Agent of Change – Robbert de Vrieze


The International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (financially) enables a number of researchers and has appointed them as so-called Agents of Change. These researchers are commissioned to reflect on the effects and (spatial) consequences of a changing world, by conducting research into specific themes that lie on the periphery of the current (architectural) discourse. In doing so, they deepen the understanding and/or catalyze the discussion on particular topics, which can then find their way into the public debate and contribute to sharpening, broadening, nurture and renewing the architectural discourse/discipline.

Robbert de Vreize has been approached as Agent of Change for the upcoming period.


Research by

    • Robbert de Vrieze

Since 2017, the IABR’s partnership with the Rotterdam district of Bospolder-Tussendijken (BOTU) has involved various forms of research by design on how to use the energy transition as a lever to create an equitable and sustainable district. A common outcome of these studies – and an ambition that is often expressed in policy papers – is that local residents and communities must have more ownership and control. When people control their own (basic) services, there are more opportunities for local synergy, community and capacity building, resilience to external shocks or crises, and a stronger socioeconomic fabric. 

The increasingly precarious situation in which many people find themselves appears to be a direct consequence of the paradigmatic privatization of public services that has been the norm since the 1980s and 1990s – ‘the market knows best and does things more efficiently’. It is now clear that this is not always the case. Rented social housing is being sold off despite a growing housing shortage, the number of homeless people is increasing, municipal energy companies are falling into the hands of foreign investors, community centers are being sold off in order to improve the financial figures of councilors after their term of office, social work tenders are won by wellness companies owned by people that feature on the Quote 500, the list of the 500 richest people in the Netherlands, and cities are heading for the collapse of the health care system. 

Whose districts are they, anyway? So-called ‘deprived districts’ are deprived for a reason. The people who live there are often caught up in the earning models of various commercial enterprises and have insufficient opportunities and surplus to build their own resilience. What are the starting points for realizing more local ownership? And what can this achieve? This is a study of ownership positions in Rotterdam West.