Transition skills: investigating and enabling local resilience in the north of the Netherlands

Clemens Bernardt, Alex van Spijk, Sandra van Assen

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To contribute positively to systemic transitions within local communities, architects need to be critical, reflective, far-sighted communicators. This paper presents educational practices developing adaptive, systemic and co-creative approaches within the training of architectural Masters students. It evaluates the first outcomes of a four-year research by design studio executed by the Academy of Architecture in Groningen, in which experiential learning helps development of heightened awareness, appropriate mindsets and critical thinking, enabling students to identify problems and challenges specific to their profession. Students, stakeholders, teachers and researchers involved in the studio form a learning community that critically monitors the educational program. By working on "live" projects, the studio produces insights concerning local scale energy transition in the North of The Netherlands.

Global issues urge fundamental changes in the Dutch energy system and recent accumulations of earthquakes resulting from natural gas exploitation in the region of Groningen make the 'energy transition' inevitable. Whilst alternatives, proposed by the Dutch government, mainly consist of isolated, mono-functional interventions, the studio investigates integrative systemic scenarios that seek to enhance resilience on a human scale by embedding the energy transition within local communities. However, systemic transitions may be unpredictable, as they tend to play out within complex spatial, social and economic arenas, involving multiple, multi-level stakeholders. Shove and Walker (2007) caution professionals, involved in long-term transitions, to remain critical during the "[continuous] cycle of problem-definition, intervention and response".

Ziegler and Bouma argue that analysing is designing in the reversed direction. The first year's outcomes consist of adaptic architectonic interventions within local communities, integrating flows of energy, food and waste. Using interviews with the learning community, the paper describes the educational processes leading to these outcomes, focusing on the formation and elaboration of the appropriate questions concerning stakeholders' interests; how these questions are kept central and deepened throughout projects; how they are represented at their closure and, above all, how they renew awareness concerning future regional needs. Initial findings stress the necessity of a circular research by design process, not necessarily to solve, but to accurately define those needs.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArchitecture and resilience on the human scale
Subtitle of host publicationcross-disciplinary conference proceedings
Place of PublicationSheffield
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015
EventArchitecture and Resilience on the Human Scale Conference - Sheffield School of Architecture, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sept 201512 Sept 2015


ConferenceArchitecture and Resilience on the Human Scale Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • resilient communities
  • pedagogy
  • design
  • architecture
  • energy transition


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