Engineering roles in Building with Nature interdisciplinary design

Educational experiences





Engineering roles, interdisciplinary ways of learning, Building with Nature design, authentic learning experiences


Building with Nature (BwN) infrastructure designs are characterised by disciplinary integration, non-linearity, diverse and fluid design requirements, and long-term time frames that balance the limitations of earth’s natural systems and the socio-technical systems created by humans. Differentiating roles in the engineering design process may offer strategies for better solutions. Four complementary engineering design roles were distinguished, namely: Specialists, System Integrators, Front-end Innovators, and Contextual Engineers. The key research question addressed in this paper asks, how can the introduction of engineering roles enhance interdisciplinary processes for BwN design? Three Building with Nature design workshops with international groups of students from multiple disciplines and various education levels provided the ideal context for investigating whether engineering roles enhance such interdisciplinary ways of working. Results indicate that the application of engineering roles in each of the three workshops indeed supported interdisciplinary design. A number of conditions for successful implementation within an authentic learning environment could be identified. The engineering roles sustain an early, divergent way of looking at the design problem and support the search for common ground across the diverse perspectives of the team members, each bringing different disciplinary backgrounds to the design table. The chapter closes with a discussion on the value of engineering design roles and their significance for the Building with Nature approach.

How to Cite

Klaassen, R., Kothuis, B., & Slinger, J. (2021). Engineering roles in Building with Nature interdisciplinary design: Educational experiences. Research in Urbanism Series, 7, 73–98.



Author Biographies

Renate Klaassen, Delft University of Technology

Dr. Renate Klaassen is Programme Coordinator and Researcher at the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education for the TU Delft. Areas of research interest pertain to content, language integrated learning in higher education, Interdisciplinary learning and Conceptual Understanding in Engineering Education. Together with Reframing Studio and a TU Delft team, she has developed the engineering roles for future Engineering Education. As an Educational Consultant, she has run various projects on assessment (policy, quality and professionalisation), internationalisation of the university, coaching in design education, curriculum renewal and educational innovation at the programme level.

Baukje Kothuis, Delft University of Technology

Dr. Baukje Kothuis is a design anthropologist. Main research and education interests are design of flood risk reduction strategies, delta urbanism, and developing stakeholder inclusive design practices. At TU Delft, she’s a lecturer of practice, and the liaison for multiple Texas/Louisiana coastal universities. For BBE-Waterworks, Amsterdam, she produces international publications, events and exchanges related to delta design and flood risk.

Jill Slinger, Delft University of Technology

Dr. Jill Slinger is an Associate Professor at TU Delft, teaching systems modeling and spearheading the university's teaching on Building with Nature. As Visiting Professor at Rhodes University, SA, Slinger is also involved in water-related implementation challenges in the developing world. She was environmental scientist and policy advisor in South Africa; and international water and coastal specialist in the Netherlands.


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