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Architecture & Territory 24

Studio Architecture & Territory MARG24, GHENT
Academic year 2020-2021

Architectural interventions in the landscape, In search for a common ground in All City/All Land, case the urbanized territory of Muide-Meulestede (ADO Landscape, Ecology and Design)

Bart Van Gassen, Steven Geeraert, Sis Pillen with Bruno Notteboom and Jan van Hoof­

“To produce comprehensive “site-space” designs that will address human needs and yet respect the constraints and opportunities of the processes of nature.” Reuben M.Rainy in “Garrett Eckbo’s Landscape for Living”

The focus of this studio is to develop punctual and precise architectural interventions in the (landscape of the) urbanized territory of Flanders. We will investigate and mobilize spatial, social and ecological forces that can support a sustainable transformation of the territory. Forces that can function as a driver to develop key architectural interventions. Each architectural intervention will thus tackle urban challenges – climate change, ecological decline, social polarisation … – and address existing and new collectives – human and non-human – in the urbanized territory. This to transform the physical condition of the city, to boost its cultural and social imagination and to strengthen our link with the given world (the soil, water, animals, plants…). Through this making a contribution to a real democratic and a more “terrestrial” territory.

In this studio we will explore a possible transformation of the horizontal urbanization that characterizes (large parts of) Flanders. A rich varied, seemingly chaotic, environment that is characterized by tensions, contradictions, juxtapositions, …  but also offers opportunities, possibilities and robustness/resilience for those who tend to look further. Within this very diverse urbanized territory – as well spatially as socially – we will search for the common ground that can connect the diversity of inhabitants and users, the human and the non-human, by means of architectural interventions. This will create common goals, a common understanding of a shared situation. Shared between citizens living differently in this urbanized territory. Shared between man and nature.

This design research needs to be framed as a spatial as well as a political project. In a context where the opposition between city and countryside is reinstalled by politicians and political programs (see elections of May 2019 in Flanders!). In the light of climate change and sustainability some (political) agents want us to believe that the only place where we can work on a solution is the city. We are convinced that the power to transform is not concentrated in the city nor the “city centre” but is – in the condition of Flanders – spread over a wider horizontally urbanized territory. At the same time we witnessed the last half century an opposition between the social and the ecological in politics. Also this became again a hot topic in the last elections where some of the main actors capitalized on the fact that choosing for climate is choosing against people. And again here we are convinced that the solution lies in connecting the ecological and the social instead of treating them as two separate worlds. The studio will give us insights in the way this spatial and political project can be imagined.  And needs to be seen as a tool to explore a common ground and a common understanding of urban transformations that serves people as well as ecology. 

More specifically, we will work on the urbanized territory of Muide-Meulestede. The district Muide-Meulestede is located in the north of the city of Ghent. Its location, as a peninsula in the fringes between the port and the city, gives the district and its diversity of residents a shared identity. The strong boundary between the neighborhood and the surrounding fabric, has created a strong self-sufficient society on an island within the city.

Thanks to its position between the port and the city, the district contains a combination of a differentiated housing typologies, types of workspaces that differ in scale and character and a multitude of formal and informal collective spaces.

Historically, the district was strongly related to the port. The relationship between living and working was an important reason to live in Muide-Meulestede. The district could function as an island within the port, independent to the city.

Today,  the district functions as an island within the city. The live-work balance within the neighborhood is currently under pressure. The neighborhood has not been self-sufficient in functions for a while and conversations with residents indicated that this is certainly a problem for the aging original residents. Where the isolated location gave added value to the neighborhood in the past, it is now a limitation and exposes a mobility problem.

In the past, the residential fabric of the district was surrounded by the harbor activities and in this way separated from the water. With the displacement of these activities, plots with development potential were created. Waiting for this development, these spaces became active by informal use and gave a place to initiatives ranging from festivals, exhibitions, hangouts to forms of informal living. At the same time, the former marshalling yards and buffer zones developed themselves into green areas, which were needed in this paved neighborhood.

The expanding city is moving in the direction of Muide-Meulestede. Large-scale residential developments such as the Oude Dokken at the south side of the neighborhood and the transformation of the historical warehouses in the neighborhood into luxury lofts and offices, signified the transformation of Muide-Meulestede. The qualities of the neighborhood today, as a differentiated residential fabric, a close-knit heterogeneous society, car-free streets and various forms of open space, make the neighborhood attractive for new resident groups and for this reason, for developers. The concerned reaction of the residents to the impact of these changes of their neighborhood, led to the concept study “Muide-Meulestede Morgen”, a participatory project to define the guidelines for the future of their neighborhood. Together with the subsequent structure plan, these trajectories raised objectives such as the healthy neighbourhood, the connected neighbourhood, the natural neighbourhood, the adaptive neighbourhood and the circular neighbourhood. Based on this structure plan, current and future projects must further shape these objectives.

The studio assignment is divided into three tracks. Track 1 investigates an oeuvre of a key architect/landscape architect. Track 2 explores the larger territory in its existing state and in the (unknown) future in combination with close encounters with human and non-human actors on site. Track 3 develops punctual architectural interventions. Track 1, 2 are explored in groups of three students. Track 3 is an individual track.

“Mapping is a collective enabling enterprise, a project that both re­veals and realizes hidden potentials…” – James Corner in The Agency of Mapping

The common ground between the different tracks is the approach of an ‘urbanistica descrittiva’ (SECCHI, 1992). In this approach we take the site and its territory as a starting point. A good design starts with a thorough and critical reading of the site. A good reading transcends a sterile description and inventory of “facts and figures” of a site, a city, a landscape (CORNER, 1999). A good reading engages with the site by making visible hidden potentials and qualities. Therefore a (subjective) reading is a critical approach of ‘what is already there’ on the one hand revealing hidden qualities and potentials of a site, landscape or a territory, on the other making us understand the manoeuvring space one has.

Track 1: The exploration of an oeuvre (week 1 – week 2)

Track 1 frames the studio in the architectural practice and architectural history through the exploration of an oeuvre. Practice and thinking are researched through key figures in the field of architecture and landscape architecture. Designers that combine a strong and broad engagement in society as a whole with sensitive and precise architectural interventions. This exploration is made in a group of two or three students. Each group performs in depth research on one of the key figures.

  1. Aldo Van Eyck
  2. Lawrence Halprin
  3. Liebrecht Migge
  4. Lina Bo Bardi
  5. ….

Track 2: Jumping scales (week 1- week 5)

Track 2 explores the larger territory of Muide-Meulestede. Developing insights in the existing condition of the larger territory and speculating on different territorial transitions linked to mobility, energy, climate, ecology, demographics … And develops in depth knowledge of the specificity of the site with a focus on social and ecological aspects.

The exploration of the larger territory aims at an understanding of the given territory trough on the one hand a characterisation of different complementary places and on the other hand the characterisation of the specificities of the structuring layers (water, soil, topography, vegetation, urbanization, mobility … ). In this exploration a spatial and a systemic approach are combined. In a first step the focus is on what is already there. In a second step we speculate on how the given territory can evolve towards a more sustainable urbanized territory. Territorial transitions are explored towards a zero carbon and climate robust territory. Which means working on more sustainable ways of energy production and consumption, a focus on green mobility, on ecological restoration, on urban agriculture, on socially just urban transformations … This exercise will build further on the existing policy documents developed by the city of Ghent and more in particular the “Muide Meulestede, een ruimtelijke toekomstvisie” (EVR/BUUR).

At the same time the students will develop a thorough ‘social’ and ‘ecological’ terrain knowledge through fieldwork and meetings with local actors. By this existing human and non-human agencies present and working on site will be detected and can be used as an important driving force of the design process. A more intimate knowledge off the site by (physical) contact with people, plants, animals, soil, water, air… will generate crucial bottom-up insights and will result in interventions that are embedded in the “terrestrial”. Jan van Hoof and also the participation with the City of Ghent and local actors on site will help in achieving this knowledges.

This exploration is made in groups of 3 or 4 students. Each group will be given two entry points for their exploration. On the one hand a specific layer. On the other hand a specific site/frame of the territory.

Track 3 detailed design of punctual interventions (week 6 – week 14)

Track 3 focuses on the detailed design of a punctual intervention in the area of Muide/Meulestede. The design of punctual and precise architectural interventions that can transform the given urbanized territory of Muide-Meulestede and helps it to evolve towards a more sustainable condition. Interventions that link with the challenges and transitions explored in track 1 and track 2. 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”.

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 | Design sessions: individual and in group | In between reviews with invited critics | Feedback from local actors on the design proposals | A sequence of formal and informal meetings allowing students to explore and experiment.

Find the illustrated studio brief here. (pdf)