Be more radical. Meanwhile lessons from London, Amsterdam and Dortmund.

The UK, Netherlands and Germany are amongst the countries across Europe where meanwhile uses are becoming more and more popular. London, Amsterdam and Dortmund were showcasing their meanwhile stories and lessons during our first public session on November 5th.

‘Meanwhile’ Stories from London

‘The defining feature about our cities is that they are never complete, they are always adapting. Good cities are organic. The organic nature of spaces and people’s interactions are often one of the key elements in building strategies around temporary uses’, explained Peter Bishop, who gave many front-row insights on the evolution of King’s Cross and Dalston, two urban transformation processes he was involved in during his 25 years working inside the City of London Government.

‘Temporary uses are a choreography of spaces; none of these interventions was particularly important as a single intervention. But collectively, they started to change the whole way in which people see their community’, he said. ‘They are relatively low risk; you can prototype, you can experiment and if it works, great. If it does not work, it doesn’t really matter, you simply move on. But what they achieve is a degree of community resilience, confidence and capacity building which otherwise wouldn’t be there. The temporary city is about infinite possibilities. It’s about tolerance, it’s about places where you allow stuff to happen that you hadn’t thought of yourselves. That makes cities good places to live in.’

Watch the complete session on our YouTube Channel.

‘Good urban design enables what happens next, it’s open-ended. Good design also thinks about what happens in the interludes in between different parts of the evolution of the city.’

‘In Dalston, the working methodology was based on nurturing possibilities and defining what was missing, and this may turn out to be a good methodology in terms of how to define temporary uses in an area of change. It was a combination between managing, designing and curating the city. Mapping and recording were  key elements of our work, in order to really understand the place. We then looked at what was missing, coming up with simple diagrams to be discussed with people, and turning these into a series of actions.’

‘Prototyping and experimentation takes you off into different directions, something might be temporary, something can become permanent. You have a broad goal, but quite often, you try something that makes you redefine what your end goal might be.’

‘After a huge consultation, we came up with this idea that King’s Cross should be another piece of London, organic and constantly able to adapt. We started to build up a spatial master plan in a public way, recognizing the context, its rich local heritage, memories, and to incorporate it in the development. The key thing is that we came up with a master plan that could be adapted for the next generations. We modelled the master plan up to 250 years in the future, to look at ways in which the next generations could constantly adapt this piece of city.

Dortmund, temporary use and the challenge of expectations

Since 2016, the City of Dortmund Economic Development Agency has been involved in the urban renewal process in the northern part of the city and the development of the harbour. Temporary uses are a central component of the concept, to integrate the local population in the process, and open up the area to residents from the very beginning, explained Arne Elias from the local development agency.


The experimentation with a particular temporary use led to conflicts. This was so successful that it created a popular meeting point in the harbour and made the area attractive to new target groups. New target groups, especially young creative people, were reached out and got emotionally bound to the location. These uses were initially limited to 2018, but were extended twice until mid-2020. Although the concept was intended as temporary use by mutual agreement, a conflict emerged for it to become permanent. All offers from the city for possible alternative locations were rejected. In the public debate, the city was portrayed as a blocker.


‘Working with temporary uses requires mutual trust’, he said. ‘Perspectives change over time and this needs constant work of sense-making. Temporary uses need to create identification; at the same time, it is important that they develop organically, and not as stand-alone. You need to be close to the administration in order to develop culture together. On the other hand, you need freedom to be able to support the various actors.’

‘Clear contracts and regulation are important in order to set out boundaries and limits of temporary activities. Specific competencies and human resources are needed to accompany the projects, especially from the point of view of municipalities; management and coordination resources are required on site to moderate interests and conflicting goals. Temporary uses involve risks. However, this also offers significant opportunities for revitalization and making the projects more effective. Temporary uses are becoming more important, especially in our strategies for dealing with Covid.’

Amsterdam, Startup Village and the power of the unexpected

Erik Boer from the University of Amsterdam’s Startup Village highlights the major challenges that are pushing universities towards rethinking their role in society. ‘A key response to these challenges is to become an entrepreneurial university, a university designed to give students and researchers opportunities to take risks, to be involved in innovation, and to get involved in public and private partnerships. It is also a university that is more dedicated than before in creating public value through a process of open engagement’, he said.

‘The Village came from this idea of creating a landmark in Amsterdam for innovation and startups on campus, building it through a temporary approach as the way to experiment and learn by doing. It was built on wasteland, and the major concern at the beginning was around the isolation of this area. We decided to work with containers, and we designed a place for startups and innovation, trying to give it a more ‘’village character’’ so as to make it easy for people to get to know each other, and have a very different vibe than the rest of the campus. While we were building, we were actually changing the design.’

‘Today, this is a space for university startups, university companies, students, PhDs to have their first office on campus, a café where students can come and learn about innovation and entrepreneurship and follow workshops and training, an event space where we hold events, together with corporates, the city and all sorts of stakeholders in Amsterdam. The wasteland where we built was suddenly used for other functions as well, including housing for refugees. In a few years, it became a lively place, an icon. A key lesson is that if we want to work on startups on campus, a landmark is very important.’