The institutionalisation of a creative practice

Changing roles of regional design in Dutch national planning


  • Verena Balz TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment



Regional design, spatial planning, regional governance, discretion


This chapter discusses the organisational setting of regional design in the realms of spatial planning and territorial governance. As a starting point, it argues that rules on how imagined design solutions function in an abstract, simplified ‘planning world’ are an important regional design product. When focusing on these rules, regional design practice resembles discretionary action. As such, it aims to improve planning decisions by judging the implications of planning frameworks when applied to particular situations. This implies that the involvement of actors in design practice requires careful consideration. As in any form of legitimate rule-building, a critical distance between those who initiate practices and conduct design, and those who judge the quality and relevance of design outcomes is essential. On the basis of these considerations the chapter investigates regional design practices that occurred between the 1980s and 2010s in the context of Dutch national planning. It shows how they transformed from being a form of professional advocacy, criticising planning, into a practice that was pragmatically used to implement a national planning agenda. The chapter concludes by discussing this institutionalisation of a creative practice in the Netherlands, reflecting upon the implications of these outcomes for territorial governance in particular.

Author Biography

Verena Balz, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

I studied Architecture at the Technical University in Berlin, Germany, and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, USA. My studies in the United States were supported by grants from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the United States Information Agency, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. My graduation thesis, which tested a particular industrial design-support computer programme on its usefulness for urban design, was judged excellent.

Between 1999 and 2005 I was employed at Maxwan Architects and Urbanists, and Crimson architectural historians, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. As an urbanist and senior urbanist at these firms I participated in and led urbanism projects of various levels of scale in several European countries. From 2005 to 2008 I was Chief Designer at Atelier Zuidvleugel (South Wing Studio), a publicly funded policy institute concerned with regional planning and design in the southern part of the Dutch Randstad region. In this position I became acquainted with developing and carrying out innovative regional-design strategies in complex multi-actor governance settings. Projects I initiated and led have had as their main concern transit-oriented development and the integration of socio-economic and spatial development in the region. I am the principal author of a number of books that document these projects, as well as co-author of a book that reviews South Wing Studio’s regional design practice.

Since 2009 I have been an assistant professor and teacher at the Department of Urbanism, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology. The main focus of my research is on the use and performance of regional design-led approaches in planning decision-making. My work on this topic has been published in international peer-reviewed journals and academic books. As a research team leader I have initiated conference sessions and co-organized international conferences dedicated to the Department’s core interest in regional design. My engagement has contributed to the building up of an international network of researchers with interest and expertise in this emerging theme. In addition to regional design, I also have expertise on spatial planning, Dutch national planning, regional policy, territorial governance, and European Cohesion Policy. I have built up and applied this knowledge during my participation in a broad range of publicly funded research projects. Besides participating as a researcher and national expert in such projects, I have contributed to the acquisition of research grants from, among others, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and acquired funds for my own research projects. As a teacher I am involved in the Bachelor and Master of Architecture, Urbanism, and Building Sciences programmes. Besides being a course coordinator, lecturer, design tutor, and mentor on individual courses, I am also co-coordinator of the third quarter of the MSc Urbanism track, entitled ‘Spatial Strategies for the Global Metropolis’, and studio coordinator of the MSc Urbanism graduation studio ‘Planning Complex Cities’.

Since 2008 I have had my own firm. As an independent researcher and designer I provide consultancy on regional spatial planning and design. I frequently co-operate with design firms, in particular OOZE architects, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.






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