Articles | Volume 4
06 Jun 2023
 | 06 Jun 2023

Designing healthy public spaces: A participatory approach through immersive virtual reality

Suzan Evers, Gamze Z. Dane, Pauline E. W. van den Berg, Alexander K. A. J. Klippel, Timon Verduijn, and Theo A. Arentze

Keywords: urban design, immersive virtual reality, public space, participation, health

Abstract. Participatory design approaches are increasingly used to involve citizens in the decision-making processes to actively address their preferences. Participatory design techniques dealing with urban issues often depend on digitally produced still-images. However, still-images lack immersion and explanation, which can negatively influence non-experts’ understanding of the implications of different design decisions. Use of still-images also reduce active participation of non-experts in the design process of their environments. To address these shortcomings, the Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) application ‘CoHeSIVE’ is developed and tested for designing healthy public spaces. It includes an innovative methodology to incorporate intuitive design decisions based on inflicted adjustments in a simulated environment. The application automatically generates new design scenarios by combining different pre-composed design elements based on people’s selection. This is done to understand and discuss preferences of individuals and groups for new, not yet existing scenarios. Results from a pilot test, concerning the redesign of a plaza, indicated that participants can interpret and design urban forms through the application. Furthermore, participants felt that the interface and features were easy and useful to alter the base scenario into a new design scenario by selecting preferred elements. These results show the capability of the application to initiate a conversation between citizens and designers towards meaningful design outcomes. A set of guidelines for implementing the instrument for urban research is suggested in order to standardize its use and allow the application to be a base for methodological improvements to be further developed regarding multi-user support and as serious game instrument.