Five new publications

Recently five new papers by our research group have been accepted for publication. These are part of my philosophical VIDI-project ‘The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embobied Mind’.


All these articles can now be downloaded below:

Rietveld, E. & Brouwers, A.A. (2016) Optimal grip on affordances in architectural design practices: An ethnography. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, doi: 10.1007/s11097-016-9475-x See also this earlier post.

De Haan, S., Rietveld, E., Stokhof, M. & Denys, D. (2015) Effects of Deep Brain Stimulation on the lived experience of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder patients: In-depth interviews with 18 patients. PLoS ONE 10(8), pp. 1-29. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135524.

Rietveld, E., Rietveld, R., Mackic, A., Van Waalwijk van Doorn, E., Bervoets, B. (2015), The End of Sitting, Harvard Design Magazine 40, pp. 180-181. See also this earlier post.

Van Westen, M., Rietveld, E., Figee, M. & Denys, D. (2015) Clinical outcome and mechanisms of deep brain stimulation for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports (2), pp. 41-48.

Kiverstein, J. & Rietveld, E. (forthcoming 2015) The Primacy of Skilled Intentionality: On Hutto & Satne’s The Natural Origins of Content. Philosophia 43 (3).

Earlier I wrote brief posts on the enactive ethnography of skilled intentionality here and on the Harvard Design Magazine publication here.

New publication in Harvard Design Magazine

Harvard Design Magazine has now published our article on the way the theory of affordances developed in our philosophical VIDI-project has contributed to RAAAF’s award winning End of Sitting landscape of standing affordances. The paragraph below gives an impression of the philosphical ideas behind this enactive art installation.


“Can we use this soliciting power of relevant affordances to make healthier working environments? Can we create new material affordances that solicit different activities? Recent philosophical work on affordances in embodied cognitive science defined affordances more precisely:

“Affordances are relations between aspects of a material environment and abilities available in a form of life”, which includes socio-cultural practices in our human case (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014, p. 335).

This definition suggested to us, the Amsterdam-based multidisciplinary studio RAAAF [Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances], that it should be possible to piggyback on peoples’ existing abilities for standing, leaning and hanging to create new affordances for working in all sorts of supported positions. Moreover, from studies on affordances in ecological dynamical-systems theory we know that offering a large variety of affordances can help create an environment that invites roaming around in a certain area (see Bruineberg & Rietveld, 2014 on “metastability” and action readiness). The combination of these ideas let to the End of Sitting, a large, spatial art installation that offers an entire landscape of (body-scaled) affordances that scaffold working in many different positions and invites people to switch positions frequently.”

Download the paper here:

Rietveld, E., Rietveld, R., Mackic, A., Van Waalwijk van Doorn, E., Bervoets, B. (2015), The End of Sitting, Harvard Design Magazine 40, pp. 180-181.


RAAAF elected New Talent by Metropolis NYC for our architecture of affordances

NYC based Metropolis magazine has elected RAAAF [Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances] as New Talent for its combination of architecture and philosopy in works and conceptual installations that highlight urgent societal and cultural issues and are described by the magazine as: “Strangely poetic, if haunting.” “The genius of RAAAF is in its strategic interventions that, though small, invite viewers to imagine a completely different way of living”

RAAAF - Metropolis NYC

Former Venice Biennale curator Aaron Betsky had nominated RAAAF and emphasized the importance of their architecture of affordances: “They have been at the forefront in the development of an architecture of affordances, designing potentials and activators rather than mere enclosures.”

Read the Metropolis article here.

Read Betsky’s earlier text on the impact of the architecture of affordances, titled “The evolving landscape of archtiectural affordanceshere. The following quote emphasizes its important for the archtecture academies and comes from that latter text:

“A theory of affordance lets us understand buildings not as objects, but as environments that afford us possibilities, that open and enclose, that respond and give us clues, and that do not differentiate themselves into the duality of inside and outside, form and space, structure and enclosure. If that theory lets us create architecture that is more human, that allows us to be at home in the modern world, and that opens us up to each other and the world we have made together, then it is a useful design tool.”

Read also What are affordances?


New publication: enactive ethnography of skilled intentionality in architecture

Well known philosophy journal Phenomenology & the Cognitive Sciences has accepted our paper on optimal grip on affordances in RAAAF’s architectural design practices. It is based on Anne Brouwers’ ethnography as an embedded researcher at RAAAF ‘s studio.

Download it here: Rietveld, E. & Brouwers, A.A. (2016) Optimal grip on affordances in architectural design practices: An ethnography. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, doi: 10.1007/s11097-016-9475-x

Figure 1

This paper will be interesting for philosophers of enactive/embodied cognitive science, philosophers working on distributed cognition and architects/artists curious about RAAAF’s way of working and affordance-based architecture more generally.


What are Affordances? Top-3 most downloaded in Ecological Psychology

My VIDI-research group at the University of Amsterdam works on a project named ‘The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind’.  But what are affordances exactly? Our new philosophical article (in collaboration with Julian Kiverstein) deals with this important question, amongst others. We just learned from the publisher that it features in the top-3 most downloaded articles published in Ecological Psychology in 2014. To celebrate this the publisher now offers free access to the paper, which is titled ‘A rich landscape of affordances‘.


In recent years, more and more researchers in cognitive science have embraced the notion that was originally introduced by J.J. Gibson. However, the notion of affordances is complex and unfortunately it often is used in ways that ignore its roots in Gibsonian ecological psychology (e.g. Reed, 1996 and Heft, 2001). In this conceptual article we take insights from that tradition seriously and integrate these with my own earlier philosophical work on situated normativity in Wittgenstein (Rietveld, 2008, Mind) to develop an improved definition of affordances. One that will inspire new research projects in philosophy, art and science.

Free access to article here: Rietveld, E. & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A rich landscape of affordances. Ecological Psychology 26 (4), pp. 325-352.


In a complementary paper we have argued that taking seriously the richness of the landscape of affordances has important implications for a neuroscience that recognizes the situatedness of the embodied mind. We also sketch its implications for Karl Friston’s work on the ‘anticipating brain’.

Update: These philosophical ideas on the landscape of affordances have inspired RAAAF and visual artist Barbara Visser to make an artwork titled ‘The End of Sitting: Outstanding Landscape of Affordances‘. This large spatial installation allows people to experience a novel landscape of standing affordances and move through it. It is the visual, or better artistic, complement to some of the ideas developed in our Ecological Psychology paper. One of the ambitions of the installation was to offer a large variety of standing affordances so that people would be solicited by multiple possibilities for working in different positions, ideally motivating them to switch postures every 30 minutes or so.

Updates 12/12/15: Our Ecological Psychology paper is now in their top 3 most read papers of all times online and RAAAF has been elected New Talent by New York’s Metropolis magazine for being at the forefront in the development of an architecture of affordances that could architects “create an architecture that is more human”. Harvard Design Magazine has published our article on the landscape of standing affordances we built.

New publication on self-organization and skilled intentionality

Jelle Bruineberg and I have published a new paper on self-organization and skilled intentionality. (An earlier 2008 paper on this topic can be found here.) Jelle is one of the PhD-students on VIDI-project ‘Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind’ at the University of Amsterdam. The paper is published in a Frontiers in Human Neuroscience special issue on the implications of Tony Chemero’s (2009) book Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. Here is the abstract and a link to the page where one can download the PDF of our paper:


Self-organization, free energy minimization, and optimal grip on a field of affordances

In this paper, we set out to develop a theoretical and conceptual framework for the new field of Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience (cf. Chemero, 2009). This framework should be able to integrate insights from several relevant disciplines: theory on embodied cognition, ecological psychology, phenomenology, dynamical systems theory, and neurodynamics. We suggest that the main task of Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience is to investigate the phenomenon of skilled intentionality from the perspective of the self-organization of the brain-body-environment system, while doing justice to the phenomenology of skilled action.

In previous work, we have characterized skilled intentionality as the organism’s tendency towards an optimal grip on multiple relevant affordances simultaneously (Rietveld, 2012a/b/c). Affordances are possibilities for action provided by the environment (Gibson, 1979; Chemero, 2003). In the first part of this paper, we introduce the notion of skilled intentionality and the phenomenon of responsiveness to a field of relevant affordances.

FigureRietveldBruineberg2014ISSASpdf2Figure 1: Sketch of conceptual framework to be refined (Rietveld, 2012c). Through skilled intentionality one gets a grip on a field of affordances. (Inspired by: Thompson, 2007, 2011; Chemero, 2003, 2009; Dreyfus, 2007; Tschacher & Haken, 2007; Rietveld, 2008a/b/c).

Second, we use Friston’s (2000, 2011) work on neurodynamics, but embed a very minimal version of his Free Energy Principle in the ecological niche of the animal. Thus amended, this principle is helpful for understanding the embeddedness of neurodynamics within the dynamics of the brain-body-environment system. Next, we show how we can use this adjusted principle to understand the neurodynamics of selective openness to the environment: interacting action-readiness patterns at multiple timescales contribute to the organism’s selective openness to relevant affordances.

In the final part of the paper, we emphasize the important role of metastable dynamics in both the brain and the brain-body-environment system for adequate affordance-responsiveness. We exemplify our integrative approach by presenting research (De Haan, Rietveld, Stokhof & Denys, 2013) on the impact of Deep Brain Stimulation on affordance responsiveness of OCD patients.

Vacancy Studies: Toward a new professional and academic field

Proud to present our new book Vacancy Studies!!
A first media-preview for the international press will take place where it all started: at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The book is available in the better book stores and online here and now.

Vacancy Studies: Towards a new professional and academic field

Many bunkers, forts, churches, castles, hospitals, water towers, post offices, prisons, palaces, and airports are empty. Thousands of them. The book Vacancy Studies focusses on the affordances they offer and provides the architecture world with an optimistic perspective on the temporary reuse of vacant spaces.

According to RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture Art-Affordances), there is great potential in vacant public and government buildings. At the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2010, RAAAF visualized the gigantic scale of these vacant spaces in an installation called Vacant NL. The worldwide media attention by organizations such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Architectural Review shows the international relevance of RAAAF’s vision for the new field of Vacancy Studies.

Artists, architects, and other designers can make a major contribution to social issues such as vacancy, and this requires new ways of working. The field of Vacancy Studies has been further developed in the practice of RAAAF and by a multidisciplinary team at the Sandberg Institute, Gerrit Rietveld Academy Amsterdam. The book ‘Vacancy Studies: Experiments and Strategic Interventions in Architecture‘ introduces the design approach of ‘strategic interventions’, and presents new ideas and experiments. Vacancy Studies is an indispensable reference work for anyone interested in the possibilities of vacant spaces.

This book consists of two parts:

Part I, Surfing on a Sea of Vacancy, presents a vision of the potential offered by vacancy and a new way of analyzing and designing known as ‘strategic interventions’. Some radical experiments for knowledge development are presented in this part;

Part II, Parachuting above Vacant NL deals with experimentation in art & architectural design education and in real life.

RAAAF (Ronald Rietveld, Erik Rietveld & Arna Mackic) wrote this book together with Jurgen Bey, Barbara Visser, Ester van de Wiel en Martine Zoeteman. Ronald & Erik Rietveld are the editors-in-chief. The book is available in English and Dutch. Graphic Design by Studio Joost Grootens.