On a spring afternoon, I met up with Karin in the lively and buzzing Chocoladefabriek (Chocolate Factory) in Gouda. Karin Grooten is a lecturer of ‘Construction Physics and Installations’ at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, as well as a Professional Doctoral Engineer (PDEng) of ‘Smart Energy, Buildings and Cities’ in training at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Amongst the chatter of young students, clinking coffee cups and sliding books, we began our conversation with sustainable construction and material use, followed by people and their living-space requirements, and ending in questions about massive change. We are living in a time when technological advancement moves so incredibly fast that anything ‘imaginable’ can quickly become manifest. That is also why Karin thinks her students can predict for themselves how sustainable a technique, material or concept will be.
What criteria does the City of the Future need to meet, according to Karin? And what are her own experiences and ideals in that respect?
How can we determine today whether what we are doing is truly sustainable? And what can we be doing about the friction between social innovation and technology?
When developing new technologies, it is important that the social aspects are considered (multi-level perspective). Fortunately, the end user is becoming more and more important in the design process and is a central figure in the design itself. This is a change that is also happening in construction.
What functionality should the City of the Future safeguard, in your opinion?
I think a city essentially needs to be user-friendly, have a healthy living environment and be energy-saving / energy-efficient. That means that the user is pivotal to the city’s design. There should be room for new developments and technology, and these need to be tried and tested in real time.
What do you think the social and technological transformation to a healthy society should look like ?
Technology can help us create a healthier society. Right now, I am doing research on air quality and sleep quality. The question here is whether the level of ventilation has an influence on sleep quality. The research results will be used to contribute to the development of a ventilation system that can monitor both air and sleep quality. The energy aspect also plays a role (the more you ventilate, the more energy you use).
Comfort is also an important part of a built environment. Technologies must be user-friendly and intuitive. If they are not, then the technology will be used wrong, or not at all.
We are also seeing that data collection is becoming increasingly important. Using this data, we can determine behavioral patterns and we can, for example, adjust the indoor climate in a user’s home in a more energy-efficient way.
Technologies must be user-friendly and intuitive. If they are not, then the technology will be used wrong, or not at all.
Three other PDEng trainees and I worked together on a design / vision for the Brandevoort II district (Helmond). This district is set to become a smart district and living lab. Making use of the newest technologies, the city will be designed for the future. Consideration is given to autonomous driving, for example. In the future, parked cars will no longer be part of the city landscape.It is quite difficult to design for technological developments, since they happen very quickly and no one can predict which changes will take place in the next 20 to 30 years.
Plenty of green spaces and a park have also been created as a central meeting point in the district. A community center is also planned, where the data will be collected and stored. Residents can attend workshops on how to use the city, and for children there will be workshops on energy, waste, etc.
Are you familiar with initiatives such as The Venus Project (Jaques Fresco died on Thursday, May 18th, 2017), that attempt to “Bring humanity to the next level of social evolution”? And to what extent do they influence your work?
I had not yet heard of the project, but naturally I looked up the website immediately. It is nice to see that people are thinking out of the box, which results in a much broader approach to the design. I also certainly think that we must start thinking differently if we are to deal with our current and future problems. There is a lot of thinking from a perspective of the existing techniques and solutions, and, of course, the price tag plays an important role. Investing in new technologies (even if we aren’t sure they will work) and not being afraid of change and potential failure are essential, in my opinion. Cities need to be used for testing and improving new developments, directly in practical, real-time situations (with concern for safety, of course). The vision for Brandevoort II is an example of this.