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On imagining undervalued buildings of the recent past as third places

Turtors: Tomas Ooms, Robin Schaeverbeke

Engagement: Craftsmanship, Academic year 2022-23, Gent

Language: EN

Open for students from Interior Architecture: YES

Design studio with individual work


Prologue: Being Social and some other observations from which to start

  1. We are social beings, needing space to be social, to meet, engage, collide,
  2. Somehow and sometime in our cultural evolution we developed a belief in indefinite growth and exploitation as a necessary driver of our society and its related economy. This brought us to a situation in which our resources are becoming depleted while our need for energy keeps increasing.
  3. The introduction and establishing of BIM in architectural practices needs and imposes a critical look at practice and designing in the age of simulation.
  4. We are imaginative!

Scandinavia Housing Estate: a Real-Life Actual Case

This year’s rendition of the La Cueillette studio will work with the real-life actual case of the Scandinavia housing estate in Gent.

In the north of Gent, squeezed between a freight yard and a 4-lane traffic road, surrounded by heavy industry and towering out over its surroundings are two high-rise buildings in distress.

They were built in 1968 and intended as a constellation of 10 buildings and supporting amenities. A new urban district conceived with all the modernistic intent that was driving housing estate development at the time… Now it stands as a Fremdkörpern, a strange body in a commodity depleted corner of Gent.

These two buildings on the Afrikalaan in Gent represent a widely spread residential typology in Flanders and beyond: the high-rise buildings from the 1960s and 1970s.

Many of these residential towers are now entering a phase of transition: a transition of living quality and a transition of energy. Sometimes these buildings have a single owner, usually a social housing company, and in that case the approach towards the transition is coordinated. But often these buildings are composed of individual properties. You can consider it as a vertical neighbourhood. In that case the transition is more often than not, not coordinated. This is due to the different financial means of the owners. At that point, the transition processes occur at different speeds and several of the individual owners cannot afford it. In the case of the housing estate at the Afrikalaan, in the tallest of the two buildings there are 224 living units, owned by 220 different owners. A lot of them are in a precarious financial situation and hence lack the means to join in the highly needed transition.

This comes on top of many other issues related to high-density, high-rise living. In this case these issues are exacerbated by the fact that the estate is detached from the surrounding developments. But also, since only two out of the ten planned buildings have been realized, the planned accommodating facilities for quality living, are missing.

But there are qualities as well.

Within the framework of this studio we will not be able to ‘solve’ all the issues, nor celebrate all the qualities, but we can certainly put our imaginative forces to work and do some organized thinking to outline informed strategies to deal with this kind of ‘heritage’.

Aims of the studio

To focus and channel your energy and engagement, the following topics will be central to your designerly explorations:

    • To imagine the role and characteristics of Third Places as spaces for social cohesion in a vertical district such as the Scandinavia estate;
    • To imagine and design forms of unlocking spatial potential in buildings from the recent past that are in state of distress;
    • To imagine new ways of collaborating and integrating knowledge (in relation to BIM and data-driven processes for instance) for a practice in transformation and to develop a vigorous personal position towards the future of architectural practice?

We Will Meet Again (Third Places)

Third places are crucial spaces that support and even structure and reinforce living together. They exist next to the home (first place) and work (second place). The municipality of Gent is actively looking for these spaces (existing or new). These places of meeting and exchange are paramount to achieve social interaction and cohesion. The goal here is to use the existing built environment in an effective and efficient way (space- and time-sharing, material efficiency) and to provide these third places as meeting places for a very diverse set of users in the specific context of the vertical district.

In distress and of the recent past (Young Heritage)

We have come to an age in which buildings from the recent past, built after 1945 are both unadapted for our current spatial needs and at the same time still too good to demolish. In a more general context your reflections and proposals for the Scandinavia Housing estate contribute to these questions:

How do we – as architects/ spatial thinkers – position ourselves towards such structures in distress? Is there a way to re-imagine them so that they can play an integral role in the urban realm? In what way are these buildings adaptable and if so, adaptable to what conditions – and on what grounds? What kind of function can these buildings fulfil in light of degrowth issues. Can we move from the polarity of demolition and refurbishment and imagine other strategies such as palliative approaches?

Building (on) Information (and) Modelling as Medium

In the La Cueillette studio you will explore changing attitudes and responsibilities for present day design practices in an age of climate change and data simulation. La Cueillette inquires limits and boundaries of architectural practices, looking for alternative models for design, learning and their means of production.

BIM is not approached as a technical modelling/draughting tool. So, you will not model in BIM (but you can if you want). The studio however is interested in discovering new ways of thinking and imagining an integrated practice. To retain ownership and authorship of your design, the identification of crucial pieces of data will be an important part of your discourse.

Possible questions are: How to express an architectural idea and/or spatial ambition as a data set? How to measure or quantify qualitative spatial ambitions? How to represent or imagine thema? How to evaluate judge or assess them and how do you mediate that?


Imagining actual and pertinent design questions from multiple (critical?) points of view.

By using a combination of architectural models, drawings, design-based artefacts, and data simulation, design paradoxes and conflicting views are induced and explored. The studio offers you an environment for a highly personal development.

Since it is a real life ongoing project, you will meet some of the inhabitants, you will work with the research team of Studio Tuin en Wereld + AgwA + Domus Mundi and you will have consults with representatives of the municipality of Gent.


An Architecture Close to its Inhabitants. What is Good Architecture? Ptrick Bouchain (2013). Life Between Buildings. Jan Gehl (1987).

Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring stories about the “Great Good Places” at the heart of our communities. Ray Oldenburg (2002).

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. William H. Whyte (1980).

Team, collaborations and link with research:

Affiliated with REVAMP AOB

Link with ‘Paard van Troye’ Studio by Roland Piffet

Link with ‘Real Life’ Studio by Sofie Laenen and Harold Fallon

Well-crafted documents: model, section, drawing

The design in the studio is driven by the production of well-crafted documents such as the model, the section, the drawing.


What if every time you make a drawing for a project, you also have to draw the ‘whole’  it creates somewhere else…? (*)

Presentation slides from the ASSEMBLEA >WWMA 22-23 ASSEMBLEA_r (*) inspired by Non-Extractive Architecture by Space Caviar


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