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(22-23) A policy whispering praxis - Advanced domestics?



Engagement: Mediating Tactics, sem 1, Brussels



Peter Swinnen & Ivonne Weichold

Image left: C.E.C.A., Clos des 4 Vents, Tervueren, Arch. Willy Van Der Meeren & Leon Palm, 1955
(Photography, Peter Swinnen, Fall 2021)

Our architecture studio is interested in testing architecture’s capacity as an unsolicited and pro-active tool for political policy making. How can architecture critically inform and challenge social, spatial and ecology policies? Can the architect perform as an effective “policy whisperer” for the sake of common good? And is architecture’s role to reactively answer a brief or could it prefigure the brief, and even the (public) client for that matter?

For the lustrum 2022-2026 the atelier embarks on a long-term commitment vis-à-vis the community of Tervueren (50° 49’ N, 4° 31’ E), one of Europe’s most intriguing environments, both a hamlet and a world site. Semester per semester, we will spatially and politically scrutinize this petite capitale mondiale, in close collaboration with local entities, decision makers and stakeholders.

The forthcoming semester, entitled ‘ADAVANCED DOMESTICS?’, focusses on a 14ha open landscape, predestined to be developed as an ex-novo dwelling quarter (residential expansion area). As in many European contexts, Tervueren’s housing capacity, affordability and diversity – is under fire. The question is not when or if it will be developed, but how and with which equitable balances in sight. Since no effective policy decision has been made to this date, nor holds any developer yet an option for the site, our studio potentially arrives ‘just in time’. In a business-as-usual realm, the site would be developed with the ruling juridical policy in mind, i.e. max. 25 dwellings/ha. What could “Advanced Domestics” entail on this particular territory, in this specific era?

The “preordained” site of 14ha, Tervueren

The “preordained” site is located a stone’s throw from the Tervueren Arboretum (installed in 1902 by King Leopold II), a large-scale health care facility, and prototypical (high end) allotments of private dwellings. The studio will focus on topics of dwelling affordability, inclusivity, public spaces and amenities, cultural diversities, productive landscapes and water. Tervueren, as part of the green belt around Greater Brussels, already offers a Chinese puzzle of lush parks, protected agricultural fields and forests. Concerning the above- mentioned ambitions it however seriously lags behind.

Zooming in, Tervueren oes hold interesting experiments on housing, both communal and private. Examples like the Hertoginnedal tenement, a former square farm made into a co-op of 13 units (2020, Bob Mc Master & Patrick Moyersoen), or the C.E.C.A. Clos des Quatre Vents experiment by architect Willy Van Der Meeren and Leon Palm (8 co-op units, 1955), as well as private endeavors like Casa Roja by Luc Deleu & T.O.P. office (1999) and Henry Van de Velde’s La Nouvelle Maison (1948) deserve, amongst others further critical study.

For the past decades, the question of dwelling has been unjustly split into antagonistic pairs: private/public, social/affluent, common/gated, etc. To overcome such unproductive pitfalls, the semester will start with the establishment of an atlas of architectural dwelling references of the past 50 years. References that matter, whereby architecture acts as an indisputable part of a cultural, social and ecological balance. As a second installment, the studio will jointly draw up a master vision for the area, taking into account the actual property issues, while considering the full scope of environmental and equitable factors. The final half of the semester will focus on subprojects (solo or joint work) on “Advanced Domestics”. All subprojects will be synthesized in a large-scale site model that will serve as presentation and debate platform. The final “Advanced

Domestics” jury will take place in Tervueren, around the model, in the active presence of local decision makers as our critical and forward-looking audience.

Studio participants will be encouraged to think politically and act strategically, so that real-time impact can be generated. Our nexus is to ‘find cracks in the system’, necessary to invoke change and evolution. We are interested in strong designers, clear thinkers and actual team players that understand architecture as a strategic tool, never as a goal in itself. However, strong architectural output shall not be overlooked or bypassed. On the contrary.

The studio will perform as a professional architectural space, with precise goals and projects (co-set by the students), regular deadlines and precisely defined responsibilities and output for each team member. The atelier is led by arch. Peter Swinnen (CRIT. architects, www.CRIT.cc) and dr. arch. Ivonne Weichold, leading expert in the field of agro-ecological landscapes.

References (non-exhaustive list):

Horizon +, Mastervision https://omgeving.vlaanderen.be/horizon-zoniënwoud







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