Play Almere: Wierden

TU Delft

Tests whether and how a co-design process could reach an urban design scheme with a shared vision in a new town.


November 2009 - Almere, the Netherlands


Partners: City of Almere, TU Delft, International New Towns Institute


1 Session with 20 Particpants

The City of Almere needs to expand its Haven -harbor in English- district through an open and collaborative process by engaging its current and future inhabitants [City of Almere, 2012]. The main motivation behind the growth is the underuse and decay of public utilities, as well as an aging population in Almere Haven, the oldest neighborhood of Almere.


Public Utilities under Stress


22,000 people live in Almere Haven today. The official 1976 plans were for a town of 30,000 inhabitants [Rijksdienst voor de Ijselmeerpolders, 1984]. As public services were built to serve the fully grown town with young families, some of the primary schools and community centers currently suffer from underuse. The city introduces 400 new homes and a supermarket to improve the use of services in de Wierden. New construction will be undertaken in the green zone indicated on the plan, an area preserved for future growth in the 1970s. Situated at the northwestern edge of Almere, these 20 hectares of land are surrounded by sport fields, a canal, temporary housing enclaves, and the existing de Wierden neighborhood.


image: Almere Haven Map Illustrates Proposed Expansion Area for Wierden]


Graying Population


Diversifying the demographic composition is the key motivation behind the Wierden plan. In the late seventies, young families were the majority populating the Haven district. Currently, the overall population is graying dramatically as the pioneers get older and their children leave the town in search of education and jobs. Thus the local government sees injecting Almere Haven with a new generation of young families as a way of balancing the aging demographics.


Mono-Functional Development


Beyond the mixed social structure, the desire to achieve a mixed-use new town can be traced in Almere’s early planning documents. Despite this, most Almere districts are planned as mono-functional quarters. Achieving a mixed-use city is still a primary target of today’s city officials. Again, paradoxically, the Haven development has been envisioned as a housing development with a renowned supermarket chain: Albert Heijn -AH. Although AH is a service required, it does not bring the sort of diversity and community engagement for the envisioned mixed used new town.


Open Planning


As mentioned earlier, the current Almere government and the particular project team of the city planning department aims to initiate an open and collaborative plan-making process for Sportpark de Wierden. The motivation for this is to diverge from the top-down planning tradition practiced throughout the new town’s history. Despite the local government’s intention to run an interactive and transparent consultation process to plan the new development, it is unclear how this process will be managed, what methods and tools will be in charge.


This challenge triggered the design and implementation of the City Game ‘Play Almere Haven’; designed to test a self-organizing development process for this specific case. We will later discuss whether the outcome of such a City Game could be considered as a method for generating collaborative urban design schemes for cities.


The process of play revealed diverse design trends emerging throughout the City Game. Urban design choices were made to clarify questions of urban density, building typologies, infrastructure and urban land use.


Low-rise and high-density


The low-rise high-density development principle created during the first rounds was followed until the end of the City Game. Thus, players practiced the rule of urban density as an overarching order throughout the process. Despite this dominant choice, opposing positions such a high-rise tower block and a number of low-density detached villas were also possible within the overall urban scheme. Thus, while the main order was created and then generally accepted by the players, exceptions could still find their space within this process.


Organic Street Network


As the game was governed by the personal and local interests of individual players, we were particularly curious about the emergence of a public vision and its translation into space. During the experiment we observed that the conflict between multiple players’ interests helped to raise questions about centrality, mobility, infrastructure networks and public spaces. This was most evident during the sixth and seventh rounds, when players used the existing road junction to locate a high-density mixed-use program. This generated a general discussion, or conflict, involving most of the players which was resolved by defining a centre for the development, and then creating a dedicated bus-lane with a stop, a public square [indicate on the maps] and street network leading to the square. The road junction was accepted as the settlement’s new center was linked to the existing bus network connecting Almere’s neighborhoods. The street network was laid out by the shortest lines that made the emerging settlement accessible. The settlement was comprised diverse typologies, from collective enclaves adjacent to single villas to high-rise blocks of various sizes. Accordingly, the building islands defined by the road network followed the diversity of living forms and landscape properties of the site rather than a predefined grid.


[image: map illustrating the public square, bus lane and the street network]


Fine-Grained Urban Program


The outcome of the game was a fine-grained mixed-use urban fabric. This was achieved by single investors inserting their own initiatives in formerly unforeseen locations. In this process the given non-housing program -one supermarket- has been replaced by the smaller retail units and workplaces of entrepreneurs. Within this organically grown mixed-use-scheme, we could trace activity patterns such as clusters of shops and cafes in the high-rise block in the center, waterfront restaurants, and studio or garage spaces for the creative class in individual homes. The collective housing enclaves included shared nonresidential program such as a fitness studio, communal launderette, a yoga salon and collectively owned offices.


[image: map illustrating highly diverse program introduced incrementally by players]


Diverse Urban Form


Players created diverse housing types, such as collective housing enclaves, a linear waterfront development, closed low-rise city blocks, detached houses surrounded by open green and a high-rise city block. These were formal orders on the urban design scale. During the game, players also introduced habitable bridges connecting buildings, ground floor gates opening urban blocks or 3D voids within the high-rise block. However, these architectural decisions were rather rare, and it was therefore difficult to recognize patterns or architectural orders. Formal architectonic choices remained limited mainly because of the abstract nature of 1:200 scale in architectural design. Urban types and their organization, rather than architecture, constituted the formal outcome of the experiment.


The process of play revealed diverse design trends emerging throughout the City Game. Urban design choices were made to clarify questions of urban density, building typologies, infrastructure and urban land use.


Low-rise and high-density


The low-rise high-density development principle created during the first rounds was followed until the end of the City Game. Thus, players practiced the rule of urban density as an overarching order throughout the process. Despite this dominant choice, opposing positions such a high-rise tower block and a number of low-density detached villas were also possible within the overall urban scheme. Thus, while the main order was created and then generally accepted by the players, exceptions could still find their space within this process.


Organic Street Network


As the game was governed by the personal and local interests of individual players, we were particularly curious about the emergence of a public vision and its translation into space. During the experiment we observed that the conflict between multiple players’ interests helped to raise questions about centrality, mobility, infrastructure networks and public spaces. This was most evident during the sixth and seventh rounds, when players used the existing road junction to locate a high-density mixed-use program. This generated a general discussion, or conflict, involving most of the players which was resolved by defining a centre for the development, and then creating a dedicated bus-lane with a stop, a public square [indicate on the maps] and street network leading to the square. The road junction was accepted as the settlement’s new center was linked to the existing bus network connecting Almere’s neighborhoods. The street network was laid out by the shortest lines that made the emerging settlement accessible. The settlement was comprised diverse typologies, from collective enclaves adjacent to single villas to high-rise blocks of various sizes. Accordingly, the building islands defined by the road network followed the diversity of living forms and landscape properties of the site rather than a predefined grid.


[image: map illustrating the public square, bus lane and the street network]


Fine-Grained Urban Program


The outcome of the game was a fine-grained mixed-use urban fabric. This was achieved by single investors inserting their own initiatives in formerly unforeseen locations. In this process the given non-housing program -one supermarket- has been replaced by the smaller retail units and workplaces of entrepreneurs. Within this organically grown mixed-use-scheme, we could trace activity patterns such as clusters of shops and cafes in the high-rise block in the center, waterfront restaurants, and studio or garage spaces for the creative class in individual homes. The collective housing enclaves included shared nonresidential program such as a fitness studio, communal launderette, a yoga salon and collectively owned offices.


[image: map illustrating highly diverse program introduced incrementally by players]


Diverse Urban Form


Players created diverse housing types, such as collective housing enclaves, a linear waterfront development, closed low-rise city blocks, detached houses surrounded by open green and a high-rise city block. These were formal orders on the urban design scale. During the game, players also introduced habitable bridges connecting buildings, ground floor gates opening urban blocks or 3D voids within the high-rise block. However, these architectural decisions were rather rare, and it was therefore difficult to recognize patterns or architectural orders. Formal architectonic choices remained limited mainly because of the abstract nature of 1:200 scale in architectural design. Urban types and their organization, rather than architecture, constituted the formal outcome of the experiment.