As an urban designer, Lena Knappers is interested in big-city issues that require an integrated approach. ‘Rethinking the Absorption Capacity of Urban Space’, her final project for her master’s in Urbanism at TU Delft, contains advanced strategies for sustainably integrating migrants into the host country’s society. ‘Migration is often perceived as a temporary phenomenon. It’s handled with short- term container housing, located outside the city centre. There’s a lack of policy regarding sustainable accommodation. But mixing these vulnerable groups with the existing population is of huge importance’, Lena explains. For her thesis, she investigated alternative, more inclusive forms of housing, which focused on the use of public space. The Overamstel prison complex, known colloquially as the ”Bijlmerbajes’, is a good example of this, and was a suitable location for implementing the spatial interventions that Lena had developed. From August 2016 to February 2018, the former prison served as a reception centre for hundreds of asylum seekers. Next to the Bijlmerbajes, there was a container village for international students. They inhabited the same urban space, yet the two groups lived completely separately from each other.
The strategies and spatial interventions she has developed could also be rolled out in other locations in Europe, such as Athens. Lena has visited the Greek city, which is also dealing with migration issues, several times. She wants to bring these problems to the surface through in-depth interviews with a variety of migrants and Greeks. Using the information gathered during this process, she will then focus on suitable design solutions. Once her ongoing research in Athens is finished, she plans to collect her findings in a book.
The ideal inclusive city is something that Lena Knappers will continue to sink her teeth into for the time being. She’s not only interested in the topic of migration, but also the use of public space and the persistent inequality that seems to go along with it. Because she also works part time for the Chief Government Architect in The Hague, collaborating with municipalities, housing associations and organisations like COA (Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers), there are plenty of shared interests and opportunities to continue her research. She says, ‘In The Hague, I’m working on large, complex projects with many different stakeholders and interests. These projects require time and coordination, but at the same time, they teach you to look at things from different perspectives. When I’m working on my own projects, I have complete freedom and can use my
imagination to reveal creative alternatives.’
Text: Giovanni Burke