Research

Designing for Sociality


‘Designing for Sociality’ is a research project on retail that was initiated by a consortium composed of four Dutch universities and UNStudio. Together with the universities Utrecht, TU Delft, University of the Arts Utrecht, Amsterdam University of Applied Science and MVRDV we have drafted a research question dealing with the transformation of spaces to shop into places to meet.


Background for the research is the steady growth of sales through the internet that has greatly impacted shopping behavior, the result being that the changing demands of consumers has already, and will continue to have, a substantial impact on existing and future shopping areas and city centers. To keep up with these very contemporary challenges spaces to shop need to transform into spaces to meet. To prevent shopping areas and streets from dying out we need to design beyond the needs of consumption. We must design for the needs of sociality.

What role can the public domain of shopping areas fulfill within the next few decades? How will they continue to operate as meeting places? What is their attraction? What product do they sell, both economically as well as socially? Do we create comfortable physical areas with new functions? Or do we generate social networks that find their own way to occupy space? If so, how do we design for this? And who are the stakeholders involved in this new urban planning process?


In order to study the realities and challenges and propose enduring strategies for socio-economically successful retail spaces in architectural and urban contexts, a multidisciplinary consortium of experts in the field of design, urban geography and computer science has been formed. The team disposes of a unique combination of outstanding expertise and verve for a creative and innovative research. Computational behavior analysis, focused field observations and interviews will mark the beginning of the research. Physical, functional, social and technological interventions and experiments will follow and result in spatial design scenarios and enable us to formulate guidelines on how to design for sociality.

As a member of the consortium of ‘Designing for Sociality’ UNS is also participating as expert for retail spaces in the national research program Shopping 2020 . The program starts from the same context as the retail research: Changing consumer behavior; shuffling trading chains; invention of new media like Google glasses or virtual recognition; digitalization of products through gamification or 3d printing; internationalization of markets and hyper competition among big players like Amazon and Zalando.

Shopping2020 has the goal to create a vision for shopping in the future (in the Netherlands) with a main focus on future developments in the digital world. How the latest trends of online shopping and the growing digitalization of our environment actually change and influence our physical life and shopping behavior is one of the key questions.

To further turn the research question of ‘Designing for Sociality’ into a research project the consortium is currently looking into funding options.

Posted by: UNStudio / Tina Kortmann

Team:  Tina Kortmann, Jan Schellhoff, Thomas Harms, Machteld Kors

Research Consortium:

Utrecht University / Faculty of Geosciences, Department of Urban Geography

Technical University of Delft / Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, and Computer Science, Department of Intelligent Systems

HKU - University of the Arts Utrecht / Master Interior Architecture - Towards Spatial Identity

Amsterdam University of Applied Science / CREATE-IT

MVRDV, Rotterdam

Contributions