Robocar and Urban Space Evolution: City changes in the age of autonomous cars


Anca Ioana Ionescu
TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment
Ví­ctor Muí±oz Sanz
TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment
Rients Dijkstra
TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment


How can we create more human-centered, resilient, and sustainable cities in the tech age? Can we make use of technology and the opportunities presented rather than resisting its fast-paced evolution? What are the biggest and most likely spatial changes that autonomous vehicles will bring in cities? How can this change in mobility contribute to a better urban environment? To what extent do the spatial opportunities created by automated mobility respond to current urban issues and what is the role of urban design and spatial planning in this debate?

Autonomous cars–Robocars–will dramatically change urban environments and the practice of urbanism, potentially making cities less dependent on and less dominated by cars. Driverless and mainly guided by digital infrastructure, Robocars can open up new opportunities for urban development. If guided by sustainable development goals, the automation of mobility can lead to urban evolution–a shared paradigm shift in mobility and urban design. However, if Robocars are introduced as profit-driven products rather than tools to improve cities, they can cause sprawl, undermine public transport and reduce active mobility, ultimately affecting people’s health and wellbeing. Consequently, it is necessary to explore how the Robocars’ technological capabilities can provide solutions to pressing urban issues, such as growth, climate change, environmental quality, social inequality and the energy transition.

On September 13, 2018, the Section of Urban Design at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, TU Delft, organised a public debate with international and Dutch experts to discuss the spatial changes that autonomous cars may bring about in cities. Subsequently, this publication gathers illustrated contributions by the key speakers at the symposium, which present ideas and further reflection points on Robocars’ relation to the urban environment. The three thematic sessions of the symposium were video recorded and are available online at

The symposium and the publication aim to raise awareness about the importance of the topic for the field of urban design and other disciplines dealing with various aspects of urban sustainability. To date, the topic of autonomous cars has mainly been addressed by car industries, technology companies and transportation planning groups. The current discourse is predominantly driven by business and marketing goals, potentially leading to cities shaped around technology.

In this context, the symposium and the publication are a step forward to engaging various experts in a debate around Robocars and urban design. They propose a complementary approach to the current tech discourse on automated mobility by emphasising the importance of an urban design and spatial planning perspective, thus exploring Robocars as a spatial project. Automated vehicles can bring a mobility revolution: traffic systems and infrastructure can be reinvented, public and private transport modes can blend, and the logic of mobility in cities can be reformed, as time spent in the car will no longer be lost. Such changes create spatial opportunities and can help cities respond better to sustainable development goals; for instance, the space made available if Robocars could park themselves can be redesigned and, instead of parked cars, streets can accommodate more green space and larger sidewalks, revaluing streets as public spaces.

The goal of the Robocar and Urban Space Evolution symposium and publication is to start a more inclusive debate about Robocars and their impact on the urban environment and to explore the potential of this new technology beyond market-oriented goals. The experts involved came from multiple disciplines, including spatial planning, urban design, architecture, ecology, psychology, environmental engineering and transportation planning. They discussed why and how we need to engage with the topic, given that mobility automation will dramatically shape the urban environment in different contexts and societies in the coming decades.

The publication includes contributions by Rients Dijkstra and Anca Ioana Ionescu, Dominic Stead, Ví­ctor Muí±oz Sanz, David Hamers, Salvador Rueda, Nico Larco, Emilia Bruck and Mathias Mitteregger.

Author Biographies

Anca Ioana Ionescu, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Anca Ioana Ionescu is a researcher in Urbanism at TU Delft, working on the relation between autonomous cars and urban space. Ioana obtained two Master degrees, in architecture and urbanism. She studied at Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest (MArch), The Architecture University of Sheffield (Erasmus scholarship in architecture) and Faculty of Architecture and The Built Environment, TU Delft (Cum Laude, MSc). In her projects, she worked from the building scale to city scale and territorial design, exploring on different time scales through scenarios and future images. She was part of the winning team for Le:Notre International competition (2016) for the strategic reintegration of the Colentina chain of lakes in Bucharest. Her focus is on sustainable spatial transformation in relation to autonomous cars, green-blue infrastructures, rural-urban integration, and under-used space. The relation between users and spatial design always played a key role in her projects, leading to methods which involved locals and stakeholders. Amongst other collaborations with architecture and urbanism offices, Ioana worked at Palmbout Urban Landscapes.

Ví­ctor Muí±oz Sanz, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Ví­ctor Muí±oz Sanz is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Urbanism of the TU Delft. His work examines the notion of workscapes, that is, the architectures and territories of human and nonhuman labor, and the spaces shaped by initiatives and innovations of industrial entrepreneurs. Related work includes Networked Utopia (his doctoral dissertation), the audio-documentary Off:Re: Onshore (Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2018), and his involvement in Cities of Making (TU Delft) and Automated Landscapes(Het Nieuwe Instituut). He holds the degree of Architect from the School of Architecture of Madrid (ETSAM, 2006), a Master of Architecture in Urban Design, with distinction, from Harvard University (2011), and a Ph.D. cum laude in architecture from ETSAM (2016).

Rients Dijkstra, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Rients Dijkstra is a Professor of Urban Design at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, TU Delft. He graduated in 1989 as an urban planner at TU Delft. After graduating, he worked for the ArchitectenCie and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). With his own company Maxwan, he has worked over the past twenty years on master plans for, among others, Leidsche Rijn, Leiden Central Station, Rotterdam Central Station, Antwerp Ring and public space and districts in Moscow. Since 2012 he has been a Government Advisor for Infrastructure and City. In this capacity, Dijkstra advises the national government on spatial programs and themes such as cohesion in mobility and city. In 2018, Rients Dijkstra together with Han Dijk and Emile Revier co-founded PosadMaxwan.


March 29, 2019

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