Master Dissertation studio
Academic year 2020/2021, Brussels
Promotor, Visiting Professor Anuschka Kutz
Studio Urban Field Lab
Studio UFL (Urban Field Lab) deals with acute and profound societal, politic, economic and cultural transformations for which alternative spatial responses are sought. Last year, the studio ran under the heading ‘Territories, Fragilities and Ingenuity’. This year, in light of our new collective reality, we revisit the framework with a focus on fragilities.
The current pandemic in which we find ourselves, has turned cities inside out. It has rocked our certainties and raised our sensitivities. Care homes, hospitals and job centres have finally caught our attention and we have seen or experienced the injustices that we may have previously chosen to ignore or that we deemed far remote from our lives. It has reminded us of our own frailties, and the precarious nature of our live settings. Small things have become big things. Bird song audible in our streets. The first take-out coffee after lock-down. A strange alliance of poetry and danger has filled our gasp. In state-ordered confinement, we have mimicked the life of the elderly, the frail, the injured, the unemployed, disenfranchised: a home not to return to but to remain in. In some cases, we have unexpectedly joined them.
If anything, the current crisis has amplified many of the fragilities and urban challenges the studio has dealt with over the past years, from the precariousness of our health and care systems in the wake of unprecedented demographic change (a long-term concern of the studio), to urban inequalities, unaffordability of housing, the increasing disappearance of free (public) space (substituted by commercialised space), ailing infrastructures, the scaling down of public funds, declining environments, the mono-cultural footprint of ‘empty’ density institutions, to name but a few. These pressures – that have not gone away – challenge conventional conceptions of urban planning and space-making and redefine our disciplinary roles and frameworks, prompting us to find novel and alternative ways to create spatial territories.
Fragilities rarely derive from singular factors or come in neatly objectifiable entities; instead, they are mostly entwined into a complex multi-scalar forcefield characterized through a simultaneous acting of diverse social, cultural, economic, environmental, political factors that criss-cross and interlace global, national, regional, interest-based, personal and intimate scales, linking the personal and individual to the societal. Dissecting relationships that impact on the spaces that we all inhabit, demands a working methodology that criss-crosses scales and disciplines.
Importantly, fragilities do not only lead to stark statistics and bold headlines, but they have a real bearing on the everyday lives of citizens. It is here, where the term becomes painfully ‘alive’. In Studio Urban Field Lab, we recognize this fact by going ‘into the field’ in order to understand how things play out ‘on the ground’ in the daily life of people, employing ethnographic methods to dissect lived space.
Despite the sorrow, the pandemic has also provided us with an opportunity to reconsider many so-called certainties and commonplaces, giving rise to a renewed interest in asking fundamental questions that attempt to redress certain balances we may have lost. How do we want to live? What are our values? What do we want and need in and from our cities, villages, offices, schools, hospitals, homes, streets, neighbourhoods, public spaces? What could alternative care systems look like? Which precarious relationships have we set up? If the current pandemic has amplified inequalities, it has also shown us our resilience to deal with the situation ad-hoc, in often much more un-bureaucratic and ingenious ways than thick-system official strategies that are slow to react. The unusual circumstances have led us to put rigid codes of behaviour to one side. Goats in the streets. Music from balcony to balcony. Tables, deckchairs and paddling pools on pavements. Dinners in doorways. Swimming in rivers… Delight in despair? Might fragility bring out humanity? If yes, what can we learn from this?
Read the complete studio brief here (pdf)