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Images for the mid-sized city

Images for the mid-sized City
Designs for the Buda-Island Kortrijk (B)

Masterthesis Architecture 2020-2021
Engagement Urban Cultures
Tutor: Maarten Gheysen



Cities are the future, but what kind of city are we talking about? Present-day discourses of architects and urbanists are often focusing on the ‘generic city’ and the ‘metropolis’. Traces of this can be found in, among other things, the speech of Leo Van Broeck, who proposes New York as an ideal image of urbanity.

But we cannot simply use the model of this ‘generic city’ with its large scale and loss of (historical) identity and public spaces for the European medium-sized city with its specific historical and geographic identity. The use of the generic and metropolitan architecture in the context of the mid-sized city neglects its qualities and reality.

This studio aims at developing an adapted architectural reflection and language for the mid-sized city.

A reflection on the architecture inevitably leads to the question of the mid-sized city. What are its distinguishing features? What makes it different from the generic city or metropolis? What form has it?

The mid-sized city is without doubt a place where ‘starchitecture’ has no beholder and where the tempered urban experience is the main focus of architecture and urbanism. Once the centre of its own countryside, the medium-sized city is today more than ever part of an urban network in which the opportunities and problems of contemporary urban society come together. Large societal challenges, demographic changes, migration, mobility, ecology are as well challenges for the mid-sized city as for the metropolis. In this regard, the mid-sized city is the place where the urban is reassessed.

The assignment

This Master Thesis explores the ambitions of the city of Kortrijk (B) to be ‘the best city of Flanders’. Located in the centre of the city one can find the so-called Buda-island. This area has been the subject of major urban developments (calibration of the river, the lowering of the quays, Buda Arts,…) but still has enormous development opportunities. An existing partially abandoned hospital needs to be redeveloped towards a cultural hotspot including a library, a vast parking site will be sold for housing development, a new marina needs to be developed,…

At the same time, the city is confronted with low population growth and stagnating programmatic needs. The redevelopment questions such as the abandoned hospital(s), schools, vacant factories,…cannot been seen as densification or growth projects. Unlike similar sites in Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels,… there is no need nor question to densify. Vice versa, there is no need neither to follow the strategy of the surrounding municipalities to generate limitless allotments, offering an affordable mass-product, since it would neglect the uniqueness of the urban condition of Kortrijk. This urban condition, based on variation, specific offers, its rich history, high quality public spaces,… is distinctive and can generate unique living-working conditions. Kortrijk offers different qualities not to be found elsewhere, neither in the dense metropolis nor the generic allotment.

Students are asked to develop one or more architectural proposals, exploring the features and qualities of the mid-sized city. The architectural project is the step-up for a discourse and strategies by the student on the mid-sized city.

On the Buda-island there are several options to be found to develop the architectural project. One can work on the design for a new library, de redevelopment of the former hospital, the renewal of a 16th century monastery, the development of specific collective housing typologies, the development of the former parkingsite, some small scaled but strategic architectural interventions,…

Students are given the opportunity to define their own architectural project in regard to their reflection on the mid-sized city.


The studio is seen as a platform within which discussion, experiment, production and reflection take place. The student himself defines the paradigm for the medium-sized city, builds up the research and design method and develops the tools necessary to achieve a coherent design.

The studio is based on 4 fields of action:

– A (theoretical) reflection on the medium-sized city that allows the student to determine the position in the current architectural discourse based on one or more key texts.

– Reference projects dealing with similar design issues and from which lessons are learned for both analysis and design.

– Case studies that allow to investigate in depth the physical, cultural, social and territorial impact of the project on different scales.

– A design proposal on the urban and architectural scale in line with the theoretical reflection.

Each of these fields of action is part of the evaluation.

The urban landscape of BudaBeach as part of the unique qualities of the mid-sized city.