Completed Living Labs

Expansive Design: expanding human activity by designing space

PhD Project of Frederick van Amstel

Supervisors: Timo Hartmann, Mascha van der Voort, Geert Dewulf


Designing space can contribute to organizational development if current and future activities are taken into account. This possibility is complicated by the political and methodological struggle of involving users in designing space, who are the ones carrying on those activities. Typically, users are left out of designing space for economic reasons; however, they produce space anyway with their own activities. Rearranging furniture, changing the function of rooms, moving walls, redirecting walking routes, inverting what is public and what is private, are all actions that produce space but that may be not considered as part of designing space. Eventually, users will fight for legitimate participation in design to assure that space does not restrict their activities in the future. This encounter has the potential to change both activities: design and user activities. Expansive design reveals, on one hand, the active role of space in organizing, and, on the other hand, the spatial agency of any human activity.

Practical implications

Expansive Design is a practical approach to include activity as a subject of space. Activity visualizes its proximal development by expanding the conceived space. The conceived space gets closer to the lived space, since it is based on first-hand experience and on commitment to implementation.

Expansive Design is recommend for organizations that think more space is the only way to overcome their activity contradictions. Expansive Design helps to realize that without activity reconceptualization the contradictions will not go away. Expansive design helps to integrate space design within regular activity development.

Workflow visualization

Expansive Design requires instruments that can be easily manipulated by activity subjects to envision their proximal development whilst designing space. They should visualize both activity and space dimensions and should support smooth transitions between multiple levels of analysis.


The knitting game: low-tech visualization of nurses and patients walking paths inside a healthcare facility. It is used to identify unnecessary back-and-forth walking due to poor spatial layout.


Walking paths BIM application: high-tech visualization of nurses and patients walking paths inside a healthcare facility, generating indicators about distances and time spent on walking. It is used to design facilities based on the activities of users.


Walking paths flow analysis: visualization of nurses and patients walking paths inside a healthcare facility, highlighting the permeability and connectivity provided by the facility to support the flow.


Spatial-temporal activity planning: 4D simulation (3D + time) that allows for the verification of activity schedules against spatial layouts, checking if there might happen undesirable encounters, such as with contagious patients.

Sustainable occupancy


Gathering occupancy data using low-tech visualization tools: the different users of a nature center attach stickers to which season of the year the group activities are to be held.


Occupation yearly schedule: entering information about user activities inside Autodesk Revit to manage where and when each will be held, helping to make design decisions to account for busy times.


Energy simulation model based on occupancy data: the data gathered using the low-tech visualization is now entered into the energy simulation provided by Autodesk Revit to design with the aim of reducing cooling and heating loads.

Serious gaming

To communicate the research findings to a broader audience, a board game has been designed. The Expansive Hospital is a board game that helps to understand the challenges of collaboration among construction and healthcare experts. The elements of the game are based on a set of interviews conducted with construction and healthcare professionals in the Region of Twente, Netherlands.