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Open Up the City!


Tutor: Livia de Bethune
Academic year 2020-21, semester 1, Brussels
Engagement: Urban Cultures/The Brussels Way


For decades the suburban city sprawled over the countryside.  The last years there were, on the reverse, strong demands for greening the city.  Landscape architect, 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, …

This spring, during the lockdown, it was particularly fascinating to see how walkers, bikers, joggers, terraces, and even animals, … have appropriated the space that was normally provided for car use.  Subsequently lots of municipalities took initiatives to transform, temporarily or permanent, their public space to integrate this unforeseen demand.

But the need for outdoor living during the lockdown seems also 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 even for sustainable matters.  The prevailing trend was to close off the buildings more and more for purpose of better insulation, passive construction, mechanical ventilation, … and air conditioning.

This spring (and summer with the heat waves) we saw how citizens escaped out of town and went living in the countryside. The question how this will evolve the coming months?  Will we, as Rem Koolhaas says in his ‘Countryside a Report’, rediscover the countryside as a place to resettle, to stay alive; … reanimate it with new imagination.  But what does this mean ecologically?

And on the other hand 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).

It is therefore an essential question for architects how to develop more flexible and resilient architecture and particularly housing projects.  How resilient are our existing (or planned) urban buildings and could they be?

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


Phase 1. (week 1 – 3)

The students collect creative responses that were (spontaneous) given in answer to the lockdown condition during spring

Students will collect and classify

  • Proper experienced (or seen) interesting and creative answers to the lockdown living
  • 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, …

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, 19 century, divided raw houses, recent housing entities, …)

Phase 3. (week 5 – 7)

Development of concepts and design strategies (in group),

Rethinking housing in the city, with a sensible density,

Conceptual proposals are made as a start.

The collected examples (in phase 1) will form the base of the conceptual research by design.

Week 8 – Fragile week ?

Phase 4. (week 9 – 13)

Further development of architectural and urban design project on specific Brussels sites (analyzed in ph. 2)

Week 14 – Final Presentation