DRS Labs

A new initiative for DRS2022 is the “DRS Labs”. With this initiative – piloted for the first time this year – the DRS encourages design researchers to engage with local organisations in a defined project that brings direct benefits to the local region, engages conference participants and wider publics, and demonstrates the potential that design research can bring to diverse industries, institutions, and communities.

The city of Bilbao identified four challenges or issues that are particularly relevant to the hosting city and the surrounding region. Proposed Labs should be focused on one or more of the following challenges:

1. Urban Habitat: Urban public space and mobility. How will our interconnected society change the way that we move, the physical configuration of our streets, and even the types/shapes of vehicles and our relations with them?


‘Pedestrians, bicycles, private cars, and commercial and public transportation traffic are going to be woven into a connected network to save time, conserve resources, lower emissions and improve safety’ Bill Ford, President of Ford Motor Company at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress 2016.

The era of the car is about to come to an end. The hegemonic power of the petrol-fueled vehicle shaped the width of our streets, the pace of the city and even the way we understand public spaces, communications and transport. Distance refers to car-based mobility more than to any other mode of mobility.

What is/should be mobility now or in the near future? How do we address this paradigm shift away from petrol-based transportation? What new types of vehicles shall we have in the future? Will shapes, sizes, propulsion methods, lane widths and property modes change? How will all this change the way we inhabit the world? What should the future of the streets be like? How can these and other issues around public space and mobility be addressed from a Design Research point of view?

Bilbao is making an important effort to foster new ways of mobility that improve the quality of urban public space by taking measures on street design, speed limits, green areas and other integrated actions. The city created a ‘Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan’ in 2018 (https://pmus.bilbao.eus/), but we want to look further, in a more visionary, speculative and provocative way. Let’s leave behind the idea of mobility as an operative tool; mobility, public spaces, green infrastructure are different aspects of the same reality acting in an interwoven, connected network. We don’t talk mobility, we talk dynamic public space.

The DRS Labs initiative is looking for teams who can engage with public administration and other local stakeholders in a participatory way in order to work on building breakthrough ideas and implementations of the mobility of the cities of the future, while also taking into account the specificity of Bilbao. Is it possible to use the river as a means of transport? How do we connect peripheric quarters? Should cars be allowed in at any point? What if we create our own type of adaptive sustainable vehicles? The DRS Labs initiative looks forward to proposals that consider these or other issues.


2. Digital Ecosystems: Digital platforms, IoT and AI for the early detection and prevention of social isolation and loneliness, especially in the context of ageing.


Recognised by the World Health Organisation as an “Elderly-Friendly City” in 2010, in the frame of the WHO Age-FriendlyCities Project, Bilbao has a long-standing track record in the effort of actively engaging the ageing population to promote healthy living. This engagement is reflected in the development of municipal plans with specific measures to respond to the needs of the elderly.

Bilbao is looking to support active ageing by promoting autonomy and support for the dependency of the elderly through measures, such as the usage of proximity devices for people with moderate dependency (Grade 1 dependency). On a larger scale, the introduction of technologies aims to support elderly people remaining in their familiar locations and contexts, fostering their autonomy and facilitating their socialization in order to avoid social isolation and loneliness. At the same time as the development and introduction of technological devices, there is also a need to make information from public institutions more accessible to disadvantaged groups – including some elderly people. In the coming years, it is a priority of the Bilbao City Council to develop innovative approaches that will improve the cognitive and sensory accessibility of public information.

The DRS Labs initiative is looking for design researchers who are willing to investigate and develop projects that can incorporate IoT technology and Artificial Intelligence systems that help reduce the digital divide that separates many elderly from others; systems that can help to detect loneliness at an early stage, through an ethical stance that respects privacy and transparency, and the accountability of public administration.


3. Cultural Heritage: conversion of the architectural industrial heritage of Bilbao to mixed economical, educational and cultural activities sites.


» Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination «

Jane Jacobs.


The city of Bilbao has been through a process of re-inventing itself. What was once a gloomy yet prosperous industrial powerhouse of hectic engineers conspired, in the late 1990s, to face a challenge that would be heard all around the globe. It was the moment of the revamping of cities through representative buildings, strong city marketing and urban growth. In Bilbao, major projects were introduced, including the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the cleanup of the Estuario, and a new social environment that emphasized services, culture, and creative innovation. A new Bilbao came to life.

Now times have changed. Humbleness, sustainability and respect for the delicate balance between nature and urban settlements are recognized as important. In urban development, as elsewhere, it’s not time for expansion but for reuse and circularity. Active protection of built heritage puts crucial limits on possibilities for improving energy efficiency and accessibility.

Can we envision new innovative ways to approach building restoration and revamp? Some of the most important areas of opportunity in Bilbao (Punta Zorrotza, Zorrotzaurre, Abando station plan, Telefónica buildings, etc.) include interesting pieces of industrial heritage. How should we deal with such places? How can Design Research help approach the challenge of engaging with the complex parameters of innovation and heritage management? Can Bilbao’s innovative treatment of its industrial heritage and cultural hotspots become a model for future developments? Can cities manage the criteria of respecting the past while accommodating a post-pandemic future, shaped by the constraints of climate change?

We would like to hear from active research advocates who can spark an interesting DRS Lab on these matters through working with local, peer collaborators – ranging from individual citizens to public administrators, and including interested groups from academia, industry, or elsewhere.


4. Creative industries and public space: How does the desire of cities to support creative expression at all levels coexist with the everyday life of residents?


In the past decade, the city of Bilbao has actively sought recognition as an international destination for cultural events. Before the pandemic, Bilbao hosted the annual, summer music festival, BBK Live (that regularly attracted over 200,000 people to the city), the BLV-Art Festival, a public and urban art gathering with a particular focus on street and art and Kalealdia, an annual festival of art and performance in the street. In 2018, the city welcomed the MTV European Music Awards; and, in 2015, Bilbao sponsored the giant graffiti artwork, ‘Soñar’ by the Madrid artist SpY, which turned the huge wall of an industrial building near the Bilbao River into a public art project.

Looking beyond these large, collective events, the city of Bilbao aims at strategically increasing public art interventions and the presence of street music – both to foster its position as a cultural city and to revitalise specific urban areas, such as the riverbanks. These emblematic elements of the city’s industrial past are vital areas to Bilbao’s transformation but are still underused in their capacity to host or present cultural and creative activities.

But how does a development strategy that aims to increase dynamic social activities in urban settings coexist with the needs and expectations of local residents? How do neighbourhoods provide citizens with opportunities to enjoy everyday relationships with the city’s space at the same time as they seek innovative and creative development and lively activities? Dramatic artistic interventions, such as street art, require maintenance – and what happens if an artwork damages private spaces? Street music can be enjoyable as an unexpected, singular, or sought-out encounter, but can be annoying when it becomes a regular and even repetitive feature of a neighbourhood: complaints by residents about noise levels have greatly increased in recent years. Street performance permits come with a limited time duration – but are time limits respected?

The DRS welcomes Lab proposals that can help local administrators tackle these or other challenges in ways that engage with both the point of view of innovation in governance with the support of specific design tools and methods.

DRS labs can be projects of any size and they are expected to take place in the weeks prior to the conference in an in-person, virtual or hybrid format. It is intended that the results or outcomes of Labs would be communicated to conference participants and wider publics. Download the Lab submission template which includes detailed guidelines and requirements.

Please submit your Lab proposal to the conference submission system. The final deadline for submission is February 14th 2022 but proposals may be considered prior to the deadline.


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