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Architecture & Territory 34

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Studio Architecture & Territory 34, GENT
Academic year 2020-21

The transformation of an urban park, case Gentbrugse Meersen Gent

The studio is framed in the ADO Landscape, Ecology and Design

Steven Geeraert and Bart Van Gassen (with the involvement of Bruno Notteboom)

“[A focus on] designed landscapes that operated as focusing lenses for knowing the natural world, that instigated aesthetic experiences that reduced barriers between humans and the natural world, and that functioned as physical catalysts for changing social rituals affecting the natural world.Elizabeth Meyer in The Post-Earth Day Conundrum: Translating Environmental Values into Landscape Design

 “… I like the idea of discrete, tactical operations over the clumsy “totality” of the master plan. I believe that the largest of territories can be irreducible restructured through small, laconic interventions as opposed to the unbearable excess of everything – object, forms, materials.” Georges Descombes in Shifting Sites: The Swiss Way, Geneva

This studio is about architecture. This studio is about the territory. This studio is about architecture and territory. This studio is about how the territory influences architecture and vice versa how architecture shapes the territory. This studio is about the importance of open and public space. The urgency of this matter is highlighted even more in current time due to the corona pandemic.

In this studio we will explore the possibilities to develop and transform an existing territory into an urban park through the development of punctual architectural interventions. In urbanized territories large urban parks are key elements in the cohabitation of man and nature (or better, the human and the non-human), in the interaction between water and ecology  … They are crucial in the development of a more robust urban territory able to tackle major challenges as climate change, ecological decline, social polarisation, pandemic crises and so forth.

Urban parks are key in the exploration of the relation between landscape, ecology and design (ADO). In the research of the ADO we explore the triangle between ecology, people and design. We strongly belief that an urban park needs to be developed from an equal attention to these three perspectives. We consider this triangle as the reality of each project for the design of urban landscapes and of each intervention.  

We will work on the (re)design of the Gentbrugse Meersen in Ghent. This is one of the “groenpolen” from Ghent and an ongoing project: a part of this area is already redesigned (south of the E17) and another part will be redesigned in the near future (north of the E17). The Gentbrugse Meersen – an area of 240 hectares in the curve of the river Schelde – is a good example of an urban park in which a balance is found between nature and people. Certain areas are developed more for people, others more for nature and some are in between. The Gentbrugse Meersen also combines more formal organised and structured parts and others that are very informal. Water is a key feature in the park. Not only the presence of the Schelde but also the Rietgracht and the ground water system. There is a massive shift in the perception of the park in the different seasons due to large fluctuation of the groundwater table.

In the studio we aim to develop more detailed site specific punctual architectural interventions for different sites covering the complete territory of the Gentbrugse Meersen. Spatial configurations addressing human and non-human actors and forces present on site. Relating to the use of the park, to the watersystem, to specific species (flora and fauna) …  These interventions go far beyond “architecture as object”. With these interventions we would like to introduce new perspectives to improve spatial structures – water and ecological systems, public space, green infrastructure, neigbhourhoods …  – and social/cultural practices in the city. We want to develop true “landscapes for living”.

In this studio we explore why ‘’less is more’ and how even the simplest architectural intervention demands precision in its position, materiality,  textures and forms, in the way different elements are joint and so fort. It can be the transformation of the ground to create a platform that can function as a scene in a wetland. It can be about positioning a rock to create a passage through a creek and become an element of play. It can be about the construction of a shelter.

In this specific studio of Architecture&Territory we want to put more emphasis on the detailed design of the architectural interventions.

An inspiration for these architectural interventions can be found in the renewed interest in outdoor activities we witness in this time of pandemic crises. People are more and more involved with the public spaces in their neighbourhood. Schools and other organisations are – through necessity – looking for possibilities to teach, work, sport … in the outdoor. We have chosen this site in Ghent to make it also possible for you and for us to experience this ourselves. The proposal is to teach and work together on site in the Gentbrugse Meersen in different situations, different weather conditions, different atmospheres.

The studio will be composed of three phases: exploration, experimentation and elaboration. We will do this through walking and observing, reading and writing, thinking and drawing.

We will spend the first three weeks exploring the  territory intensely on site. By walking, taking pictures, doing interviews, sketching, making short movies … From the fourth week we will start to make detailed design proposals. Developing detailed drawings, models, on site experiments …  We want each student to work on three interventions of a different complexity. A possible example: a shelter, a platform and a rock. The interventions can vary in character: be  more permanent or a more temporary, more structural or more fragile, a quick win or a more long term intervention.  This set of interventions need to engage with the relation between people, ecology and design… Or put even more broader the relation between nature and culture, the relation between the human and the non-human.

In the studio we want each student to develop a manifold of possible elaborations of each intervention. We want a detailed exploration and detailed experimentation in terms of dimensions, materiality, position … From this exploration we can focus in the final stage of the studio on a further elaboration of a very sensitive and very precise architecture for the three interventions.

We will work in three phases in the design studio:

  1. Exploring the territory on site (week 1 to week 3)
  2. Experimenting with the design of different interventions (week 3 to week 9)
  3. Detailed elaboration of the final design proposal (week 9 to week 14)

We will focus on three types of drawings.

  1. Drawings that express the architecture of the developed interventions. Expressing the dimensions, materiality, the texture, the structure, the joints …
  2. Drawings that link the architecture to the territory and the other way around
  3. Drawings that highlight the relation between ecology, people and design (cfr. ADO Landscape, Ecology and Design).

Drawings can at the same time be used for two or more of the above explained content. For instance a perspectival section (cfr. drawings of Bow-Wow) can show at the same time the architecture of an intervention, the use and the link to ecology.

Every student – or group of students – will work on a different piece of the site. The juxtaposition of all the interventions will result in a “complete” drawing, a possible reimagination of the urban park. By this stressing the importance of a transformation made of separate punctual interventions.

Methodological elements of the design studio: Comparative research on case studies | Discussions linked to texts of the Reader Architecture & Territory | Walks on site (individual/in group) | Talks with inhabitants and local actors | Focus on the making of key drawings to express the design (the architecture, the relation architecture & territory, triangle ecology/people/design) |Site visit Groen Lint Ostend | Design sessions: individual and in group | In between reviews with invited critics | a sequence of formal and informal meetings allowing students to explore and experiment.