Mekelparks’ preferential pathways

People’s preferred pathways on the new Mekelpark proves the old adage that the ‘best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’.

Question: do you obey the rules when walking on the paths designed specially for you by designers, or do you prefer choosing your own way, which is shorter and thus quicker? A quick look around TU Delft’s newly landscaped Mekelpark campus clearly shows that many people prefer making up their own minds, and are thus perhaps smarter than the designers, for after all how can designers know in advance which way is quicker for me to get from Point A to Point B if they don’t use my same paths in their daily lives?

A quick count reveals around ten preferential pathways on campus: in some spots it looks like the designers already saw the preferred paths coming, so obstacles, like bushes or stones, where put in the way of the people stream, although of course people still climb over the bushes or go around the stones in continuing to choose their own pathways.

“These kinds of paths occur everywhere,” says Anne Marie van der Weide, landscape architect at Mecanoo, the firm that designed the Mekelpark. “We always try to prevent them and most people consider them as ‘design mistakes’ or just ugly, but personally I like it when people make their own routes, as the space then gets a personal touch, provided it’s not in a high urban space where green is precious.”

George Taran, a TU Delft alumnus (1999) and senior architect at Hassel studio, in Brisbane, Australia, concurs. ”As designers, we’re aware of shortest path of travel being the pedestrian’s preferred one. The hard part though is predicting where pedestrians come from and go to. Most times it’s fairly obvious, like a train station exit, but on a campus like TU Delft’s there can be surprises – too many different routes.” Taran adds that he’s also heard anecdotal stories about how in Japan they don’t pave the landscaping of new developments for at least six months, until these preferred paths have been established, after which the circulation through the site is finalised based on the preferred paths.

Cleary, people on the TU Delft campus have made their own solutions, creating preferential pathways aimed at saving time by saving meters of walking or biking. When designing pedestrian routes, ”shortest is best,” Taran adds. ”Anything else will be compromised, because unless there’s a significant obstacle, people will do a short cut.”

Of the various Mekelpark pathways, people save short distances, like the 4-meter prefered pathway near the Library and Aula; medium distances, the 8-meter pathway near the EEMCS faculty; and relatively big distances, like the 18-meter, time-saving prefered pathway in front of the College van Bestuur building. For pedestrians, these prefered pathways save precious seconds, which can be the difference between being on-time or late for class.

So do such pathways ever compel designers to go back and change the original layout later? “Yes, this happens a lot,” Van der Weide says. “For example, next to the Aerospace faculty building, between the building and the Rotterdamseweg, many people made their way through the green. The TU accepts this and even puts gravel on top of the path to prevent it from getting slippery.”

When using services in daily life, we consumers are constantly asked to give our feedback, in customer surveys or by leaving reviews and rating sellers on Amazon or eBay. For landscape design, we apparently do the same, except our customer feedback is in the form of our footsteps, which collectively create our preferential pathways.

As faculties take measures to prevent first-year students from dropping out after receiving binding academic advice, TU Delft aims to raise the standard from 30 to 45 ECTS. Director of Education, Frank Sanders, of the Civil Engineering & Geosciences faculty, fears that this will create a battlefield.

“For decades one-third of all civil engineering students have dropped out,” he said, “and I suspect that if the standard is raised to 45 ECTS more than one-third will drop out.” Sanders thinks this is unjust. Herman Russchenberg, Director of Education at the faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, takes a different view: “I’m not convinced it will in fact become a battlefield. Students focus on the standard, and that’s why I often say: set the standard then at 60 ECTS.”

Delft student company,, was robbed last week. The thieves made off with 700 pairs of sunglasses, totalling some 3,000 euro. The student company was not insured. The break-in occurred at Bacinol 2, an office building in Delft. The company, which was set up two years ago by students Ad Oner and Mark Reiff, sells sunglasses via its site and at festivals, like Awakenings and Voltt.

Dutch Secretary of State, Halbe Zijlstra, is not convinced by the arguments put forward by lawyers representing various Dutch student organisations. Zijlstra insists that his bill, which fines students who study too long, is legal. Professor of educational law, Paul Zoontjens, says that Zijlstra can refute almost all juridical objections: “I wonder if this bill is going to pass the Parliament and Senate without changes, but if it does it will be hard to defend it before a judge.” On Thursday, April 14, Parliament will debate the bill.  

Less research
The Rathenau Institute, an independent institute that promotes science and technology, submitted an overview of government research spending for the years 2009-2015 as part of a parliamentarian report on the total research budgets of all Dutch ministries. The Rathenau Institute states that total government research funding will decrease from 4.8 billion euros in 2009 to 4.3 billion in 2015, a drop of 450 million euros. Critics say research budget cuts will mean the Netherlands will struggle to compete with other countries in the knowledge economy.  

August retakes
The faculty of Industrial Design Engineering will now take the August retake exams into account for Bachelor-before-Master (BaMa) assessments. The faculty of Architecture will not do so, however. The Student Council complained last year about the fact that students of both faculties are disproportionately penalised by the implementation of the Bachelor-before-Master, because these students follow programmes that require lots of project and practical work, but they are not allowed to start such MSc projects or laboratory courses until it’s certain that they passed the BaMa’s BSc degree segment.

Should TU Delft work more closely together with the universities of Leiden and Rotterdam? TU Delft’s Executive Board thinks the university should seriously ask itself that question. This subject is part of a series of discussions on the Strategic Outline TU Delft 2020 that started this month. From April to September the Executive Board wants to talk to (PhD) students, employees and external stakeholders about the future of TU Delft. According to chairman Dirk Jan van den Berg, TU Delft must dare to think about merging with Leiden and Rotterdam. How far this merger must go, is the second part of the question, he says. TU Delft also wants closer ties with universities in China, Singapore and Brazil.

Embassy closures
The Dutch government plans to close seven embassies in Africa and Latin America, due to governmental cost-saving measures. The Dutch embassies in Cameroon, Zambia, Burkina Faso and Eritrea will be closed. In Latin America, the Dutch government will close embassies in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Uruguay. Some 300 jobs will be lost due to the closures. 

Lap dances
Jack Rappaport, an assistant professor of management at La Salle University in Philadelphia (US), has been suspended while LaSalle investigates allegations that he hired strippers to give lap dances at a $150 extra-credit symposium on ‘the application of Platonic and Hegelian ethics to business.’ It’s alleged that during the class the strippers gave lap dances ‘to willing students – and even Rappaport – while he lectured,’ the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In his bio on the LaSalle website, Rappaport writes: ‘I try to enrich my teaching by using interesting real life applications.’

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