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Architecture & Territory

DESCRIPTION Studio Architecture & Territory MARG24GENT

2021-2022

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

Steven Geeraert & Jan van Hoof­ with support and inspiration of Bruno Notteboom, Bart Van Gassen,

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 ASSIGNMENT

The focus of this studio is to develop punctual and precise architectural interventions in the (landscape of the) ‘horizontally’ urbanized territory of Flanders and more specifically the neighbourhood Bloemekenswijk part of the city of Ghent. We will investigate and mobilize spatial, social and ecological forces that can support a sustainable transformation of the territory. These forces live as well in the small scale daily experienced reality of the neighbourhood of today, as in the large scale urban challenges of the city as climate change, ecological decline, social polarisation …

Our architectural interventions will be driven by all these forces and will 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, one contributes to a real democratic and a more “terrestrial” territory.

In this studio we will explore a possible transformation of the horizontal metropolis, i.e. the horizontal urbanization that characterizes (large parts of) Flanders. A rich varied, seemingly chaotic, environment that, although characterized by tensions, contradictions and juxtapositions, 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 (cfr. f.i. the 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 horizontal 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 serve both people and ecology. 

 

THE SITE

The neighbourhood Bloemekenswijk is located in the north of the medieval city centre of of Ghent. The word Bloemekenswijk can be translated as ‘Flowersneighbourhood’. The district is located between the districts of Rabot and Wondelgem, but it is separated by these neighbourhoods by the Verbindingskanaal (the canal) on the south side and by the Westeringspoor (former railway area) on the north side. The Boemekenswijk belongs to the 19th century belt of Ghent. The psychiatric institution Guislain was the first major development of this district in 1850, quickly followed by the Westerbegraafplaats (a cemetery). The Verbindingskanaal was dug in 1863. This canal gave rise to a strong industrial development on the quays, after which working-class neighborhoods arose around the Guislain Institute.

The working-class neighborhoods of Bloemekenswijk were expanded during the 20th century with a (little) larger typology of housing and social housing projects. The Van Beveren square is located in the geographical heart of the neighbourhood, but not necessary functioning as a center. The district has a relatively high population density and exists of a great diversity of cultures.

The neighbourhood has, on the one hand, a very active community life, which is supported by a great diversity of neighborhood amenities. On the other hand, there is limited interaction between the different communities, the neighbourhood offers few opportunities for encounters on the various scales in the public domain.

The district exists of a dense residential fabric in the center, surrounded by a number of large scale sites with limited access. The Guislain Museum and the Westerbegraafplaats occupy a large part of the surface of the district and are located on the west side. Both sites are (semi-)publicly accessible and have an urban or regional scope. For the inhabitants of the district, they belong to a very limited extent to the mental map of the neighborhood.

The industrial zones are located in the eastern part of the district. Most of the industry developed in the 19th century was moved and the industrial cathedrals, it left behind, have been redeveloped or have this potential in the future. In recent years, the urban renewal project “het Getouw” has given a new meaning to, among other parts, the UCO site and its surroundings. And the development opportunities for the FNO site are currently explored. However, the developments have a limited contribution to the living environment of the residents of the district of today.

The district appears to be a green district seen from an orthophoto map, this image is formed by large green zones that surround the district and which are often (semi)public but inaccessible. The neighborhood with the name Flowersneighbourhood has in reality a very petrified residential fabric, where the car is very present.

Urban renewal

In the coming years, the city of Ghent plans the start-up of an urban renewal project aiming at the Bloemekenswijk. An urban renewal project is described by the Flemish cities policy in the ‘Urban Policy White Paper’ delineating an approach driven by the dynamic interplay between concrete ‘urban projects’ (‘city projects’) and long-term urban visioning (‘city vision’) , termed ‘Urban Debate’ (Boudry et al., 2003).

This approach aims to have a socio-spatial impact through projects that transcends the project boundaries. In other words, we can describe urban renewal as project-driven interventions in the existing urban fabric, which act as levers for the realization of the long-term vision of the city.

This urban renewal project is currently in a preparatory phase, exploring the urgencies and opportunities of today’s neighborhood from both the social, spatial and ecological perspective. This design studio aims to contribute to the preparation of an urban renewal project based on research by design. This studio is the result of a close involvement of the department ‘urban renewal’, which will support the studio. The research and designs the studio will result, will contribute to the development of the framework for a future urban renewal project. The designs make a possible contribution to the perception and imagination of residents of what an urban renewal project could deliver in their neighbourhood.

 

THREE tracks

The studio assignment is divided into three tracks. Track 1 consists of a first quick scan of the site and 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.

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 3)

Track 1 consists of a first exploration of the site inspired by current exposition in the Guislain museum of the ‘Lignes d’erre of Fernand Delingy. The students are invited to walk through de Bloemekenswijk as a ‘wayfarer’ (Ingold, 2007) without a motif in mind and guided by the rhythm (Lefebvre, 1992) that draws their attention. The walk is mapped out and documented, like Guy Debord’s Dérivé or a travel diary. This exploration is made in groups of three students.

Track 1 also 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 three students. Each group performs in depth research on one of the key figures.

Track 2: Jumping scales (week 4- week 7)

Track 2 explores the larger territory of Bloemekenswijk. 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 …

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”. A collaboration with the City of Ghent and interactions with 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 13)

Track 3 focuses on the detailed design of a punctual intervention in the Bloemekenswijk. The design of punctual and precise architectural interventions that can transform the given urbanized territory of Bloemekenswijk 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

  • Read the full studio description here (pdf).