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Open Up the City


Tutor: Livia de Bethune and Johan Nielsen
Academic year 2021-22, semester 1, Brussels
Engagement: Urban Cultures / The Brussels Way


The current sanitary crisis is a major event that urges architects to reconsider fundamentals in housing projects that they used to take for granted. In the last months, during the lockdown, the need for outdoor living seemed to generate a new wave of city exodus.  Easily understandable if one looks at how the majority of recent building developments, faced with the heavy real estate pressure, are far from offering openness and enough outdoor space. This tendency was enforced the last years by the guidelines of the so-called energy efficient building. The prevailing trend was to close off the buildings more and more for purpose of better insulation, passive construction, mechanical ventilation, … and air conditioning. With the sanitary crisis and heat waves, we saw how many citizens escaped out of town, putting a pressure on countryside and rising fundamental interrogations in terms of sustainable planning and social equity. A lot of people don’t have any place to go and are therefore obliged to stay in town, and to survive in often-small indoor spaces and even smaller outdoor spaces (terraces, balconies and small courtyards of gardens). Therefore, landscape architects, urban designers, urban planners and architects sought how to bring the qualities of the countryside in the city, by: developing green corridors, planting more trees and perennials, bringing back water in town, enhancing the permeability of the soil, giving more space for active mobility, generating islands of freshness. However, the challenge seems to be even greater and we must probably consider that even our intimate and collective spaces suddenly acquired new meanings.

Together with the diminution of our impact on the planet and the attenuation of the effects of climate changes, architects must handle this state of affairs and make urban life more attractive and resilient. Responses must be provided to this change and this requires to 1. Rethink the gradation between intimate, collective and public spaces; 2. Blurry the limits between inside and outside spaces; 3. Develop new spaces of sharing such as housing cooperatives, the extra room, co-learning spaces, playing fields, kangaroo dwellings, etc. It is as if urban housing projects must be partly relaunched, offering new ways of urban living in different forms.

Lessons learned from the past months lead to the following interrogations:

  • How linking qualitative living space and density?
  • Can we go for a real urban open-air living?
  • How adding outdoor space to existing and new (small) apartments?
  • How fostering collective life in urban buildings?
  • How giving more play space to children (private or collective)?
  • How adding working places in housing?


Phase 1. (week 1 – 3)

The students collect creative responses that were (spontaneous) given in answer to the lockdown condition in the past months.

Students will collect and classify:

  • Proper experienced (or seen) interesting and creative answers to the lockdown living
  • The transformation of intimate spaces under the pressure of the lockdown
  • Solutions related into press and web in the surrounding or around the world during this period
  • Flexible, adaptable, or shareable housing projects
  • Rich diverse and inspiring examples of spaces and buildings, in time and space, which gave users quality of life and space even in a rather dense urban situation. Which give feeling of freedom, openness and relation to nature, …
  • The output of Phase 1 are conceptual drawings and models

Phase 2. (week 2 – 4) partly parallel to phase 1

  • Choice and analysis of specific urban Brussels sites and buildings of different typologies and urban situations, which will be rethought (social housing, entities from modernistic period, urban complexes, …)
  • Research on the topic and interview of stakeholders

Phase 3. (week 5 – 7)

  • Conceptual documents of phase 1 are made as a start.
  • The collected examples (in phase 1) will form the base of the conceptual research by design.
  • Development of concepts and design strategies (in group),

Week 8 – Fragile week

Phase 4. (week 9 – 13)

  • Further development of architectural and urban design project on specific Brussels sites (analysed in phase 2)

Week 14 – Final Presentation + studio booklet