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New Urban Figures - case DOEL

Tutor(s) Roeland Smits
Campus Ghent
Language EN / NL
Engagement GNT S3 | Reflecting Urban Cultures
Semester (1/2/3) 3

For some years, the studio works on densification processes within peri-urban conditions. It focusses on the regional (Flemish) policy-objectives which projects >320.000 new households in Flanders until 2030- 2035. Despite the climate-change and the ‘concrete stop’ (betonstop) this increase in households is not simply a pure project-developers ambition but a true social necessity. Although it is objectively seen most likely to prospect this on cities, in Flanders, cities are more and more facing their spatial limits and count mainly on smaller adjacent municipalities to participate in the regional (Flemish) policy-objective to address the envisaged population growth.

Although, densifying within these peripheral municipalities seems at first sight a very simple assignment, it soon becomes clear that simply copying dense urban models or typologies (as e.g. the figure of a building-block or high-rise (apartment) buildings, … ) is not adequate to the complicated context of these peri-urban area’s with their seemingly unordered heterogeneous landscapes and the juxtaposition of all kinds of uses. Densification therefore, needs to be rethought with new urban models and building typologies.

This semester, the study on new urban figures will be used in exploring the potentials to redevelop an existing ghost town; the village of Doel. Doel is a smaller municipality with a remote location, in the middle of the Antwerp harbor. It became abandoned after the Flemish government in 1995 decided to ‘wipe out’ this village benefiting a huge harbor expansions. But after some juridical procedures the Flemish government was obliged by the state council to retain this township. This makes Doel today a curious urban condition, an urban tissue which is partly preserved, partly vanished.

The primary studio’s aim is to explore how this peculiar peri-urban conditions can lead to alternative densification processes. This will be done not by activism but by strategically introducing new- or recovering existing urban tissues. The main objective is to study on alternative urban forms. The current desolation obliges us to think not only in densities, new housing typologies and new urban figures but also in creating a new services, employment opportunities and further more… It is somehow imagining an ideal township built on the ruins of a lost social community.

Expected output:

The studio focusses on reading and untherstanding different urban forms, their applicability within existing urban tissues and their effects towards f.e. social coherence, urban climate resilience…. The research by design can be complemented with individual interests or contemporary themes, as a first step towards the masterstudio.

In addition the global aim of the studio is to create insight in a potential policy supporting spatial strategy for recovering this abandoned village. It is important to mention that the studio will not intervene within the current discussion between some activist groups and the Flemish government about preservation or not of the village. Within this studio Doel will just be used as an interesting pragmatic base to test new urban figures. Even more, within the notion that almost 90% of all housing plots (build and unbuild) are state property; this condition becomes even more fascinating to link urban typologies towards alternative property situations.

Excursion/study trip/…? (+ timing):

  • first studio day; Forenoon; study trip to Doel (introduction studio assignment and site visit) Afternoon; Antwerp (exploring urban figures as CADIX, New South,….)
  • further excursions to be defined

References/Further reading:

  • Burklin M. Peterek, BASICS-Urban building Blocks, Bazel, Birkhausen, 2008
  • Panerai, J. Castex & J-C Depaule, Urban forms : death and life of the urban block, Oxford Architectural Press, 2004
  • Plan Doelland, Pieter, and others, KU Leuven, Ghent, 2019 (www.plandoelland.com)