Egbert Stolk

Complexity, Cognition and Urban Design

MSc thesis supervision

In choosing a MSc-graduation topic, my first suggestion would be to follow your own fascinations, as you need to spend a year of your life on this project. Make it fun. Second, ask yourself if you want to work on an actual urban problem, if you want to graduate on a more hypothetical project, or if you want to conduct a study on the design process itself.

If you want to work on an actual problem: talk to real stakeholders, find a way to connect to them by organizing a workshop, observe behaviour, and ask for feedback on your results. At the same time, make sure to utilise the freedom you have as a student to propose bold alternatives to existing plans. You can work on fully realistic plans for the rest of your life.

If you want to work on a more hypothetical project, try to find a game-changing context variable. Game-changing context variables can be found in future outlooks on technologies – as technologies have been (elevators, cars) and probably will be major drivers of change of the urban fabric of cities. Reflect on the implications of your study for current day issues. For example, see this post on business insider.com.

If you want to study the design process itself, I suggest to focus on understanding the urban fabric as a result of a collective design process on several interacting levels and scales. Include design-experiments by, for example, involving your fellow students. Develop a design strategy supported by these experiments, and apply this to one or several design studies.

For all three types of studies, some suggestions are given below:

Actual problem: stronger interrelations between different types of networks.
This theme is based on a interdisciplinary KP7-proposal including complexity theories, game theory/human behaviour, urban planning and design, and smart cities.

  • Suggested topic: extreme events, cascading effects and the urban fabric;
  • Suggested topic: human behaviour in times of crisis and the urban fabric;
  • Suggested topic: planning and designing the urban fabric in view of disasters.

Changing context variable: a large scale implementation of EmDrive technologies.
This theme is based on a recent news-item on EmDrive technology. It takes a previously developed proposal on the impact of flying cars on the urban environment to the next level. Update: november 2015.

  • Suggested topic: the implications of EmDrive technologies on the urban environment;
  • Suggested topic: EmDrive technologies as a basis for earth-expanding urban environments.

Studying the design process: a complexity-cognitive approach to urban design.
This theme is based on my PhD research. In this research insights from cognitive sciences, design thinking, complexity sciences are related to the domain of urban design and planning.

  • Suggested topic: countering cognitive biases in urban design and planning;
  • Suggested topic: design as mental time travel and its implications for the urban fabric;
  • Suggested topic: everyone is a designer – the urban fabric as a collective artefact;
  • Suggested topic: moving between spatial scales in urban design using 3D isovist analysis.

Some links to stimulate future-oriented thinking.

About Egbert Stolk
I’m specialised in complexity theories of cities, design cognition & design methodology. From this perspective, I have been involved in projects related to e-mobility, the spatial quality of the airport region Schiphol / Province of North-Holland, and the role of urban planning and design in dealing with cascading effects in cities.

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