Addressing metropolitan challenges: “typical engineering work”

Vice-Rector Magnificus Rob Mudde talks about the importance of AMS Institute

By: Jurjen Slump

Together with Wageningen University & Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Delft University of Technology forms the scientific heart of AMS Institute. Participating in the institute is important to Delft University of Technology, says Rob Mudde, Vice-Rector Magnificus and Vice- President for Education on the Executive Board. AMS Institute is part of his portfolio. “To solve urban problems, we need to be in the city ourselves.”


“By 2050, 70 percent of people will live in cities. If we consider where in society most of the problems arise and where living conditions of people might be improved, we will mostly look at urban environments. The extent of urbanisation will only increase, as well as its associated challenges. Take, for example, the food supply system: 30 percent of goods transport in Amsterdam are food-related. That is an incredible amount of transport movements within the city. We need to do something about this; it can be done in a smarter way. We want to be able to supply the shops without the city becoming gridlocked. Offering a solution to this means we will make an immediate contribution. Scientists find these challenges immensely interesting. Many people at Delft University of Technology are fascinated by it.”

In Amsterdam, but typically Delft

“The way we work within AMS Institute is representative of the Delft approach: it’s typical engineering work. Because we think in terms of solutions. In a big city, there are certain preconditions to be taken into account. Traffic and residents need to be able to move around at all times. We cannot simply close off a bridge or a road. Engineers are used to this way of working and that’s also the reason why we have to be physically present in Amsterdam. One cannot recreate this complexity in a lab - we have to let ourselves be inspired by the city, listen to the city governance, to its civil servants, and its citizens. That’s why we find it perfectly logical to leave the campus in Delft and come to Amsterdam: the city is a living laboratory.”


“For the same reason, it is also essential to get the scientists out of the TU Delft Campus labs. It’s often about practical applications, so we need to seek out actual social complexities. We cannot simply strip it down to the core problem and try to solve it in ‘splendid isolation’ inside a laboratory, because then we will lose sight of some of its complexity. That’s why we collaborate in the AMS Institute.”

The research carried out by the AMS Institute in living labs and the activities performed within Delft University of Technology perfectly complement each other

Chain: taking the campus to the city

“The research carried out by the AMS Institute in living labs and the activities performed within Delft University of Technology perfectly complement each other. It is a chain that runs from the laboratories, via field labs at the campus to living labs in the city. It is a new method of working thanks to which innovations can be brought to market faster, because we know in advance what works and what doesn’t.”

Knowledge valorisation as a core task

“This new way of doing research is a recent phenomenon. It has come about because the pace of development is faster than before and the role of universities has become broader: knowledge valorisation is currently a core task. In addition, many of the issues we study are characterised by a high level of complexity and interconnection. Many isolated topics have been more or less dealt with by now. Another relevant factor is that we need to move towards a sustainable economy. Fifty years ago, we could not have realised, for example, that plastic in rivers would become such a huge problem. To find a solution for such major urban issue, we need an institution like the AMS Institute.”


“A project that I personally find very interesting is Roboat. It’s scalable, offers a range of possible applications, and also looks great. Scientists like that, it inspires and excites them. I also find it fascinating to contemplate the possibilities of a circular city and all its consequences. Take, for example, the circular kitchen: you no longer buy a kitchen, you lease it. This, in turn, forces manufacturers to recycle old kitchens. What does this signify in terms of design and production methods?


“Besides research results, participation in the AMS Institute provides us with another very important thing: inspiration. Inspired by the questions that matter and their complexity: that is what energises us as engineers, scientists and researchers. It also inspires young people. This is reflected in the master Metropolitan Analysis, Design and Engineering, a joint programme offered by Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University & Research, using the city of Amsterdam as a case study and a living lab via the collaboration with the AMS Institute. In this way, we prove that we not just train young engineers, but also address societal problems. This is an example of how education can be meaningful to students and the city alike. The excitement of the students is also a great reward. Bursting with energy, they contribute their powerful thinking as well as a tremendous drive. All this comes together wonderfully within the AMS Institute.”

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