Design principles for urban contexts

During my visits to the cauliflower neighbourhoods, I have seen that many of the initial design principles have either stopped working or are perceived differently due to the changing needs of the residents living in cauliflower neighbourhoods. However, because I have experienced both positive and negative aspects of the current cauliflower neighbourhoods, I can see which aspect of the initial design principles may be of value in a more contemporary urban context like Rotterdam. 


Cauliflower neighbourhoods have clearly defined boundaries both along its edges and around its individual neighbourhoods that make interactions with their surroundings or other neighbourhoods rather difficult. The boundaries secure a level of intimacy within the area and pull the focus inward to, for instance, the woonerven or collective spaces. Looking at Rotterdam, I feel like we must accept the natural boundaries, like busy roads and waterways, and use them to create smaller, more manageable individual neighbourhoods.

Punctured Boundaries

Maintain natural boundaries to ensure a level of intimacy within the (individual) neighbourhoods but puncture them with pedestrian and cyclist routes connecting and opening up the closed-off neighbourhoods allowing a more natural pedestrian flow and interaction between them. 

greenery structure

Although the green spaces in cauliflower neighbourhoods are increasingly perceived as unmanageable and unsafe, the sheer volume in which they are incorporated into the neighbourhoods is often one of the positive aspects of why residents chose to live in cauliflower neighbourhoods. Rotterdam has a couple of larger green spaces, like Het Park, the Kralingse Plas and the Vroesenpark that are perfect to go to on a nice day, but for many people, they are not within walking distance. In my experience, there are little green spaces around my home that are easily accessible. Many smaller green spaces seem to be designed for children only (not unlike the green spaces in cauliflower neighbourhoods) Furthermore, greenery can be used as natural shields for private spaces that improve the living environment in both public and private spaces. 

accessible greenery 

Create easily accessible greenery in different sizes and for various functions throughout the neighbourhood. Green spaces must be able to stimulate peoples imagination. However, if the greenery is too wild and too informal, it will be perceived as unsafe and therefore left unused. 

shielding greenery 

Implement greenery or green spaces into the urban fabric where public and private spaces meet. The greenery helps smoothen the transition from one to the other and provides a level of visual privacy for residents. Green spaces should occur on streets, in public spaces, on balconies and rooftops. 

traffic structure

The hierarchal traffic structure in cauliflower neighbourhoods often clearly mark transitions from public to more private areas within the neighbourhoods. These transitions stage a perception of how public or private an area depending on how intimate a road is. The primary and secondary traffic structures have a more open character and are used for connective reasons, whereas the woonerven have a more private character, have a slow traffic policy and often lead to dead ends. From the neighbourhoods I visited, I found out that approximately 30% of the roads have a connective function and 70% a slow traffic function or are a dead end. I feel like this could be very effective in the city because today cars have a very dominant role in the streets and almost every road is accessible by car. If fewer roads would have a connective function, pedestrians and cyclist could claim these streets and use them for a wider variety of purposes. 

stage perceivable transitions 

Clearly distinguish different areas of (individual) neighbourhoods through differentiation in openness-intimacy, shapes and forms and materialisation. You can use these transitions to immediately give visitors and residents an idea of the identity of a (individual) neighbourhood and stage a gradual change in intimacy and stimulate the possibility for social interaction. 

road purposes 

Divide the number of roads into ones with a connective function (30%) and ones that can become dead ends (70%). This way roads dominated by cars can make way for streets that are more diversely used. 

pedestrian priority 

Promote and create pedestrian routes that cross and connect different activity nods in neighbourhoods to stimulate walking. Social interaction is more easily achieved when walking, and people can take in their living environment better. 

erratic allotments

The erratic placement of dwellings within the cauliflower neighbourhoods is often focused towards the woonerven. The fact that all dwellings have this inward focus results in unused empty facades, awkward meetings or clashes between buildings or individual neighbourhoods. Also, in Rotterdam, I regularly find undefined spaces due to awkward meetings between public and privates spaces. 

opportunistic awkward erraticness 

When awkward meetings between public and private spaces leave unused or undefined spaces, use them to your advantage. Design for these unused spaces to provoke the claiming of these spaces. Once claimed, you have better chances residents take care of these spaces and the street they are in. 

public space

In cauliflower neighbourhoods, public space is often merely a derivative of the allotment structure and therefore lacks a clear definition in function and is hard to read for its users. Due to the lack of definition and the increasing number of cars, many public spaces have turned into a sociable parking lot. Also in Rotterdam, cars have quite a dominant role in the streets. Yet, when it comes to the public space, I find that it is often too defined and leaves little room for interpretation. 

balancing definition and interpretation 

Create easy readable public spaces and find the balance between too defined and undefined to leave room for interpretation and playfulness. This way, people can use public space according to their needs. If designing a square or woonerf, always add something roughly in the middle as a focus point within the public space. A public space without a middle is likely to stay empty.

colle(a)ctive participation 

Implement collective spaces in a neighbourhood where residents can claim ownership off. Give the public spaces form so that the local community will feel responsible for them so that each member of the community will contribute in his or her way to an environment that he or she can relate to and identify with. Collective spaces should adjoin privates spaces so that the transition from private to public is not alienating. However, do create a (porous) border between them to maintain and secure a level of privacy so that the collective space does not intrude the private spaces. 

transition space

For me, transition spaces are what truly characterise the architecture of the 1970s and 1980s. This is the aspect of cauliflower neighbourhoods that piqued my curiosity in the first place, and I thought that because private spaces seemed so exposed to public space, this would naturally ensure a well-working relationship between the two. 

However, I have learned that it is actually the security of private spaces that ensure a healthy relationship. People need to be able to choose if they want to participate in public space or not, and their transition space should ensure that they feel comfortable doing so. I think in Rotterdam, many people are quite exposed to public space and their neighbours. There is often little transition between public and private spaces and even private spaces on higher floors. People are still exposed because there is nothing between us. If I look outside, from my private spaces, I see everyone trying to secure their private spaces by using curtains, roller blinds or diffuse window stickers. Social contact is not possible at all. 

optional publicness 

Let dwellings reach out toward public or collective spaces but ensure a level of visual privacy. Let building extensions mark a transition from public to private space and design this so that people have a choice if they want to participate in public space or not. It will help if residents partly claim public space. 

cherish identifiable elements 

Make sure to cherish and emphasise identifiable elements in neighbourhoods and use them to create a relatable identity for residents. 

marking porous territory 

Residents should mark their territory but with an open border to create a space where they feel comfortable and also allow social interaction to happen. 

I genuinely enjoy cauliflower neighbourhoods because the architects and urban planners tried to stimulate social interaction on all scales. You see that the urban design principles (boundaries and structural elements) affect the neighbourhood scale. The neighbourhood scale (erratic allotments, public- and collective spaces) affects the architectural scale (transition space, facades). This way, all scales contribute to a very staged sociable setting and create a specific perception of a neighbourhood for both visitor and residents. Of course, architects and urban planners were able to design this social setting from the planning table. In Rotterdam, there is an existing urban fabric I have to deal with. I believe the initial design principles would fail in a contemporary urban fabric and therefore have to be revalued into something that could be implemented into the existing structure. I can see the revalued design principles as acupuncture needles, where specific needles or a combination of different ones can be put into the urban fabric where needed. This way, they can restore or create a living environment with more possibilities for social interaction between neighbours.