Maakruimte voor Mooi Nederland well on its way to a ‘minor revolution’

With three core teams and 32 thought leaders, the design approach ‘Maakruimte voor Mooi Nederland’ (Creating space for beautiful Netherlands) is forging a new learning community. These core teams bring together leading scientists, designers and clients, each with their unique perspective, knowledge and experience. The members are experienced not only with issues like housing, water, agriculture and mobility, but also concerns like inclusivity and health.

Type Update
Published on 20 November 2023
Part of Embassy of Maakruimte voor Mooi NL
Maakruimte voor Mooi Nederland well on its way to a ‘minor revolution’
Part of Embassy of Maakruimte voor Mooi NL

‘he goal is to build a learning community that joins forces to learn from each other and spread that knowledge more widely.’

The core teams met for the first time on 27 October, during Dutch Design Week (DDW23). The members took this time to get acquainted with one another as well as the submitted projects and cases. After dividing into three core teams, the members came up with six expeditions that will be explored until April of next year. ‘The goal is to build a learning community that joins forces to learn from each other and spread that knowledge more widely’, says Quirine Winkler, project leader for Maakruimte voor Mooi Nederland, during the morning’s opening. 

Maakruimte voor Mooi Nederland is a joint initiative by the Dutch Ministry of the Interior & Kingdom Relations (BZK) and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), which oversees the World Design Embassies.

Remixing the existing

Winkler took over the reins from Jetske van Oosten, the initiator of Maakruimte voor Mooi Nederland, a week prior to DDW23. According to Winkler, ‘The end goal is not to create a definitive image of the Netherlands. The design approach, the process and the collaboration method are all a top priority.’ Van Oosten adds, ‘It’s much more about designing the change itself. This group of 32 core team members unites very diverse expertise – not only of architects and urban planners, but also of social designers, for example – that we want to exploit to enrich our repertoire of designs that address spatial issues.’ 

‘In particular, we want to change what’s already there’, emphasises Winkler. ‘I saw a very nice episode of NPO a few days ago, “The world of Dutch Design” with Malique Mohamud. Malique said it quite nicely: “Everything’s a remix. Everything that has been designed refers to something.” Remixing is working with what’s already there to create something new.’ And remixing is what Winkler wants to do with the core teams on this morning.

From our hearts

The morning begins with a presentation by Van Oosten, who, together with Tabo Goudswaard, wrote a book about Maakkracht. Van Oosten explains her thinking on design and the power of design: ‘I tend to think that we don’t insert our hearts enough into our professional lives.’ With highly complex issues, such as the number of homes, the overarching water problem or how to make the city more social, according to Van Oosten, you cannot just ‘invent a solution.’ As she points out, ‘They’re all intertwined. These are very ethical issues. The question is not how we want to organise the Netherlands, but how this fits with how we want to interact as a society. We’re used to arranging things well. To making everything better and more efficient. The pressing questions we need to ask ourselves now, however, are far more fundamental. For that, we need each other and everything that we have at our disposal.’ As someone recently summarised the book Maakkracht: ‘Systems do not change, but rather people change. Systems are not external to us, they’re just what we do day in and day out.’

Discover and Change

The 32 core team members have a variety of initiatives and experiences on the table that have already achieved results. For the learning community, it’s not about those results, but about the process that led to them, explains Van Oosten. Learning, for instance, from an agenda-setting project like ‘It giet oan‘ by designer Rosalie Apituley and network company Alliander, where the summer of 2030 will be all about an Elfstedentocht or ‘Eleven Cities Tour’. Or ‘Bosk‘ by Arcadia, a project that gave nature a voice by walking through the city of Leeuwarden with 1,000 trees for 100 days. Or the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building’s project to construct a home from bio-based materials.

It’s about learning from existing projects as well as exploring issues for the future. Van Oosten comments, ‘That’s why it’s called Maakruimte voor Mooi Nederland (Creating Space for beautiful Netherlands). We’re designing spaces in order to explore and effect change.’  

There are three core teams: Sustainable Agriculture & Nature, Energy & Circular Economy and Liveable Cities & Regions. Each team’s tackling an issue for the future by examining what’s already here. Van Oosten asks, ‘How can all these experiences reinforce each other from their different roles?’ In addition, the teams are unravelling a case that’s already proven successful. ‘To see how it got to this point’, as Van Oosten clarifies. That’s also how Van Oosten would like to break the cycle.


Marloes Schreur, programme manager of Leeuwarden East and a member of the Liveable Cities & Regions team, spoke about desires: ‘We typically talk about an area, a disadvantaged neighbourhood, and which improvements people would like to see. We never talk about desires. What I liked about our conversation was that we were reflecting on desires. When you look to develop an area based on desires, you give it a perspective. And this gives each other the space to realise them [the desires] because you’re all working from the same perspective. We’ve seen that, for example, with Cultural Capital (Culturele Hoofdstad) as well as Bosk. If you work toward something together, this creates the space to achieve something.’

Hoe kunnen we in dat transitieproces co-creëren zodat we een soort collectieve sense making kunnen ontwikkelen, om te kijken wat we achterlaten en wat we kunnen omarmen om een nieuwe toekomst te gaan ontdekken.”
— Femke Coops, Design Researcher

Saying goodbye

As members of the core team Energy & Circular Economy were conversing, Paul Gerretsen, an agent of the Deltametropool Association, noticed that transitions are more than just ‘Something that has to be started, but something that also has to be broken down.’ ‘Increasingly, we see that it doesn’t work to demolish things. So, we might have to come up with something for that too.’

Femke Coops, Design Researcher at Design Impact Transition (DIT) & TU/e, focuses on saying goodbye with the project ‘Designing Spaces for letting go‘. Coop remarks, ‘We talk a lot about the future, but there’s little space to discuss demolition. We also have to demolish things in order to create space for the new. There is, of course, a very human dimension to this, as it means that we, as humans, must change. We have to let things go, and that hurts. How do we cope with that pain? How can we co-create during that transition process so as to develop a kind of collective sense-making, to consider not only what we can leave behind, but also what we can embrace to discover a new future together.’


The group members appear to have a strong sense of commitment and a need for continuity. Kristian Koreman, a co-founder of ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles) hopes that ‘this community is more than just a temporary flirt.’ ‘We’re all focusing on that major transition, so I hope this extends beyond six sessions. As I stand here, I’m thinking that these are all people I’d like to get to know. People I’d like to join in their position as thought leaders. And then see if you can continue that.’ The other members voice their support for his comment.

Six expeditions

This morning, the core teams thought about what the programme with its six expeditions should look like. Each core team goes on two expeditions. The Liveable Cities & Regions group heads on two expeditions to Leeuwarden East. The group commits itself to this voyage of discovery for twenty years. The aim of the expedition is to design an appealing visual perspective of Leeuwarden East that contributes to both social and physical tasks to break out of poverty for the new generation.

The first expedition of the core team Sustainable Agriculture & Nature, is focusing on a kind of support group to prevent burnout among advocates. Lucas De Man expresses, ‘It’s great fun to employ creatives – that’s all of us here – for all manner of things, then to not pay them well and hope that they’ll solve it. These advocates gradually fade away as they suffer burnout. This applies to governments and companies alike. The people who have the balls to do things are usually also the people who burn out. We thought it would be great to set up a support group for them.’ It is agreed within several core teams that this is a major problem, and it raised the question if perhaps this should become part of the programme for all core teams.

The second expedition of this core team focuses on the rural area Grenspark Groot Saeftinghe in Zeeland. Peter Veenstra, landscape architect and owner at Lola Landscape Architects, notes, ‘It’s an interesting area in a very conservative corner of the Netherlands.’ 

Finally, the two expeditions of Energy & Circular Economy focus on local and more systemic levels: The first calls itself ‘Integrated neighbourhood approach for all neighbourhoods in the Netherlands’, the second ‘System level broad prosperity community economy cooperative democracy’.  It’s a district in the Netherlands where the energy transition is being used as a kind of lever for other districts to examine what needs to change at the systems level.

A Minor Revolution

Pallas Agterberg, Challenge Officer at Alliander, relates, ‘After the initial introduction, funnily enough, we became quite close. The “cooperative society” kept coming up in our conversation, but also the question of how to move from the smaller projects we’re working on toward the larger picture. How do you create the space to dismantle things in order to rebuild? That’s how quite a few of those lines developed.’ 

Ultimately, the group discussed the case presented by Agterberg, that every neighbourhood must do something about its energy supply by X number of years. ‘You could say that there’s currently no client in the area. Ideally, you’d want the residents to collectively act as a single client. What possibilities could arise then? Imagine if you actually organised that. Then you will see that all the lights are red regarding financing and regulations in all the known projects we already have at our table. The whole set of regulations is counterproductive to the task we face. So, parallel to the first case, we are creating a second process focusing on the systems perspective. In fact, we are starting a small revolution.” 

This small revolution will start with six expeditions. The core team members will meet six times for this purpose until April. Follow their findings via the website. 

Maakruimte voor Mooi NL learning community

Within the Maakruimte voor Mooi NL learning community, public clients, designers and scientists join forces to explore the transformative power of design together and from different perspectives. Because more and more stakeholders believe in the power of design to achieve an integrated approach to spatial tasks. Yet in many places, the transformative power of design thinking and doing is still underused. The Maakruimte voor Mooi NL learning community is making a case for a better understanding of the use of imagination and creativity in complex spatial issues.

Within the Maakruimte voor Mooi NL learning community, we want to unravel how to create space within complex spatial issues. We do this in three core teams, each with its own theme: ‘Sustainable agriculture & Nature’, ‘Energy & circular economy’, and ‘Liveable cities & regions’. The core teams consist of participants from local authorities, the design field, science and the policy world; all drivers of change from their own position. During the programme, we jointly answer the question: How can we make space to deploy design power on complex spatial tasks?

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