Changes #2: Jolijn Valk on the Spatial Design Action Programme

In this period, like many institutions and fellow funds, the Creative Industries Fund NL is working on the plans for the 2025-2028 policy period. In the coming weeks, we will be talking to programme managers from the Fund about the state of play and considerations behind changes. This week, the brand-new programme manager of the Spatial Design Action Programme, Jolijn Valk.

Jolijn Valk joined the Creative Industries Fund NL this month as programme manager of the Spatial Design Action Programme (ARO). In the past, she worked at a number of renowned architectural firms and started her own bureau Urban Echoes in 2013. As an architect member, she has served on several municipal architectural-quality committees in the Netherlands, and is also associated with various Dutch architecture schools as a graduate mentor and examiner. From 2021-2023, she was president of the BNA, the Branch Association of Dutch Architects.

The aim of ARO is to strengthen the use of spatial design in addressing today’s complex spatial challenges. By means of open calls – each with a different theme – interdisciplinary coalitions investigate from an integral design approach how to address the necessary transition processes and improve the spatial quality of the Netherlands. What does the action programme mean to you?
‘As far as I am concerned, the programme is both unifying and agenda-setting. It is also only successful when it goes beyond the programme itself, when its impact becomes measurable because architecture is part of politics and society. There is currently no consideration of the overall environment, and as a result parties become isolated from each other. In this sense, a name like Mooi Nederland, the government programme that focuses on spatial quality in addressing societal challenges, is not suited to the challenges at hand. It’s about so much more than just beautiful. We should not talk about the colour on the wall, but about the wall itself. Architecture and spatial planning is intertwined with specific locations and their context. You have to be able to justify to the user how you design that space. I hope that with the action programme we can put the value of design, the power of design and design research on the political agenda, and contribute to making concepts such as ‘quality of the living environment’ tangible and talk about their real meaning.’

Exhibition 'Brabantse Oogst ARO & VRO'

The question has long been whether the Netherlands even has a national architectural policy. Another round-table discussion was held with politicians this autumn on shaping architectural policy. What do you think are the most important topics for the architecture agenda in the coming period?
‘I would love to see the lessons we learn from design research actually end up in policy. There are many parties who want to put spatial design on the agenda, and you see that room is often made for design research in the early stages of projects. But maintaining that at the moment projects go into practice is proving difficult. Too often, other agencies get involved at that point, the municipality loses commitment and the research is ignored. But it is particularly important that the designer’s role as an expert is woven into the whole process.’

Prachtige productielandschappen - Werkend landschap | Mei it ferline foarút

Are we thinking too much from the perspective of the city?
‘It might seem that way, but everything we do in the city affects the hinterland. We think in separate blocks, but nothing is separate. Looking for change, for innovation, is in fact looking for a different way of seeing things. To achieve that, the power of design and imagination need to be linked more with creativity, education and with science. There are also gaps in the triangle of policy, knowledge and implementation. ARO provides input in each of these areas. We make that knowledge available on our platform, De nieuwe ruimte, with the aim of it becoming embedded in policy. But Brabantse oogst is also a fantastic example in this respect. With this exhibition, the Fund is giving significant exposure to the projects supported in North Brabant via ARO but also VRO, the Fund’s Voucher Scheme Spatial Design. Whether its impact will then extend beyond the programme is exciting to see.’

Photo by Guido Beschop

So basically it’s about changing the system. Do you believe in that?
'Yes, absolutely. Design and design research can bring together and change the physical living environment and system world. Because design (subconsciously or otherwise) affects your living environment and how we feel, spatial design is capable of changing systems. It means that system change is certainly possible, but it is an extremely slow process. There are three main tasks in which ARO plays or can play an important role:
‘System change is definitely possible, but it is extremely slow. There are three main tasks:
- How can design research obtain a strategic place in decision-making/policy?
- How do we ensure better alignment between professional practice and the courses of study?
- How can major transition tasks become apparent at the local level?

Spatial design is by definition political and a cultural act. It is actually an undeniable part of the public domain. When we realize that almost everything in our public space has been designed, we start looking at spatial design and spatial development very differently.’