Prof.dr. W.A.J. Vanstiphout

Professor of Design as Politics - Department of Urbanism

“For a long time there was too little knowledge of design in the world of politics That was seen as a good thing at TU Delft, because the world of design also has too little knowledge of politics. At the end of 2009, the chair of Design and Politics was established in the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment. As the only non-designer, but with a great deal of knowledge from practice and the history of architecture, I was appointed head of this chair.

We deal with and provide teaching on highly topical themes such as ‘What will take the place of the Welfare State?’ In order to understand every perspective and to be able to tackle current affairs, a professor must play an active role in the social debate. I write articles, am a member of advisory boards, give lectures and try to raise awareness of the importance of the public debate.

Topical social issues

In our graduation studios students are given the opportunity to spend a year exploring a subject in depth. We tackle social issues that are high on the political agenda, such as funding flows, the consequences of the financial crisis and the role of the architect in this. A topical theme right now is decentralisation, and what will happen when the welfare state as we know it plays a less significant role. These are not specifically technical assignments, but lessons that encourage you to think about a social assignment and how you can create a design to fit it. 

An entire world

Exploring this world and then coming to a concrete design is more than just an assignment; it is a real challenge to maintain your energy throughout the entire process. Everyone loses their way at some point. I always tell students that it is good to start designing right from the beginning. This can seem an enormous challenge, but it’s OK to make mistakes at this stage. We can learn the most from our mistakes.

New perspective

My desire for all my students is that they get a whole new perspective of their subject, experiencing and seeing how a design can be a means of changing society. As a designer you have the chance to be of influence in a free and autonomous way.
I don’t see myself as someone who teaches others how to provide a service. It is the individual’s own ideas, thoughts and approach that make this such a great profession. I teach students how to describe a problem and a solution as honestly and clearly as possible. In that process I encourage them to hold on to their own ambitions. This creates self-confident people with a wide perception who understand contexts and are not afraid to show it. History is an important aspect of this, providing a wealth of examples and experiences. Things tend to be unpredictable; there are a thousand directions they can go in – that’s beyond your control. But you can learn to take a more flexible approach, to deal with them strategically.

Proud

I am very proud of students that I see change, and the fact that in recent years many students have done well for themselves in the craziest ways, despite the rise in unemployment. During their degree programme we bring them into contact with agencies and other initiatives where they can put their skills to good use. When they leave you are always a little worried what will become of them, yet time and time again they find ways to get work and to develop their own initiatives. That’s great to see.

And in the meantime we continue our work here. Recently we published a beautiful new book entitled Design and Politics. Are we the World, about how Dutch Design has become so strong and highly regarded internationally. What is it that we export, both physically and in our attitude? What are the lessons we can learn, and the unexpected benefits? The book is a milestone, we worked on it for a long time. Maybe it will be the start of something new, which I hope will lead to many new debates.”

Education, publications and secondary employment

"How do you go from something that is very broad to a concrete design? Even though we want to bring these two worlds together, there is a whole world in between in which there is much to discover. The process starts from vague and abstract notions, but eventually leads to the design of a building according to technical standards."

- W.A.J. Vanstiphout

Wouter Vanstiphout