At Research Day #3 (29th of September 2017) Ruben will present the results of his design research and publication.




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