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Confidence Studio

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Tutor: Johan Nielsen
Engagement: Urban Cultures

Key-words: Architecture Studio – Urban Projects – Collective Spaces – Alien Practice – Research Design

Framework: The architect who doesn’t know

Perhaps Brussels is incomprehensible. Constituted by 19 municipalities, the capital of Europe is also a single emerging region, challenged by global urban challenges. Historically a city of secondary importance, it has been harshly transformed by over-sized projects and is today made out of a collage of different urban pieces. Seat of numerous executive powers, its own decision processes are diluted into several levels of influences. Its urban ambitions are held by contrasted stakeholders: associative sector, private operators and public authorities. Among the greenest city in Western Europe, its territorial limitations impose to densify its urban fabric, while answering a requirement of social diversity.  It seems that Brussels is made of paradoxical tensions. Fortunately, it turns out that this inextricable complexity founds a new confidence. This complexity creates a blurry condition against which all are equals. The architect is de facto an alien practitioner, a welcome stranger. She / he is the architect who doesn’t know. Design arsenal related to alien practice can be applied: Naïve fascination, incomplete dreams or even romantic positions are saluted. The multicultural backgrounds become a key factor to trigger challenging practice conditions.

Image on the left: Alien reading: Two paintings on silk depicting Deshima Island, circa 1860

In this framework, it is of primary importance that architects re-appropriate conceptual territories and re-invent design strategies in the expanded field of architecture. Among the notions to be revisited, the collective spaces constitute the red wire of the studio. The dual opposition between public and private spaces and the aggregative distinction between collectives and individuals are overcome. The design work focuses on the wide range of nuances of such spaces, from publicness to intimacy. Notions such as personal affinities, familiarity, common good, trust and anxiety allow us to seize contrasting kinds of self-assurance and spatial orientation and to develop corresponding design strategies. Collective spaces and their related tensions are considered as spaces of opportunities, where human relations are experimented and not defined a priori.

Research-Design Assignment: “2 stations” Urban Block

The studio will focus on the “2 stations” urban block, in the surroundings of the International Brussels South Station. At the junction between Anderlecht, Forest and Saint-Gilles, the block is surrounded by major emerging public structures such as the refurbishment of the station public spaces or the Biestebroek housing operation and green corridor. On the block, Brussels Region pushes to develop a new public space in order to structure the urban fabric buffeted by the railway infrastructures, and to implement productive activities in the city. On the other hand, offices buildings from the 60’s were recently acquired by a private operator that strives to develop a real-estate operation. At the southern limit of the site, the Senne river offers beautiful opportunities to develop a public parc. A negotiation can be held with Vivaqua (the waters of Brussels) to reconsider the status of the water station present on the site. Thus, different players have conflictive appetites on the plot. Housing, offices, collective equipment, productive activities or public spaces, all the ambitions would not fit the site. Or would they?

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“2 stations” Urban Block, Brussels

Studio Outcome

The outcome is a reflexion on the urban block and a fully developed intermediate scale architectural proposal.

Studio Partners

The studio will be held in collaboration with Brussel’s Bouwmeester (bMa). Julie Collet, from bMa’s team will be the studio guest that will present the challenges and perspectives at stake on the site. For more information about the bMa, please visit www.bma.brussels

This studio will be held in collaboration with the architecture office Manger Nielsen Architects. The expertise of the office will support the student’s personal approach. For more information about the office, please visit www.mangernielsenarchitects.eu

This studio is held in the framework of the research group “Urban Projects, Collective Spaces & Local Identities”, Faculty of Architecture KU Leuven. For more information about the research group, please visit www.collectivespaces-kuleuven.be

Selected bibliography

  • Borch, C.: 2014, The Politics of atmospheres: Architecture, Power, and the Senses. In: Christian Borch (Ed.), Architectural Atmospheres On the Experience and Politics of Architecture, Birkhauser, Basel.
  • von Clausewitz, On war, Howard M., Paret P. ed, Princeton University Press, 1989.
  • De Sola-Morales, Manuel. “Public and Collective Space: The urbanisation of the Private Domain as a New Challenge”, in La Vanguardia, May 12th, Barcelona 1992, reprinted in “A matter of Things”, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam. 2008.
  • Oase 95: Crossing Boundaries – Transcultural Practices In Architecture And Urbanism
  • Obrist H. U.: 2008, Conversations Volume I, Manuella Editions, Paris.