Rethinking shared space

Client: Sweco
Domain: Mobility, Social, Spatial

Applications are now closed

Space is limited and pressure on this space is increasing. Both indoors and in rural areas. Especially where the two meet. To continue meeting all the needs and interests of the various landscape functions in our country, we need to take a different look at our spatial structures, layout and use. In which the well-being of and synergies between users are central. In What if Lab: Rethinking shared space, Sweco wants to work with three designers on future-proof, integral and adaptive solutions that connect all these functions. Besides innovative ideas in the spatial domain, Sweco also seeks solutions that touch the social and digital domain.

Think of the places where there is currently friction, where industry opposes housing, mobility opposes liveability or nature opposes agriculture. We can make new choices here. How can we shape mixed-use areas in a positive and future-proof way?

What if…we transformed shared space into sustainable mixed-use areas?

Sweco is looking for three designers or design studios working on the same design question, but each developing their own concept or solution. We are looking for hybrid and adaptive solutions for a future-proof residential, working and living environment, in which both social cohesion and connection with nature have their place. Here, you will work together with experts within Sweco.

Does this subject excite you? Read the brief now and apply no later than 7 May 2023!

Need help applying? Send an email to

Justine Kontou

Lab manager

Do you have any questions regarding this What if Lab? If so, please contact Lab Manager Justine Kontou, via

Read the briefing



Space in the Netherlands is limited and the pressure on this space is increasing. Both in the inner city and rural areas. Especially in the places where the two meet.

In order to continue to meet all the needs and interests of the various landscape functions in our country, we must start looking at our spatial structures, design and use in different ways. The well-being of and the synergy between the users is central. A future-proof residential, work and living environment therefore requires integrated and adaptive solutions, in which different functions are connected. In the places where there is friction, where industry opposes housing, mobility opposes livability or nature opposes agriculture. This is where the new Netherlands is created, which has not only been developed in the present, but also for the next generations.

Sweco wants to work with three designers on integrated and adaptive solutions in which all these functions do not compete with each other, but are smartly connected with each other. In addition to innovative ideas in the spatial domain, Sweco is also looking for solutions that touch on the social and digital domain.

In this What if Lab, Sweco plans to collaborate with three designers with different expertise and perspectives to start reshaping our shared space. This way we can inspire each other during the lab and the developed concepts can lead to integrated solutions.


Design question

The theme of this What if Lab is 'Rethinkings hared s pace'. The areas where housing, industry and infrastructure now sometimes stand in each other's way. It is precisely in these places with friction where different functions come together that we can make new choices. How can we design mixed-use in these areas in a positive way?

 So that they can live side-by-side (or on top of each other…) in a future-proof way. Not only for ourselves, but also for our children's children. We are looking for hybrid and adaptive solutions for a future-proof home, work and living environment, with room for both social cohesion and connection with nature.

What if… the shared space is arranged in such a way that people, industry and mobility coexist sustainably with and alongside each other?

Design…an innovative solution for a place where there is (still) friction. You may take your own expertise as a starting point (e.g. social design/ digital design/ spatial design) that complements Sweco's field of work to develop new solutions. The outcome can be a vision, scenario, product, visualisation or prototype that will be presented during DDW.

Sweco is looking for three designers or design studios that are working on the same design question, each developing their own concept or solution. It is precisely the diversity of design knowledge and interests of the different designers combined with the expertise of Sweco's various divisions that should lead to joint integral new insights. You will work together with Sweco's experts. For more on this, see under the heading 'Design teams and design studios'.



At Sweco, we regularly work on projects where mixed use plays a role in areas where there is friction. For inspiration, here are some examples:

Sweco Urban Insight

Worldwide, urbanisation is an ongoing trend. Half of the world's population and no fewer than three-quarters of Europeans live in cities. Making cities more resilient and sustainable therefore has an enormous, positive impact on the living environment of a large number of people. 

The experts at Sweco work on a daily basis to make the cities of the future more sustainable, liveable and attractive. They know every square meter of the Netherlands and see the Dutch urban area and the needs of its users changing.

Urban Insight is Sweco's ten-year international knowledge program that places spatial themes in a new perspective. With 20,000 Sweco employees in Europe, they research new solutions and let strong examples take the stage.

Whatever challenges the city faces: from lack of space due to a multitude of functions, a great need for affordable housing, sustainability, good air quality to a strong public transport network, in the end it all adds up to one ambition: health and safety. So that a house becomes a home, neighbourhoods are not a collection of residents but a community, and functions are not plural but downright cosy and inviting.

All the characteristics of that city can be reduced to four elements: the social network and its development, the translation of ideas into physical elements and design, the underlying culture and facilities that connect, and the policies that secure the conditions needed for this. In an urban area, everything is connected.


Who are we looking for?

We are looking for professional designers who by nature think outside lines, boxes and well-defined ideas and, in doing so, like to push the boundaries of technical possibilities. In order to arrive at integrated solutions, we are looking for a combination of designers with spatial, social and digital expertise. And you look beyond your own field anyway; sustainable design, new materials and innovations drive you in the same way. As a designer you think in terms of possibilities and you look for the right collaboration and knowledge partners.

Technology may even be a necessary evil for you to realise your ideas. You need a sparring partner for that. In the design studios you will work together with engineers and experts from Sweco!

A greener world is also your motivation. You don't like building castles in the sky, you literally want to make a difference. You are looking for a party that can help you with this, that doesn't think in limitations, but in solutions. You want to turn your ideas into real projects and assignments, because you don't do this alone, but in collaboration with a diverse team full of knowledge and expertise.

The working language of this What if Lab is, in principle, Dutch. Due to Sweco's international character, communication during the design process and presentations by designers may be organised in English.


Design teams and design studios

What if Lab not only offers the chance to immerse yourself in a design task, the collaboration with an international leader like Sweco also makes this Lab unique. Access to Sweco's knowledge and network provides new opportunities and insights to design on a different scale. In the program, experts from Sweco and an external expert panel will provide the designers with substantive frameworks and technical knowledge.

This year we have set up a new collaboration process to get even more out of the collaboration. One of Sweco's design teams supervises the entire project on the outlines and each designer is paired with a number of experts for a design workshop, with whom the designer will collaborate on the design question. During this design studio you can shape the entire process; from ideation to design, reflecting with these experts, broadening research and sparring. They have the technical knowledge and insight into possibilities to test and strengthen ideas. And they havegood insight into how the concepts need to be developed so that they fit in well with Sweco's business. This is how you arrive together at a design where creativity meets realisation and where the opportunity for further development is enhanced.

In addition to the project partners involved within Sweco, Sweco employees are involved in all phases of the Lab, such as during the masterclass, feedback meetings and presentations. This creates broad knowledge transfer, inspiration and involvement. Different specialists join in, depending on the designs and ideas. The expert panel consists of a number of external professionals with diverse backgrounds in spatial development, design, media and business.



Application deadline

You can apply until5 May 2023 to participate in What if Lab: Rethinking shared space.


Once the application deadline has closed on 5 May 2023, Sweco will choose a maximum of three designers/design studios to work within the lab. Ideally,  1 designer/design studio will be selected within each of the following domains: social, spatial and digital. Each designer/design studio will work on the design question individually (within their own design studio). During joint meetings, they will then examine how the concepts can reinforce each other and perhaps even form one integral solution. Developing an integral solution is not a requirement, however.

Master class

The chosen designers will be invited to attend a master class on 16 May 2023. They will then set to work independently developing their own concept, in collaboration with experts in the design studio. Interim meetings will scheduled with the client and experts to discuss progress and to review criteria, expectations and practical feasibility. Lab Manager Justine Kontou will be supervising this process on behalf of What if Lab.

Demo day

On 12 July  202 3, the three selected designers will present their ideas to the panel. Based on the panel's feedback, the designers will then be given the opportunity to fine-tune their designs for the final concept presentation on 20 September 2023.

Concept presentation

Final concepts will be presented by the design studios on 19 September 2023.  Sweco's experts and partners will be present on this day in order to preview the concepts that will be presented during Dutch Design Week (DDW). Following the presentations, the design studios, Sweco's communications team and an external designer will discuss how these concepts can best be presented during DDW.

Dutch Design Week Expo: 2 1 - 29 October 2023

The designers' concepts will be exhibited during DDW. The form of this exhibition will be determined in cooperation with an external designer, based on the designs and the ways in which they've been developed into a prototype, model or other type of visualisation. We request that the designers maintain a consistent presence at the Sweco exhibition as well as during DDW. We will consult with each other at a later time to determine how often that will be.


Application and procedure

Applications can be submitted until 23:59 on Friday, 5 May via this link. Please indicate in which domain your work fits best: social, spatial or digital. Having expertise in other domains is also a plus.

In the application form, we ask designers to provide information regarding 3 to 5 relevant, previously completed projects or designs, as well as your motivation for participating in What if Lab: Rethinking shared space. Please describe how the assignment suits you as a designer (or design studio), what your motivation for participating is, and where you see possibilities within the design question (max. 800 words).

It is not necessary to propose any design solutions at this stage. A maximum of 3 designers will be selected from among the applicants. The chosen designers will be notified of their selection on 12 May 2023. The Terms and Conditions for participating in What if Lab: Rethinking shared space apply. This is automatically agreed upon in the application. The Terms and Conditions for participation can be found here.


Design criteria

The design will be tested against the following criteria:

  • The design answers the design question
  • The design encourages discussion about impactful positive changes
  • The design takes into account relevant urban challenges
  • The design offers an integral and adaptive solution
  • The design is innovative and initiates change
  • The design is applicable to areas in the Netherlands, and possibly also scalable to other areas/cities in the world

 We're looking for new concepts, so don't be limited by what we currently know. Where possible, do take into account the applicable regulations and legislation for public spaces and buildings. Sweco can assist with advice on this matter if needed.



The maximum of three selected participants will each receive an amount of €5,000 (excluding VAT) for attending the master class, any travel expenses, developing a concept and any corresponding intermediate meetings, and a presentation (in addition to the 'live' presentation, which is also to be shared as a PDF with the clients) on 12 July 2023 .

Participants will then develop the concept into a design with a detailed visualisation (for example, a prototype, model, 3D animation or video) for the final concept presentation, which will also take place during Dutch Design Week 202 3. Participants will receive compensation in the amount of €7,500 (excluding VAT). This amount is to compensate for the hours worked, travel expenses, corresponding intermediate meetings and the demo day.

Each designer will be given up to €3,000 to help realise/execute their design at DDW 2023. Sweco will take care of the design and implementation of the exhibition, including supporting materials such as screens and presentation equipment. Sweco will establish guidelines for the presentation, such as dimensions, etc. Designers will be asked to present their designs during DDW during various events organised by Sweco. An expense allowance of €500 per designer is provided for this.


Intellectual property rights

Intellectual and copyright rights for the designs developed within What if Lab: Rethinking shared space remain fully owned by the respective design studio. Sweco will be granted free and exclusive right of use for commercial and non-commercial purposes for 2 (two) years, starting from the start of What if Lab: Rethinking shared space. This may be exercised after informing the relevant designer(s)/design studio(s). Sweco must also always ensure that your name is mentioned. The design will be shown in an exhibition during Dutch Design Week '23. A detailed version of the conditions regarding the Intellectual Property Rights can be found in the accompanying Terms and Conditions of participation for What if Lab: Rethinking shared space.



7 May

Deadline open call

11 May

Selection day

12 May

Reveal of the 3 selected design studios

16 May


17 May

Start research and development of the 3 design stduis in design ateliers

31 May

Update meeting 1

20 June

Update meeting 2

12 July

Demoday 3 design studios with their design ateliers

week 29-35

Consultation in coordination with your design atelier (due to holiday period)

5 September

Update meeting 4 (discussing final concept presentation)

19 September

Final concept presentation; preview of the presentations at DDW (And subsequent discussion on how best to present the concepts during DDW)

21-29 October

Presentation DDW 2023

(During Dutch Design Week, the concepts will be presented in an exhibition and at various events organised by Sweco. Moments for both Sweco and the designers to collect feedback from business relations, clients and visitors on the presented designs)

Upon completion of the lab

Evaluation and discussions on possible further development of concepts


Do you have any questions regarding this What if Lab? If so, please contact Lab Manager Justine Kontou at

Justine Kontou

Lab manager

Do you have any questions regarding this What if Lab? If so, please contact Lab Manager Justine Kontou, via

Applications are now closed

Explore some more

We look back at What if Lab in 2023

With the new year approaching, it’s time to take a look back at 2023. For it was a year full...

Continue reading

What if Lab at InnovatieExpo 2023

This year, What if Lab was part of the Innovation Expo! How can we harness design power for societal...

Continue reading

This is What if Lab at DDW23

With Dutch Design Week around the corner we share all things What if Lab in one clear overview! In...

Continue reading