First User Experiences and Well-being Effects of the NDSM Wharf Waterfront Transformation in Amsterdam

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Western cities are rapidly densifying, and new building typologies are being
invented to mitigate high-rise and balance residential, commercial and
recreational functions. This vertical urbanization requires rethinking the
traditional design of public space to promote citizens’ well-being. While the scarce studies on high-rise environments indicate several risks, including social fragmentation and privatization of public functions (Henderson-Wilson 2008; Love et al., 2014), mental stress and undermining attention restoration (Mazumder et al., 2020; Lindal & Hartig 2013), evidence on the potential salutary and mitigating effects of architectural design qualities is limited (Suurenbroek & Spanjar 2023).

The Building for Well-being research project combines biometric and social
data-collection techniques to address this gap. It builds on studies investigating
how built environments allow user engagement (Mallgrave 2013; Simpson
2018) and afford important activities (Gibson 1966). This case study focuses
on the experiences of predominant users of the NDSM Wharf in Amsterdam
as it is transformed from a post-industrial site into a high-density, mixeduse
neighborhood. Using eye-tracking, field and laboratory-based surveys, it
explores how residents, passers-by and visitors visually experience, appreciate
and perceive the restorative value of the wharf’s recently developed urban

Thirty-six university students were randomly recruited as test subjects for the
laboratory test and assigned to one of the three user groups. The resident
and passer-by groups were primed for familiarity. Each group was assigned
a distinct walking mode and participants were told to imagine they were
strolling (residents), rushing (passers-by) or exploring (visitors). The exposure
time to visual stimuli of participants was five seconds per image. Afterwards,
they reported on the perceived restorative quality of ten urban spaces,
focusing on: (1) sense of being away, (2) level of complexity-compatibility
and (3) fascination, based on an adapted Restorative Components Scale (RCS,
Yin et al. 2022; Laumann et al. 2001). Self-reported appreciation per scene
was measured on a 10-point Likert scale and subjects indicated elements in
the ten urban spaces they liked or disliked (see Figure 1). A semi-structured
on-site survey was also carried out to investigate user experiences further
and for triangulation. Thirty-one users, consisting of residents, passers-by
and visitors to the NDSM Wharf, rated their appreciation of the site and its
perceived restorative and design qualities (following Ewing & Clemente, 2013)
on a 10-point Likert scale.

The meta-data analysis of RCS statistics, appreciation values, eye-tracking
metrics and heatmaps reveals distinct visual patterns among user groups. This
points to the influence of environmental tasks and roles (see Figure 2). Strolling
and exploring resulted in a comprehensive visual exploration of scenes with a
higher mean total fixation count and shorter mean total fixation duration than
goal-oriented walking. It suggests that walking mode determines the level of
openness to the environment and that architectural attributes can also steer
visual exploration. Scenes with the highest appreciation scores correlated
with the RCS outcomes. They displayed coherence and opportunities for
social engagement, contrasting with scenes with inconsistent industrial and
contemporary features. These findings provide spatial designers with insights
into the subliminal experiences of predominant user groups to promote wellbeing in urban transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2023
EventAcademy of Neuroscience for Architecture: ANFA 20th Anniversary Conference 2023 - University of California, San Diego, United States
Duration: 13 Sept 202316 Sept 2023


ConferenceAcademy of Neuroscience for Architecture: ANFA 20th Anniversary Conference 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego
Internet address


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