Living the Water-Land-Scape: Gentbrugse Meersen
Master Studio Series
academiejaar: 2017 → 2018
docent(en): Joachim Declerck (Architecture Workroom Brussels), Bert Gellynck (1010 Architecture Urbanism)

Tags: biodiversity & nature—biodiversiteit & natuur | climate change—klimaatverandering | neighbourhoods—wijken | water—water

From 2017 till 2020, the Master Studio B will explore how we can (and how we must) transform our habitat, from the scale of the house, to the street, the neighborhood and the urban landscape, in order to meet the ambitious goals we have set in terms of climate change reduction. It thereby aims to move beyond the current paradox of climate adaptation and mitigation in most parts of the developed world. While the urgency of climate change is understood, we are still hoping that we do not need to change our ways of living, working and moving. We are collectively in favor of climate mitigation and adaptation, as long as it doesn’t come too close to our own lives and environment. We are postponing and even revolting against the adaptation of our habits, of our direct living environment. But at the same time we know with absolute certainty that we cannot change the climate (meaning: slow-down or reverse our current path of climate change), if we do not change the way we live, work and move – the way we use space.

The Master Studio Series Redrawing our Habitat to Change the Climate is organized as a laboratory for the reversal of that logic. More than drawing and visualizing the effects of technocratic fixing or cladding of our built environment (so that it consumes less energy, emits less CO2, etcetera), the studio will focus on a more systematic and fundamental transformation or ‘re-urbanization’ of houses, neighborhoods, allotment areas and parts of the urban landscape. The participants are challenged to formulate and visualize a transformation of the existing urbanization, both as a ‘local solution’ for the climate problem, and as a strong (and possibly desirable) proposition for the qualities our living environment can gain when adapting ourselves to change the climate.

Under this umbrella and collective ambition, the participants in the studio will approach the challenge and proposed site from different and specific vantage points, and from different scales at the same time: from the scale of the concrete intervention (architecture, public space, landscape) to the larger scale of the urban landscape. As all participants (alone or in groups) choose a specific perspective (such as current and future inhabitants, rationalizing mobility, retrofitting the existing building stock, water and sewage infrastructures, public space, etcetera) the studio becomes a conversation between different dimensions of, and propositions for, the redrawing of our habitat. The Master Studio sets a context for its participants to develop knowledge and visions, and become experts on the biggest challenge of the coming decades: we must invent a practice for the re-urbanization of our dispersed urban field.

Studio Brief 2017 – Living the Water-Land-Scape: Gentbrugse Meersen 

As part of ‘De Stadsacademie’, the 2017 studio focuses on the eastern urban fringe of Ghent. It is a location characterized by an intense juxtaposition of types of use, buildings, natural and artificial infrastructures: international highways and the metropolitan ring road cut through neighborhoods and allotment areas (‘verkavelingen’), natural water basins, and crucial natural zones that are being developed as urban green poles (groenpool). While all these uses sit on top and next to one another, there is no vision for their joint future and co-development: projects and investments are made in infrastructure, next to natural spaces, next to housing areas. The Master Studio how they can and must develop simultaneously, working from and with three hypotheses:

  1. the city-fringe and its dispersed housing stock is the ideal place for a next degree of urbanization and densification in Belgium
  2. climate change stresses the need to make (more) space for the natural (water) system (flooding, drought, rising sea level, etc), and to develop a new synergy between urbanization and these ecosystems (no longer the allotment areas showing their back to the open space, see photograph)

Living the Water-Land-Scape Master Studio B —Brief

  1. the ‘redrawing’ of the habitat is a social and democratic challenge, which means that we need to enter in conversation with the users, and not envision a future without them: how can the transformation of the city-fringe provide opportunities and respond to needs and ambitions of the existing and future users?

Studio Method & Output 

Architecture and The city

Rather than starting with a long phase of analysis, the studio method works with and strengthens the unique capacity of architects, namely to provoke new insights, possibilities and futures by proposing and visualizing what could be. The studio work runs along on three parallel tracks:

  1. Developing an understanding of a complex urban situation (social, ecological, built fabric, …)
  2. Architectural and spatial propositions and interventions (from testing a hypothesis to the synthesis and physical demonstration of a strong narrative, with the capacity to move through different scales).
  3. Taking a position, formulating your own ambition and commission, and developing a strong alternative narrative for the future of a place/situation (the studio focuses on the capacity to narrate and present.)

Collective and individual

Master Studio B organizes a context in which all participants are members of a design-research team. An important part of the studio is focused on learning and making steps collectively through presentations, discussion and exchange of knowledge, analysis and hypotheses. The collective work (on for example one of the building blocks) forms the context for design work that is done individually.

Concrete output — The Master Studio B organizes the work around a predefined ‘form’ of output (booklet, model, etc). This gives a collective foundation and ‘discussion-space’ for the work of individual and groups of participants. At the same time, this ensures that the different contributions add up to a legible and cohesive presentation – to a collective research project.