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THE tIJd MACHINE: Designing with water

ARCAM: Amsterdam Centre for Architecture

Interaction Designer | Researcher | Illustrator

3 months

Concept development | Storytelling | Interaction Design | Tangible user interactions 

Gonçalo Melo | Marianna Bonellou | Nina Floor Post | Nupur Priya

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Rising water levels are a real threat to the future of Amsterdam and the rest of the world. Studying the past to find solutions for the future may be the key to tackling the crisis which is already at our doorstep. How can we portray this information in a clear and impactful way for the public? How can we make a map tell multiple stories at once?


The Amsterdam Centre for Architecture (ARCAM) uses data visualisations on 4D city models as a design tool and participatory means to inform, decide and speculate on future developments in Amsterdam. Together with the The Amsterdam Time Machine initiative, OBA (Amsterdam Public Library), Waternet and Stadsarchief they are looking into the possibilities to engage a broader public in complex future spatial development scenarios based on historical knowledge.


As the city’s centre for Architecture, ARCAM is leading the discussions around the past and future of the city.

In their up-coming exhibition, they aimed to explore Amsterdam’s relationship with water and raise awareness about climate change. We were asked to investigate ways in which to visualise multiple layers of information on a scale model, using tangible interactions.

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Emphasis was placed on having a physical model so that policy makers, urban planners and visitors can gather around it and discuss the future of the city. From the beginning, our challenges were multiple: The model as a physical item is by definition “stuck in time”, meaning it will portray the city at one specific moment in history. Adding layers with the medium of projection was impossible due to the lighting conditions in Arcam’s exhibition space and the use of AR in a tablet or phone would enable very few visitors to look at the same thing together. In addition, determining the scale of the model was a challenge in itself since we had to make sure that water levels were visible, but also fit the entire length of the IJ river in one room.

Since the beginning of this project, our team followed an iterative design process followed by ideation sprint sessions, desk research, field visits to interactive museums & experiences, research on tangible user interfaces, expert interviews to refine project scope.


With multiple ideation sessions, a creative sprint, thorough research of similar case studies and technologies, we were able to create a multitude of concepts, all unique in their approach and challenges. We used speculative design techniques to imagine future scenarios regarding man's relationship with water and really deep-dived into what makes us, as humans, empathise and change behaviour. In a final co-creation session with the client, we managed to come up with a unique concept and fit all the needs into a single solution.