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Palimpsestic Landscape: Unity in Diversity[2]: spatial resonances of the garden city movement in ypres



ADO: Restoring Broken Journeys[1] #5

OPO 14

Drs Marie Nevejan – Prof. Gisèle Gantois






Key words: Spatial Memory, Garden City Movement, Urban Reconstruction, Palimpsest, Heritage


In Belgium, the concept of the Garden City gained further traction when the devastation of the First World War created a severe housing shortage, compelling post-war governments to become more actively involved in housing policy. Consequently, the war event catalyzed a movement that commenced with the Housing Act of 1889 and ultimately led to an increase in government intervention in public housing policy (Maes 1985, 189).

One of the most successful realizations of the Garden City Movement in Ypres, a city in West Flanders that was destroyed during the First World War, is the Ligywijk, a working-class neighborhood built in 1921 by the Service of Devastated Regions. One would not expect that the houses in the Ligywijk were built simultaneously with the recreation of the city center of Ypres, because of the completely different urban approach, respectively a social modernistic inspired design starting from a blank page versus the traditionalist reconstruction architecture of the city center that reused the pattern of streets, alleys and public spaces lined by the blackened ruins. These remained visible after the war because trucks and tanks run over them and returnees cleared them from rubble and re-walked them again and again.

The Ligywijk owed its success to (1) the clean plan structure, designed by R. Verwilghen and H. De Bruyne, (2) the meticulous care given to the greenery, and (3) the perception of a street route derived from the vocabulary of the garden district (Maes 1985, 210). Nowadays, the area houses a
coherent community and is generally known as a pleasant living environment but lost however most of the original garden city-inspired qualities. Only a few houses have retained their original appearance. The construction of numerous garage boxes has given the streetscape a much more closed character creating a physical border between private and public. Many passages to the backyards have disappeared, as has the original greenery from the 1920s. The introduction of individualized facades fragments the original coherent design. Yet, it also ensures that the district continues to provide spontaneous neighborhood life to this day, with active involvement of the inhabitants (Catry 1981, 69–72).

The original progressive design of the Ligywijk based on the main principle of the Garden City ideas ‘Unity in diversity’ has been developing for over the last hundred years, creating a unique spatial configuration to which memories are attached that contrasts in a way with the spatial memory inside the city ramparts that is still very much related to the memories of war and reconstruction. The Ligywijk has barely any connection with the so-present war memory in the center, but is, however, situated on the hinge with Ypres’ Reservoir Cemetery, one of the only historical places in Ypres that retains original pre-war structures.

The Ligywijk has never received proper recognition for this experiment as the area has always been overshadowed by the war memory so deeply entangled in the city center. This exercise aims therefore to unveil the spatial resonances of the Garden City Movement, restoring their lost unique quality in a future oriented way while embracing the original traces of its spatial configuration as part of the palimpsestic town.

While on the one hand palimpsest is a powerful term referring to geological stratification, palimpsest is also a literary metaphor. This reference to language or to think of the landscape or city as text or using methods of analysis that relate closely to literary practices comes back regularly in urban studies, but perhaps most famously in Michel De Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) in which spatial narratives and acts of reading and writing are used to describe experiences in the city. Andreas Huyssen’s (2003) concept of “urban palimpsest” translates his conviction that literary techniques of reading historically, intertextually, constructively and deconstructively at the same time can be woven into our understanding of urban spaces as lived spaces that shape our collective imaginaries’ (Huyssen 2003:7) In this sense palimpsest is considered as a less rectilinear, less straightforward development: here the layers of the palimpsest are rather thin, frail and mostly unfinished, fragments of different layers peek through other newer layers. In André Corboz’s (1983) definition the re-inscription of the palimpsest involves not only the adding of new layers but more often than not the erasure or adaptation of the old ones.  

This exercise aims to investigate how this Ligywijk can be an essential part of a resilient futureproof palimpsestic town in contrast with the predominant discourse on the war’s destruction and the reconstruction.

From here those elements will be distilled, supported with intense fieldwork that will be helpful to understand the town’s multilayered appearance today while unraveling and highlighting the relation of this Garden City Ligywijk with it. The detection and implementation of multiple narratives, old and new, graphically recorded through casual and organized encounter will be encouraged.


Expected output:

How did the spatial resonances of the Garden City Movement identify the Ligywijk in Ypres?

  1. First: the observational Interactive Walking method (Gantois 2022b; 2022a) will be used as a methodological approach to investigate the multifarious and complex interactions between people and their living environment in the Ligywijk.
  2. Second: archival research (maps, photographs, newspapers, and archives of the architects[3]) will analyse the spatial qualities of the Ligywijk, mapping the original urban design intentions and the architecture typologies.
  3. Third: The gained knowledge will expose contemporary design challenges, resulting in the development of a masterplan proposal for the Ligywijk and its relation to the city of Ypres and the historical graveyard.


Since many of the archival sources are written in Dutch, a good knowledge of Dutch is preferable.


List of Literature:

Catry, Yves. 1981. ‘De wederopbouw van Ieper na de eerste wereldoorlog (The reconstruction of Ypres after the First World War)’. Gent: Hoger Sint-Lucas Instituut Afdeling architectuur.

Centrum Vlaamse Architectuurarchieven, ed. 2009. Het Gekwetste Gewest. Archievengids van de wederopbouwarchitectuur in de Westhoek. (The Hurt Region. Archival guide to reconstruction architecture in the Westhoek.). Antwerpen: Centrum Vlaamse Architectuurarchieven, Vlaams Architectuurinstituut.

Chielens, Piet, Dominiek Dendooven, Jan Dewilde, and In Flanders Field Museum. 2020. Antony D’Ypres. Fotografen van de Wederopbouw (Antony D’Ypres. Photographers of Reconstruction). Gent: Tijdsbeeld.

Cornilly, Jeroen, Sofie De Caigny, and Dominiek Dendooven. 2009. Bouwen aan wederopbouw 1914/2050: architectuur in de Westhoek (Building for reconstruction 1914/2050: architecture in the Westhoek). Ieper, Belgium: Erfgoedcel CO7. http://lib.ugent.be/catalog/rug01:001348696.

Gantois, Gisèle. 2022a. ‘A Rambling Field Role for the Heritage Practitioner: A Means to Come to More Socially Sustainable Heritage (Re-)Development Projects – KU Leuven’. In Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Heritage., edited by Christoph Rausch, Ruth Benschap, Emilie Sitzia, and Vivian van Saaze. https://kuleuven.limo.libis.be/discovery/fulldisplay?docid=alma9993251477101488&context=L&vid=32KUL_KUL:KULeuven&lang=en&search_scope=All_Content&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=all_content_tab&query=any,contains,gantois%20a%20rambling%20field&offset=0.

———. 2022b. ‘The Social Potential of Interactive Walking’. In Participatory Practices in Art and Cultural Heritage: Learning Through and from Collaboration, edited by Christoph Rausch, Ruth Benschop, Emilie Sitzia, and Vivian van Saaze, 65–81. Studies in Art, Heritage, Law and the Market. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-05694-9_6.

Huyssen, Andreas. 2003. Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Cultural Memory in the Present. Stanford (Calif.): Stanford university press.

Maes, Jan. 1985. ‘De tuinwijkexperimenten in het kader van de Belgische wederopbouw na 1918.’ In Resurgam. De Belgische wederopbouw na 1914. (The Belgian reconstruction after 1914.), by Marcel Smets, Geert Bekaert, Jo Celis, Ronny De Meyer, Herman Stynen, and Pieter Uyttenhove. Brussels: Gemeentekrediet.

Meganck, Leen, Linda Van Santvoort, and Jan De Maeyer. 2013. Regionalism and Modernity. Architecture in Western Europe, 1914-1940. Universitaire Pers Lueven.

Mosler, Saruhan. 2019. ‘Everyday Heritage Concept as an Approach to Place-Making Process in the Urban Landscape’. Journal of Urban Design 24 (5): 778–93. https://doi.org/10.1080/13574809.2019.1568187.

Schaik, Leon van. 2008. Spatial Intelligence: New Futures for Architecture. AD Primers. Chichester: Wiley.

Smets, Marcel, Geert Bekaert, Jo Celis, Ronny De Meyer, Jan Maes, Herman Stynen, and Pieter Uyttenhove. 1985. Resurgam. De Belgische wederopbouw na 1914. (The Belgian reconstruction after 1914.). Brussels: Gemeentekrediet.

‘Sociale huisvesting: de tuinwijkgedachte (1919-1926)’. 2011. 1 October 2011. https://inventaris.onroerenderfgoed.be/themas/124.

Tuan, Yi Fu. n.d. Space and Place. University of Minnesota Press. Accessed 25 January 2023. https://www.academia.edu/19846369/Yi_Fu_Tuan_Space_and_Place.

Verpoest, Luc. 2021. Revival After the Great War: Rebuild, Remember, Repair, Reform. S.l: Leuven University Press.

Yates, Frances A. 1969. The Art of Memory. Peregrine Books. Harmondsworth: Penguin books.


Copyright pictures:

Map Ligywijk, R. Verwilghen & H. De Bruyne, KU Leuven – Fonds Verwilghen. From: Smets, Marcel, Geert Bekaert, Jo Celis, Ronny De Meyer, Jan Maes, Herman Stynen, and Pieter Uyttenhove. Resurgam. De Belgische wederopbouw na 1914. (The Belgian reconstruction after 1914.). Brussels: Gemeentekrediet, 1985.

Ieper. Ligywijk Twee halfopen bebouwingen door Richard Acke – 1921 – Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium – Public Domain.


Ieper. Ligywijk Rij arbeiderswoningen door Richard Acke – 1921 – Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium – Public Domain.





[1] This exercise is to be located within the framework of the research project Restoring Broken Journeys with professor Gisèle Gantois. Restoring Broken Journeys has as central theme the re-establishment of a previous (social) right, practice, or situation, which was distorted, while looking at the future as ‘Journeys’ pre-suppose a process of change and development. This research project investigates on how journeys, narratives and lives are closely entangled within a lived environment and the spatial memory of it, which has an indivisible link with built community heritage.

[2] ‘Unity in diversity’ was one of the main concepts from the British Garden City Movement. This harmonious interplay was seen as necessary to create a new social environment in which residents could belong to a community and yet develop their individuality. (‘Sociale huisvesting: de tuinwijkgedachte (1919-1926)’ 2011)

[3] e.g.: Annelies Anseeuw en Ellen Van Impe. bestand / archief: Archief van Raphaël Verwilghen. ca. 1900-1963. ca. 11 strekkende meter dozen.. In: ODIS. Record last modified date: 12 juni 2014. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.odis.be/lnk/AE_9470


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