Page 1

17 WELCOME IN JASPERS TOWN

1


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Gideon Boie P. 7 0 INTRODUCTION - A FUTURE FOR  NOMADIC ARCHITECTURE  EDUCATION IN BRUSSELS? Carl Bourgeois P. 13 0 A FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE  OWES IT TO ITSELF TO WORSHIP  EXPERIMENTATION.

EXPERIENCES Rosa Fens P. 17 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS  CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS Bjorn Houttekier        P. 26 2 WEIRD TUPPERWARE CALIMERO Lieven De Cauter    P. 33 3 NOMADIC PUBLICNESS OF EDUCATION Harold Fallon    P. 42 4 COMFORT, ENERGY, HERE Tom Schoonjans    P. 51 5 WTC AS A PROSTHESIS: THE  PHANTOM PAINS OF SINT-LUCAS Lydia Karagiannaki     P. 59 6 A PLEA FOR CRUMBLING GIANTS Asli Cicek    7 SHARING SPACES

P. 65

Louise Frateur   P. 76 & Tatiana Darnovsky 8 NO RULES, NO COMMUNICATION,  YET SO MUCH IN COMMON Dag Boutsen P. 241 24 THE NORTH STATION IS  IN BETWEEN COLOPHON

Roeland Dudal    P. 86 9 A GLASS TROJAN HORSE Gideon Boie    P. 92 10 THE WTC PARADOX

3


4

WORKS

CONTEXT

Robin Schaeverbeke   P. 97 & Kristien Vanmerhaeghe 11 WINDOWDRESSING ON A FLOOR WITH A VIEW

Gideon Boie P. 161 18 WELCOME IN JASPERS TOWN 1 The start of a learning play 2 Squatting the North Quarter (Marc Dubois) 3 New Fashion in the North Quarter (Kristiaan Borret) 4 Tragedy of the North Quarter (Albert Martens) 5 Intermezzo: Action at Saint Roche 6 The Future is (Not) Here (Joachim Declerck) 7 The End of the WTC Era (Freek Persyn and Carl Bourgeois)

Wim Cuyvers 12 WTC BLUES

P. 105

Wouter Krokaert P. 117 13 EXPERIENCED SPACE Aurelie De Smet, P. 122 Burak Pak, Yves Schoonjans    14 SOLIDARY MOBILE HOUSING LIVE PROJECT Rosa Fens & PilotBXL P. 130 15 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE 24TH FLOOR - FROM MEUROP TO WTC (AND BACK) Karel Deckers P. 146 16 BEING VERTIGINOUS OR AGORAPHOBIC? Christopher Paesbrugghe, P. 155 Petra Pferdmenges,   Nele Stragier 17 STUDIO BRU.S.L.XL

Bjorn Houttekier P. 185 19 MOVING WITHOUT CHANGING Jan Denoo P. 199 20 SCIENTISTS, LAB RATS & UNCERTAINTY IN THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY Peter Swinnen & PilotBXL P. 211 21 FUTURING THE LEGACY FROM MEUROP TO WTC (AND BACK) Bjorn Houttekier P. 223 22 LOOKING FOR SMALLNESS IN BIGNESS Sven Sterken P. 232 23 A TROJAN HORSE FOR THE MANHATTAN PLAN: THE BRUSSELS WORLD TRADE CENTER


Gideon Boie, in the name of the editorial team: Dag Boutsen, Gudrun De Maeyer, Bjorn Houttekier, Rosa Fens and Jochen Schamelhout

A future for nomadic architecture education in Brussels? For one and a half years, the 24th floor of the WTC tower 1 in Brussel­s functioned as the spectacular spatial setting for architectural education. It was at the start of the academic year 2017-2018, that the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture, campus Sint-Lucas Brussels, partly moved to the 24th floor of the WTC complex in the nearby North Quarter. After being empty for years, the WTC complex was now welcoming temporary occupants to take over some floors. Design studios, theory classes and elective courses were installed at the bare floor of 1100 square meter, having no partitions and provisions whatsoever and being equipped with basic facilities only. Temporary use of empty office buildings has been a thing hanging in the Brussels air. In the case of WTC, the example was set by a group of artists located at the 26th floor since a couple of years. The real estate investment trust Befimmo, after having acquired the total WTC complex, set up a nonprofit ‘Lab North’ to rethink the qualities of the North Quarter and to set up the temporary use of the tower – as a first experiment for the envisioned adaptive reuse of the building complex. In September 2017, the architecture offices 51N4E and AWB – both partners in Lab North – moved in on the 16th floor. Later, other floors have been taken over by architectural offices, startups and the You Are Here exhibition, as part of the International Architecture Biennial Rotterdam.

7


8

The direct trigger for the move of the Faculty of Architecture was the need for extra work space. The numbers of architecture students following courses at the Brussels Campus have outgrown the Faculty building at the Paleizenstraat (Brussels), located in the former Meurop furniture shop. Also, the dilapidated condition of the accommodation has been key in understanding many frustrations among staff and students. After a years-long process of institutional introspection on the future of the building was in danger of leading nowhere, the move to the nearby North Quarter came as a line of flight. Suddenly, the vast open floor space of the WTC complex appeared as a unique opportunity to undermine all preexisting concepts of schooling. The temporary occupation of the WTC complex provided yet another opportunity: it allowed the Faculty of Architecture to plunge into the big, if not biggest, urban trauma of Brussels. In the 1970s the so-called North Quarter in Brussels was simply erased to make play for a central business district and highway traffic node. The idle WTC tower buildings symbolize in the strongest sense the hollowing out of urban life by corporate real estate interest in the Belgian and Europea­n capital. In this context, the temporary dépendance organized an architecture education that teaches the complexities and contradictions of urban production not in an abstract classroom but through inhabiting one of its symptoms. After the WTC complex got closed off in January 2018, the enthusiasm to venture into other nomadic schooling experiments was as high as the determination to rethink the ‘Meurop’ building at the Paleizen­straat. A group of students (some of them ex-students by then) was pulling together under the banner of ‘Pilot BXL’ and used the experiences at WTC24 to redesign the Meurop building in an open conversation with students and teaching staff, inviting honorable guest critics (Isabelle Doucet, Tom Weaver, Jan De Vylder) to think along. The initiative of Pilot BXL was brought to a greater magnitude by setting up a parallel workgroup called the ‘OC Brussel­s’ (‘Education Committee’) operating at the institutional level of the school. In the high spirit of WTC24, the OC Brussels assembled professors, students and administrative staff. The book you are holding in your hands stems from the very same desire to formulate the lessons learned of one and a half years of experiences at WTC24 and to use these lessons as a sounding board to think about the future of our Faculty of Architecture. The initiative to


0 INTRODUCTION

script the short history of WTC24 was put in the hands of an editorial team that assembled (ex-)students, professors and staff alike. The call for contributions was open to everyone and sent out to students, professors, and casual visitors. Doing so, the common editorial process was a moment in which all those involved could not only script the lessons learned – as if the WTC24 was a scientific experiment (something it was certainly not) – but also find the necessary time to bring WTC24 to a close. The WTC24 was an event in the pure sense, happening (almost) accidental, based upon decisions made in a rush, raising enthusiasm among some, causing confusion among others, and forcing all those involved to rethink the school apparatus from scratch. In this light, the lessons learned formulated in the following chapters should not be read as conclusions to preconfigured set-up, but as a rigorous attempt to retroactively understand the event of WTC24. It makes that the various texts, all written especially for this occasion, are quite diverse in nature: some texts take the form of a retroactive manifesto or critique, other texts are proceedings of a design studio, still other texts explain how the study results were informed by the exceptional context, and, finally, there are texts that situate WTC24 in the context of architecture practice in Brussels. The pile of texts are organized in three parts. Under the heading of ‘EXPERIENCE’, the first set of texts give the reader a feeling of what is was like to teach and learn architecture at the bare 24th floor of an empty office building, theorizing upon the many enriching experiences and frictions. The part contains texts by Rosa Fens (giving a voice to a group of students), Bjorn Houttekier, Lieven De Cauter, Harold Fallo­n, Tom Schoonjans, Lydia Karagiannaki, Aslì Ciçek, Louise Frateu­r and Tatiana Darnovsky, Roeland Dudal, and Gideon Boie. The second part ‘WORKS’ includes texts that scrutinize the scholarly results produced at the 24th floor, in the design studios, mixed media courses, elective courses, special project weeks and special public workshops. This part includes texts written by Wouter Krokaert, Robin Schaeverbeke and Kristien Vanmerhaeghe, Aurelie De Smet, Burak Pak and Yves Schoonjans, Wim Cuyvers, Karel Deckers, Rosa Fens and Pilot BXL, and finally Petra Pferdmenges, Nele Stragier and Christopher Paesbrugghe.

9


10

The third part ‘CONTEXT’ provides the reader with an insight in the temporary occupancy of the 24th floor, both in terms of the organization and infrastructural context, and the (historical and actual) real estate interests in the Brussels North Quarter. This part includes texts by Gideon Boie (publishing notes on the sofa talks with Marc Dubois, Kristiaan Borret, Albert Martens, Joachim Declerck, Freek Persyn and Carl Bourgeois), Bjorn Houttekier (interviewing Luc Deleu, Sven Lenaerts and Marie-Anaïs Bluteau), Jan Denoo, Peter Swinnen and Pilot BXL, and Sven Sterken. Two texts written by the Dean and Vice-Dean function as book supports to this volume and testify to the fact that the Faculty Board is determined to disseminate the lessons learned of WTC24 in the future of architecture education. It allows us to conclude with the following note: it is worth to remember that all texts in this book may vary in nature, style and ambition, but share the inspiration that a better architecture education is somehow connected with both the setting in which it takes place and the quality of future urban production in Brussels. We are certain in our hope that the history of WTC24 will inspire the future of architecture education (nomadic or not) in Brussels and cities elsewhere.


Carl Bourgeois

A faculty of architecture owes it to itself to worship experimentation BIO

Strangely enough, the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture does not have a campus in Leuven, but rather one in Ghent and one in Brussels. The campuses grew out of the Sint-Lucas schools that have provided 150 years of artistic-inspired architectural studies. An increase in scale during the ‘90s ensured that the Brussels’ Sint-Lucas school merged one with the Sint-Lucas school based in Ghent, becoming the Hogeschool voor Wetenschap en Kunst (University College of Science and Arts). This, in turn, led to years of work to align pedagogical concepts and curricula in the run-up to the ever-increasing academisation. In 2013, the school (which included nearly 2,000 students by now) became the fifteenth faculty of the Catholic University of Leuven, which called for a new identity. Whereas ‘transversal operations’ and ‘multi-campus mobility’ had been the buzzwords for years, we suddenly realised that the specificity of a place could offer a unique advantage to raise the profile of Flanders’ largest environment for architectural studies. This was recently translated into the establishment of an education committee whose mission is to define Brussels’ qualities as an educational and research context for architecture. The decision to begin with Brussels (rather than Ghent) lies in the scale: Six hundred students generate a

Carl Bourgeois is an architect

and vice dean of KU Leuven biotope of faculty of Architecture confidence and flexibility that is harder to establish in the larger and more spread-out Ghent location. The education committee’s mandate, therefore, pertains not only to placing topics about Brussels on the agenda, but also to exploring how education and research are conceived. It soon became clear that, for an architect, the spatial setting in which he or she works plays a critical role. The conditions in which architectural studies must be organised leave small margins in that regard: an architecture student at KU Leuven can count on six square metres, a surface that must be ‘shared’ two and a half times a week. This means that students pass on their studio space by relay as a ‘clean desk’ in a schedule that changes daily. No fixed workplaces can be offered 24/24 or 7/7. At the same time, foreign examples demonstrate that having students who can use their own, if small, workplace can maximise the viability and dynamics of designing collectively. Not only the mutual cooperation of students is stimulated, but also the potential interaction with the neighbourhood can be activated owing to this permanent presence. This ensures the long-term use of more public facilities, such as a library, cafeteria, fablab ... but it also makes way for the organisation of lectures, debates, monitors, workshops,

13


14

film evenings, etcetera. In addition, there is the belief that an architect’s training does not only take place at school, but that it clearly benefits from a deeper engagement with the surrounding metropolis. The chance to offer a Brussels pied-à terre could be very attractive for many commuting students. July of 2018, at the initiative of Up4North, a non-profit, there was an opportunity to formulate projects for the temporary vacancy of Brussels World Trade Center. The 24th floor of the 102-metre-high office tower, erected in 1976 in the North Quarter, could offer our faculty expansion space for a year at a relatively affordable price. It was a chance to accelerate the debate on the use of space and to enter a test phase with an apparently unlimited amount of square metres. In addition, the complexity of the place, roaming between the dense residential area of Schaerbeek and an, after 5:00 pm, empty office landscape at North, between commuters on trains and transitory migrants sleeping in the park, between the metro and Flixbus, ... offered an architectural challenge in and of itself. Although the fear of rashly guided action did cross our minds, we seized the opportunity. The result was a rather hastily prepared plan that had to unfold within two months’ time, so we were forced to look for the bare minimum in terms of the space for architectural studies. I remain convinced that effective pedagogy comes down to a good conversation

between peers. You need a few seats for that, at most. In the case of architectural studies, you could argue for a table on which to display an artefact as the focal point of the conversation. Everything else is a luxury. And luxury is an option, but one should at least be aware of it. The temporary decline in comfort or luxury seemed to justify our decision, upholding the idea that this would intensify the conversations and the effective pedagogy. In addition, I have always based my policy role on the idea that a faculty of architecture should not express its own ‘vision’, but it should support and facilitate the many, sometimes conflicting, points of view and statements made by its teachers and students. Rather, it should function as a coach or moderator that is more concerned about the conditions for talking than about the final output. As a discipline, architecture should definitely be afforded that range of interpretations today. The 1,200-square-metre floor was eventually equipped with electrical outlets, a kitchen, sanitation facilities, WI-FI, a copier and 130 tables, chairs and stools. And due to the proximity of the Meurop Building, it remained on ‘life-support’ with regard to additional infrastructure and administrative backup. Due to the time crunch, we were unable to develop a new programme: the classical operation of studios and theory subjects, the annual calendar and the weekly agenda were simply translated into this new context. Nevertheless, the floor operated fairly autonomously and was quickly left to the spontaneous enforcement of a small group


0 A FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE ...

of committed students. During the first few weeks, they somehow juggled the limited resources and the thousands of questions from the largely unprepared teachers and students who managed to take over the floor, carefully or otherwise. Their voluntary contribution, also in the long run, has no name, and because of their endless efforts and constant attention to the general operation of the floor, this project is more than worth the effort and the afterthought. The whole operation sometimes flirted with anarchy, but managed to pull itself back through reorganisation or a redistribution of its only wealth: square metres. Conflict management was translated into some improvised plastic screens or by taking spatial distance. A green carpet marked out a no-go zone whose use had to be heavily negotiated and where shoes had to be taken off upon entering. An illustration of high-voltage cohabitation, with which everyone made peace and which, ultimately, turned out to be a natural fit. In ensuing conversations, we faced regular criticism that we expected the students to show a lot, perhaps too much responsibility. Some felt that the students should not have to bother with their own maintenance tasks and with negotiating their workplace, as this filled their already busy agendas. This was rightly a burden on top of the regular issues of design exercises and theory courses, although such a project might justify another approach. Finally, collaboration on the floor was an architectural assignment in itself.

Another point of criticism was the collaboration, or lack thereof, with the other floors. The tower was filled with architectural firms, social non-profit organisations and artist collectives, who were projected to spontaneously strike up collaborations from the start. Strangely enough, a plateau on the 24th floor, connected solely via a lift to other floors, appears to stimulate foolish viewing from its ivory tower rather than intensifying conversations in the lift. There are certainly missed opportunities here. Although beautiful memories remain of the tasty dinners provided by the cook on the 26th floor, in the collaboration with the architectural offices of AWB and 51N4E and the architectural biennial ‘You are here’, which managed to distil the tower down to one existential architectural issue: what are we spatially doing on or with this planet? Finally, the experiment teaches us numerous lessons, to which this publication hopefully testifies. The experience also lives on in the generation of students and teachers who were allowed to go through it, with all its shortcomings and highlights, but at least comforted by the knowledge that we did not recoil from the challenge. Learning is experimenting; it is seeking out the solution rather than finding it.

15


Rosa Fens

The floor is (y)ours Conversations with students BIO

With thanks to SohaĂŻb Mdaghri and Melisa Ince for the collaboration on the video interviews and all fellow students who wanted to share their fascinating insights.

Rosa Fens is an architect, recently graduated in WTC 24 in Brussels

17


i

At the start of the academic year in early October, it became apparent that the university would be able to use the empty 24th floor of the WTC1 Tower in the North Quarter of Brussels. Asking around and curious about the possibilities, we quickly noticed that nothing had been determined — let alone organised — yet. Our professors, Nel Janssens and Peter Swinnen, encouraged our input and the selforganisation on the floor. So, during the first week of the semester, we found ourselves sitting around an empty floor trying to find a suitable place for the studio. Before we knew it, this turned into organising the entire floor (or trying to) that, in the end, involved a lot more work than we could have ever imagined. After the first e-mails to teachers and the administration, informing about their wishes and which information could be shared (numbers, which studios would even use the floor?), it was assumed that we would take care of the floor and all following questions and comments were addressed to us. This was funny in a way, and it

COMMUNICATION AND ORGANISATION WITHOUT A MANDATE

Anton & Helen

ii

Anton and Helen, Masters in Architecture

18


For the master’s thesis, we really claimed part of the space. It was a very intensive period, in which we had a bit less motivation to invest energy in engaging others. We were primarily looking for a place for our own use. We set up tables for individual work, a shared meeting/dining table and brought some racks and a carpet with us. I even installed a fixed computer screen so I could work better. This was possible because we were almost always present.

Somehow, the biggest challenge for us was how to generate a new kind of engagement. Which aspects would ensure that students and teachers alike could identify with the space and, by extension, their school? Actually, the possibilities were nearly endless. Yet, after only a few weeks, the space looked like a fairly homogeneous chaos.

sometimes kept us from our schoolwork. But, most importantly, it was an opportunity for students to have a say in their own workplace and thereby to identify with the space. Perhaps especially so for students of architecture: how could we exploit the potential of such a large empty space to the fullest?

iii

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (1)

19


i

T: On the other hand, I found the second semester interesting because the situation was similar to that of the Meurop Building: There was actually not enough space. Or, so it

S: Because the place and the experience were equally new for everyone, students and teachers alike, we all felt like we were suddenly at the same level. Students, staff and teachers sat down together at the table, with a similar commitment and goal: working to define the space and to organise its use. For the first time, we had the feeling that we had taken matters into our own hands and that we could adopt a position in which we, as students, dared to address the teachers and point out their responsibilities. There was a shift in the hierarchy.

I think that the importance of the ‘new’ in particular should not be underestimated. I spent three semesters here, and they were three very different experiences. From an exciting and eventful beginning to a messy and chaotic end.

PERMANENT RESPONSIBILITY AND TEMPORAL USE

Stijn & Tom

ii

Stijn and Tom, master’s students in Architecture

20


Although it may seem very obvious, communication turned out to be a very important theme.

If the idea is to repeat this temporality and we end up in a kind of permanent temporary use, I do not think it can be combined with a total lack of organisation.

On the one hand, the self-organisation was exciting, important even. On the other hand, I had the feeling that it was an excuse for the absence of a vision, a reason to pass on the work to students. As a result, the teachers were never held responsible. Every question to the school was passed on directly to the students during this period. While I presume that can work, perhaps it should be the main focus of such a semester: an exercise in selforganisation.

seemed, though half of the time there was hardly anyone present. But because of this, there were people who embraced the freedom of the open floor and who consciously dared to take their place in the indefinable space, dared to appropriate it as well. The occupation varied: from quasi-permanent to fleeting. But you could walk in here at any time and come across someone to chat with.

iii WTC24 offered new opportunities that we wished to exploit. We soon dreamed of setting up events, using the floor for lectures ... We had no way of keeping the other half of our school up to date, as well as the neighbourhood or the tower’s co-occupants. The need for a communication platform arose during the first week. Preferably nothing too official because things had to be able to spontaneously happen. We sought the help of a friend (Jan Denoo), who had founded a communication platform, OS AGOGIEK, at the VUB. It consists of a Facebook page and a Google Drive that is accessible to everyone. We found the whole set-up so useful that we adopted it for ourselves: a Facebook page for which as many people as possible became ‘administrators’ and an online drive ‘OSWTC24’ (Open Source World Trade Center 24th floor) where files could be uploaded and exchanged. This idea of a shared platform was all the more interesting because with some studios we shared not only a space, but also a topic. If not the building itself, then it was the North Quarter, and the history and future of it all. Yet this sharing was not easy to achieve within the existing school structure.

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (2)

21


v

In some studios, this question about our position was actively adopted as a theme. Usually, however, it was more an excuse for the choice of the site for the design exercise. At no point did we take our production seriously enough to really talk about this context, let alone have others take us seriously.

But in the end, all of these things that have to do solely with management, no matter how instructive, seemed to stand in the way of closer engagement with the neighbourhood and its context. If you have to work full-time on organising meetings, cleaning up, e-mailing exchanges, moving tables, comforting people who have been deprived of their places ... At the end of the day, there is little time left to think about the biggest question: What should we do with our presence in this place?

In a system with individual evaluation and well-defined assignments, this caused a dubious discrepancy between the ideal of mutual (online) exchange and sharing and the reality of a floor full of identical scale models of the North Quarter and the WTC Tower. Teachers reluctantly responded to our request to incorporate insights from other studios into our own project.

vi

But the Criticism and Ethics (Kritiek en Ethiek) seminar, for example, provided an explicit opportunity to think about our possible or impossible role within this controversial context. We had Open Classes to which we invited interesting guests, and, as there was no fixed timetable or subject, the focus became self-organisation. In that sense, these classes could have been a kind of initiation for everyone: lessons on self-organisation in a place that requires precisely that. Then the link between a curriculum and a space can actually be very fruitful.

22


1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (2)

vii

viii

23


i

If I have to draw a conclusion after two semesters, I would say: the total lack of organisation has made me think it’s a failed experiment. Nobody was aware of anything; we had to discover everything ourselves. Of course, you also learn from this. As a

For me, WTC24 was like a good friend with good and bad moments that you accept as part of the deal. I spent so much time here, and because I chose the building as the theme for my master’s thesis, I experienced everything even more intensely. But graduating from here also held sadness for me; half of the school was still somewhere else. You feel a bit detached from your familiar environment, the established value of the institute is lost. On the other hand, I was left alone here by the professors. I created my own place with some plants, my Turkish coffee, an old rack that I found on the street and some curtains, and I could work here whenever I wanted. Once in a while a teacher passed by for advice.

LOOKING FOR HOMELINESS ON AN EMPTY OFFICE FLOOR

Burak

ii

Burak, master’s student in Interior Architecture

24


iii

student, it should be normal to engage with the space you’re in: cleaning, taking out the rubbish and arranging the kitchen equipment. We (only a few of us) did all of this on our own initiative in order to stay comfortable and cosy, and sometimes liveable was enough for us. But without a minimum of guidelines, you’ll be lost. After a while, my school projects suffered as a result, and then the whole intention becomes questionable.

iii

iv

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (3)

25


Bjorn Houttekier

Weird Tupperware Calimero BIO

26

Beam us up It is a strange law in science fiction films that the view from the escape pod is always better than the view from the mother ship. Only after the survivors of a disaster have reached the rescue module can they — along with the film viewer — truly sit back and admire space. If we consider the mother ship to be a somewhat glorified container, navigating according to a predetermined plan, then the escape pod is an open, lightweight vessel that can freely set its course. Architecture is a form of science fiction; a scenario of elaborately interwoven functionalities. But perhaps the metaphor of the mother ship (large, closed and with a fixed course) versus the pod (small, open and with an indefinite path) applies to the temporary relocation of KU Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture to the WTC Tower in the North Quarter of Brussels. Was WTC24 the escape pod of SintLucas? A restricted, yet flexible place with an adventurous destination? Surely the flight from Meurop to the WTC had an evocative feel to it: space effectively opened up, even though WTC24 was equipped with mediocre facilities and bland coffee. Taking the lift to the 24th floor was a kind of rite de passage, departing from the obscure ground floor to arrive at the Brutalist platform with a view over Brussels. Was there any cause for optimism or did we just avert our eyes from the metre-high windows?

Bjorn Houttekier is an architect at DKA and architecture design studio teacher

WTC To date, 317 world trade centres have been built across the globe. Dispersed across 91 countries, all are members of the WTCA (World Trade Centers Association). A world trade centre exists in Manama, Bahrain; Salsomaggiore, Italy; Da Nang, Vietnam; Winnipeg, Canada; Luanda, Angola; Willemstad, Curaçao — the list is long and exotic. All these WTCs were intended to convey the same message (professionalism), to house the same function (bureaucracy) and to provoke the same effect (emptiness and wind around their plinths). It is barely an insult to speak of flatulent architecture: built anomalies in which the interior has nothing to do with the outside and the top has nothing to do with its base. ‘Our’ WTC Tower — the Brussels one — is not unlike the 316 others: identical solutions create identical problems. Nevertheless, it was annexed by SintLucas. So, as an initial form of kindness, why not name this generic building envelope? Weird Tupperware Calimero seems appropriate. Weird due to its physique: incongruous with the things surrounding it, but similar to the thousands of clones worldwide. Tupperware-like because of is its physiognomy: stable in form and fully hermetic despite the indoor plants and mechanical ventilation. Calimero-like because of its posture: sticking up above everything else and shimmering, but at the


2 WEIRD TUPPERWARE CALIMERO

same time shyly begging to be repurposed. Can you love a miscarriage? And, if so, should you? Some things were overwhelming at WTC24. First of all: the light that shone inside without reflections and, in doing so, became unambiguously connected to the sun. This lack of reflections created sharp shadows and thus a building orientation that was instantly readable. Secondly: the desire to walk around on that large, empty floor, to roam and browse through the bricolage that students were making everywhere. Here, you could lie on the floor, lean against a wall, stare up at the ceiling or simply gaze out at Brussels. Street credibility was characteristic of WTC24; you could just try about anything. Why not throw a model five metres away and see what happened to it? Finally: being dazzled by the perspective. To look at Brussels from above, and then, on the working tables all around you, see models blending seamlessly with the built reality outside. All of a sudden, the feeling of scale evaporated. Everything was similar in measure and became one: a city of maquettes grew from cardboard chunks into life-size buildings. WTC24 incited action. And even though it didn’t ask any questions, it still gave some answers. All it required was the willingness to look and see. ZIN Brussels is the city of the Zinneke: a child who has at least one parent originating

from Brussels. Is it cynicism or dry humour that the reconversion of the WTC complex into a mixed-use office building is to be called ZIN? A three-letter word operating as a logo for the foundling child birthed by Brussels and the world. ZIN will not be smaller than WTC, not ‘stonier’ than WTC and not more social than WTC. But it will, as claimed, be greener than WTC. Yet, at its core, ZIN is still a typical example of Steelinism: a high-rise building clad in its capitalist robe of steel, glass and silicone. What was Sint-Lucas looking for in such an architectural fossil? Did the intestines really have to be examined to diagnose the skin disease? Or did we intentionally look down on the city through the eyes of this glass Godzilla? Was there any attempt to introduce students to state of the art building techniques (3D printing, CLT construction, virtual building or not building at all) in this outdated context? Did anyone question the unsound urbanistic appearance? Was the outside world ever invited to walk around the heart of the dinosaur? In Dutch, ZIN means ‘sentence’: something with length and significance, something which exhibits logic. It also means ‘desire’: something that both stimulates and sensually guides one into the future. Above all, it means ‘meaning’: something that fulfils (or not) a preconceived aspiration, thereby providing insight. What was the meaning of Sint-Lucas in WTC24? Did we look to the future or did we remain stubborn pioneers of the past?

27


28

Beam us down Perhaps there is a general consensus that WTC24 was breathtaking, a kind of hyperventilation-provoking experience where the setting imbued an aura to our thinking. Of course, the danger of such an aura is ‘ego chemistry’: that the things you thought so magical proved to be delusions in the end. Therefore, once again, we have to ask the question, ‘Was WTC24 our escape pod?’ Have we really peered into space and seen things that made us collectively think, ‘We can completely agree or disagree with this.’? Have we reflected on a new heading that can prepare architectural education and future architects for a different kind of building? What was our warp speed? Was the WTC a suffocating glass dome rather than an imaginative Luna Park? What we have (or have not) learned from WTC24 is confronting due to its risky mix of fun and futility. In contrast to ‘Learning from Las Vegas’, which considered and interpreted the Las Vegas Strip as an architectural phenomenon from the outside, we dived right into one of the North Quarter’s towers par excellence, mainly to look at ourselves and our increasingly polished production. It is only after the ride — having started from point A and arriving back at the same point A — that common sense sets in: we’re back to where we started. So, is there a single message to be learned from this year-anda-half-long delirium? That message certainly exists, but it is scattered, sitting in hundreds of heads and gradually seeping away for good. Even if

all the issues raised above in reality have nothing to do with Sint-Lucas, but with architectural studies in general, our ‘Learning from WTC24’ will not take place with a book on a bookshelf in an architectural library. Critical internal debate is essential: about what to do with the school and how, about when to do things and in which direction to take them. In any event, this debate should be kept far from the nurturing smell of our own navels. Because nothing would be more painful than to become Weird Tupperware Calimeros ourselves: overconfident, transfixed in smalltalk and earthbound by definition.


2 WEIRD TUPPERWARE CALIMERO

WU-TANG TESSERACT CASTLE

WORKISM TREMENDOUS CUSTOMIZE

WANDERLUST TEFAL CELLOPHANE

WRIGHT TEMPORARY CRIB

WRAP THING CHAOS

WHY? TAUTOLOGY COUNTDOWN

WALLESS TINKERING CRUST

WAFFLE TUPPERWARE CHEAP

WEAK THEATER CLEAN

WANNABE THINK-TANK COLOSSAL

WEIRD TIPI CLIMATIZED

WIKI TOPOS CONDITIONING

WWW TYPE CHECK

WORN-OUT TRUMPISM COSY

WHOLE TREASURE COINCIDINCE

WOW TALL CLINICAL

WARNING TITAN CHANGOVER

WAGENERIAN TOODELOO CLUELESS

WISPERING TEST CALIMERO

WILDERNESS TRIVIAL CREVASS

WORDS TEXT CRITICISM

WHATEVER TOTEM COSTUME

WONDER TUNING CHAPTER

WRAP TUBE COHOUSING


STARTWORKSHOP 2018 The yearly Startworkshop, uniting first year students of the Ghent and Brussels campusses (+-350 students), culminated in a two-day design-and-presentation session at WTC24 and 27. Day one (27/09) focussed on the making of collages and group presentations of 5 students for each WTC-window. The second day (28/09) consisted of a large screen feedback moment by twelve design teachers. On day one, 350 students, arriving all at about the same time at the WTC tower, clogged the elevators and escalators for about 1 hour: a happening before anything had even happened that day.

30


31


32


Lieven De Cauter

The nomadic publicness of education BIO

Cultural philosopher Lieven De Caute­r wrote a passionate piece about his memories of WTC24, Rosa Fens chose several quotes from his collective ‘Toledo Messages’ as snapshots of his own memories. [Collectieve toledomail] Van: Lieven De Cauter - lieven.decauter@kuleuven.be Onderwerp: marb31 Ethiek [A60550]: utopische en heterotopische krachten (update) 21 OKTOBER 2017 17:18

‘Beste mededeelnemers (aan ons leerspel in zelforganisatie), Wij hebben onze positie de laatste keer zoals op plan ingenomen (De tekening is wel heel schools, wij zitten rond een groot vierkant van tafels en indien projectie wordt het een u-vorm, typisch, een theorieles speelt zich af in een leslokaal-opstelling; foei:). We hadden een door de studenten geleende beamer, maar het licht is wel een probleem, de projectie is flauw. Mee leven, zeker? Of indien meer tafelpanelen dan een rij tegen de ruiten zetten? Lijkt me een idee. Andere en betere ideeën voor (lichte) verduistering welkom. De lamp die net boven onze drie verticaal geplaatste tafels hing, werd met karton door de studenten afgeplakt, zo ging het al beter. Maar het bleef flets, nu goed, klagen over teveel licht is natuurlijk een luxe-probleem.(...)’

For me, WTC24 was perhaps one of the most unforgettable teaching experiences of my entire career. And that is saying something, because I’ve had the chance to teach at elite artistic schools, such as the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and the dance school P.A.R.T.S. While these have been unforgettable experiences for the most part, WTC24 still stands out.

Lieven De Cauter is a philosopher, art historian and activist, and (architectural theory) teacher

Perhaps a number of things came together on that 24th floor. First of all, there was the thrill of an open floor in a dilapidated ‘skyscraper’. A remnant of a utopian yet destructive capitalistic project: the Manhattan Project as ‘urbicide’ of one of Brussels’ most lively, popular neighbourhoods: the North Quarter, with the Antwerpse Steenweg as the central axis of popular entertainment. Slowly emptying for years now, the office district is in urgent need of radical renewal by shattering its mono-functional character. There is also the Maximilian Park and the back of the tower where asylum seekers must apply for asylum, which brought the harrowing problem right to our back door (though we had no answer for that and did nothing with it). This formed a rich and, at the same time, hotly disputed context that directly or indirectly shaped the conversation of every debate. Then there was the constellation of hip activities that have ‘occupied’ the tower with all manner of temporary use, creating a kind of buzz or hype: the artist collective Jubilee and other artists on the 25th floor, architectural office 51N4E on the 16th, then AWB (Architecture Workroom Brussels) that brought the Rotterdam architecture biennial to Brussels and our very own WTC Tower with ‘You are here’, a thought-provoking exhibition about the urbanism of the quarter’s transition.

33


We were able to seamlessly plug into our ethics lessons.

34

the teachers. The commons, communion, commoning served as the form and content of our “Special events: na elke les op donderdag is er ape- ‘courses’. On the one hand, Criticism and ritief (ik hoop dat we dat volhouden, was erg plezant Ethics, which Gideon and I give together omdat ook de collega van binnenhuis die met zijn studenten rond beweging werkt met fraaie sculp- separately, so to speak and, of course, turen tot gevolg – heb weer uit eerlijke schaamte the by-now legendary elective Gideon has zijn naam niet durven vragen – even kwam gedag invented and introduced: Architecture and zeggen en een pintje meedronk. En dan met de Activism. So our utopian teaching method, overblijvers en nieuw gekomenen en oudgedienden hebben we pizza (besteld en) gegeten. Er was te which we explicitly tried out last year for weinig wegens de nieuwkomers, maar het smaakte the first time, and the heterotopic playing heel lekker. Ten slotte zijn we rond 8:30 pm naar field worked incredibly well together. Try ‘lichting RITCS’ gegaan, een idee van een van de implementing a self-organising educational nieuwkomers (geen student van mij wel een archi- game in a classical auditorium: it barely tectuurstudent) wat voor mij een win win situatie was, want ik moest daar eigenlijk beroepshalve works. This is because an auditorium is heen. Ik denk dat we aan dat open ended drieledig a ‘dispositif’, an apparatus that gives the (apero, maaltijd, activiteit[en]) en uiteraard totaal speaker a stage and silences the room. vrijblijvend scenario vasthouden (als we dat uithou- A dispositive is a distribution of power den natuurlijk). Voorlopig begint het om 17:30. Iedereen welkom. Financieel dragen we voorlopig alle concealed in space. Architecture does not kosten zelf (moeten we nog over stemmen hoe we so much produce buildings as much as it dat nu precies gaan doen, is deel van het leerspel in produces dispositions of power, set-ups. zelforganisatie), maar het zou natuurlijk een fantasFor me, the so-called Sofa Talks are tische geste zijn, als deze apero (gedeeltelijk) wordt the actualisation of a kind of dreamed-up gesponsord door de school (ik denk bijvoorbeeld aan 25 euro per sessie –dat zijn twee bakken bier, de form of what I have called the ‘publicness rest betalen we wel zelf:). Toch? Kan echt een mooi of education’ for years, but that I have moment van informele ontmoeting worden. Een ‘de- been unable to realise in a self-evident brief aperitive’ als het ware.” way. Creating and maintaining a blog with students was not only easy, but it was The location’s physical aspect was certain- also a very indirect form of publicity. The ly an important factor: that gigantic playing open classes with compelling guests and field with that eternally spectacular view regular outside audiences were intense of Brussels from on high; a space without and festive. classifications or divisions where you, as a class, had to nomadically conquer your [Collectieve toledomail] space. It was always a special experience. Van: Lieven De Cauter - lieven.decauter@kuleuven.be DINSDAG 20 MAART 2018 01:00 At the same time (without direct causality, I believe), Gideon Boie and I had designed “Over tapijt: nadat de blauwe plastic hoesjes een duia radical game for self-organising educadelijke hint bevatten om het tapijt als heilige grond tion, in which the class takes over from te beschouwen, die men alleen ongeschoeid of met


3 THE NOMADIC PUBLICNESS OF EDUCATION

the spirit, and I think we succeeded, due in part to that special environment. Therefore, despite the school’s many issues with poor coordination and the problems of the washing-up and cleaning (and always the same people having to do it), also known as the human factor or what I refer to as ‘the tragicomedy of the commons’, our educational squat at WTC24 remains an unforgettable educational experience. Wonderful times. I already miss that leeway, that playground. However, Gideon and I will continue with this kind of nomadic, self-organising public education. This year (2018-2019), we have found a home in the wooden construction in the Citroën showroom of Kanal brut (thanks to CIVA) ... and the Sofa Talks will continue, if need be without a sofa and palms. We hope the school has also understood the importance of a nomadic education and will continue to swarm across Brussel­s, looking for places to experiment with temporary occupations and uses: hetThe aperitifs were the cherry on the erotopian places that lend themselves to cake of that principally horizontal, selfde-schooling, to retraining for reconfiguraorganising openness. The pizza nights with tion, to horizontal relationships between the diehards so high and dry in the tower students and teachers who share a spatial were also witty and engaging. And the laboratory with a large swarm of nomadic meals chez Lucia (a restaurant across the intelligence. For me, WTC24 has provided street from the oldest station in Belgium, proof that temporary swarms of this kind La Maisonnette Bleue, both of which have offer a huge opportunity for an exciting evaded the abandonment of the North and decidedly un-school-like education. Quarter) with the speakers and a few students became regular rituals to end Friday evenings in style. The objective was to turn every lesson into a feast for hoesjes kan betreden, wat wij zonder meer een goed idee vinden – hadden wij dat meteen opgevat om dat ‘heterotopische’ van die uitsnijding (temenos betekent in het Oud-Grieks tempel maar komt van uitsnijding, [zoals atoom van ondeelbaar komt]) maximaal te gebruiken, en dus vanaf nu blootvoets, of met slippers en zo, die heilige grond van de andere plek, de speelplaats, voor onze lessen te gebruiken, als buiten-gewone tijdruimte. Groot was dan ook onze ontgoocheling toen daar vorige vrijdag tafelbladen met stoelen op stonden, een vorm van dissuasief design (zoals banken waar daklozen niet kunnen op slapen). Vernamen we dat we het tapijt op vrijdagnamiddag niet mochten gebruiken omdat er maandag jury was. Maar de auditoriumzone werd en wordt gebruikt voor het keuzevak over cinema, dus was de enige optie een smalle zone tegenover de keuken, akoestisch heel slecht (in beide richtingen natuurlijk, anderen stoorden ons, wij stoorden anderen). Nu, geen nood, het was een fantastische les, maar toch. Wij zouden ervoor willen pleiten dat de hele vloer uitdrukkelijk altijd als bewegelijke commons fungeert, waar men met respect kan kamperen, en dat er geen ruimtes geprivatiseerd worden, en al zeker niet anticiperend. Stel je voor dat wij een ruimte op voorhand tot verboden territorium verklaren omdat wij er twee dagen later les hebben. Kan niet. Toch?”

35


i

In the evening, after other classes at the Meurop Building. we came here to discuss the next day, we ordered food, we hung out to have a drink after a lecture ... This may sound normal to some, but these were very different from what we had ever experienced in our campus building It was also valuable to literally step outside the school, to be able to organise workshops or the like and to bring those insights back to our projects and later to our own campus. Personally, I feel that taking on such an adventure once in a while is refreshing. Apparently that challenge is required for one to wake up and question things again, a pity but unfortunately true.

The change in environment was itself a reason for many people to rethink architecture, school and learning in Brussels. That’s exactly why I would regret not following up on the WTC24 adventure and learning lessons from it. It would be nice to keep looking for new places that offered the same freedom that we had here.

LEARNING FROM THE DISTANCE

Elena & Mathilde

ii

Elena and Mathilde, Masters in architecture

36


A highlight for us was the work we completed for the studio we chose: Bru.s.l.xl. We used our position at WTC24 to really take to the streets, to address people and to enter into collaborations. For example, we

The initial enthusiasm brought together people who wanted to help organise the place here. But we received very little information and were never able to get a hold of the right person for the right question. It slowly dawned on us that we had been waiting too long for the school to offer some kind of organisation. We then realised that everyone was equally ignorant, which might also provide the opportunity to imagine everything for yourself. To stop wasting time and to take matters into your own hands. A few students took the lead, and we agreed that one person in charge of each studio would join us for a weekly meeting. This quickly led to the creation of an online sharing platform — OSWTC24 — which was intended to allow us to view and use one another’s work at all times. In the end, all of this virtual sharing never fully worked out, but the idea was important. That may sound naive, but the discussions themselves were actually the driving force behind the motivation that emerged.

iii organised a café in a nearby, empty building to encourage people to share their opinions about the future of the neighbourhood. It was great added value to be present at the place your project should be about: you literally live in your subject. We would never have been able to experience this in the same way if we hadn’t been constantly confronted with the context as we were now. It is a pity that we needed this big move in order to approach ‘school work’ that way again. Actually, the studio Bru.s.l.xl. could just as well have taken place in the Meurop Building, not with the North Quarter as its context but the neighbourhood around the Liedtsplein, for example. Maybe the experience at WTC24 can serve to draw attention to precisely that: the Meurop and its surroundings as a highly interesting project. Just as we benefited from the proximity, which made us feel more involved in the theme and piqued our desire to be present on the ground — it could be of added value there too. In the long term, I don’t think it would be sustainable to look for something new to invest in every time you become too accustomed to a location. Occasionally being challenged by two locations for one campus could result in a nice dynamic in the future.

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (4)

37


i

If everything always happens by itself, you do not learn to think creatively. So, in a way, this ignorance also led to a kind of problemsolving that is important to one’s practice. A quality that, generally speaking, all students and designers could use. Also, suddenly everything became very practical: organising a school at the level of a clean-up calendar. Back to basics, one could say, and stripped down to the bare essentials on all fronts.

To be honest, I did not spend that much time at WTC24, at least not more than at the Meurop Building, because I do not live in Brussels. It was fascinating, however, to see that the setting had changed every time I came in: minor or more significant adjustments here and there as remnants of a particular use. Because so little information filtered through, I had the feeling that people had to aggressively secure their places. Students turned a communal space into a ‘private’ one by hanging curtains, leaving material on desks ... I guess this was indeed necessary, but fascinating all the same.

AN ATMOSPHERE OF INDEPENDENCE

Nicolas

ii

Nicolas, master’s student in Interior Architecture

38


WTC24 had an atmosphere of independence. By hiding or perpetuating the roughness of the building, students could show who they were. This was very different from the Meurop Building where, despite the alleged openness, the glass boxes and table set-up still suggest a very specific usage.

iii

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (5)

39


i

Here and there, I did hear about students trying to organise the floor. But it wasn’t visible enough; it certainly didn’t come to us. But I don’t think you can blame the students for that. The teachers and the school also have a certain responsibility here. It seems to me that their role was to keep everyone informed and thus interconnected.

In French, I’d say ‘C’était riche.’ Rich mainly in terms of the space, which was undetermined. At the Meurop, the rooms and spaces have designated uses. WTC24 was just one big open floor without a function or with all manner of functions. In the same room, you could work, hold meetings, follow courses, organise lectures, eat, sleep, etcetera. It was also rich, however, due to the numerous encounters. Here, I was forced to come into contact with a great many people, which had significant added value. You see each other working and being productive, which stimulates mutual interest and motivating conversations. I’m glad that there was a little less individuality.

ENRICHING CONFRONTATIONS

Sohaib

ii

Sohaib, master’s student in Interior Architecture

40


For me, the big highlight was Spring Week. It seemed as if the atmosphere of the entire Meurop Building had been transferred to a single floor of the WTC. It was a busy and interesting week with a lot of people, but it worked because the organisation was clearly functioning better than at other times. Even more than usual, there was an atmosphere of togetherness I was in a group with Wim Cuyvers, who subtly confronted us with the proximity of the refugees in the Maximilian Park and the fact that we were literally standing with our feet in the misery of others.

iii

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (6)

41


Harold Fallon

Comfort BIO

42

Harold Fallon is an architect, co-founder of AgwA and architectural design teacher

confort 1 Secours, assistance; 2 Tout ce qui constitue le bien-être matériel et les aisances de la vie. Les Anglais ont un grand amour pour le confort. Ce sens a été donné en Angleterre au mot françai­s confort, et c’est de là qu’ainsi transformé, il nous est venu. Étymologie Com, et fort: ce qui rend fort. Emile Littré, Dictionnaire de la langue Française

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hold, and that means comfort. J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit” What will future architects remember about us? What will the architecture of the first half of the 21st century be remembered for? I mean, globally, with a strong dose of generalisation? How will we be labelled in the future? At the moment, what I see is a two-headed movement. On the one hand, the 20th century has seen architects questioning the prominence of tradition, then fragmenting practices into discernible avant-gardes and, with time, scattering them into individual singularities praised by cultural institutions in search of originality, youth and novelty. Architecture has become a romantic artwork, a cultural product. Engagement and societal awareness are somehow absorbed in this movement, as they became indiscernible from a stylistic attitude.


4 COMFORT, ENERGY, HERE 1 Technischer Überwachungsverein, (English: Technical Inspection Association) German providers of inspection    and product certification services.

On the other hand, since the 19th century or maybe even longer, the arrival of engineering skills as well as artistic architectural practices, the introduction of new materials, and later the emergence of a culture of civil responsibilities, has led to an almost hyperbolic growth of regulations and norms. Amongst these, energy consumption is but one. Security, accessibility, light levels, fire protection, acoustics, energy, technical surveys: they are all different aspects of this underlying stream. If this is right, then we may be labelled as producers of comfortable cultural products. Riskless anyhow, comfy temperatures, soft coolness, intellectual dilettantism and, from time to time, a smattering of eco-social awareness. TÜV1-approved, Instagram-formatted. We can talk about the WTC24 experience in this light. The Realpolitik of real-estate promoters positioning themselves to make profit. The coolness of the place to be amongst artist studios, exhibitions and lectures. The ease of the nearby train station, the underground parking, the reception desk, the lifts and the ventilation that more or less works. We could talk about money, about short-term culture hypes and about conformity. With some naivety, I would rather like to look at the other side of this experience. Teaching, working and researching at the WTC has been a lesson. Not because of the hype, the style, the centrality, the view, not even because of the other floors crowded with culture buffs. But, here at the WTC, because there were no partition walls, no false ceilings, no double glazing, not even a floor covering — well, unless you except some traces of likely asbestos-based glue. Simply some chairs and wooden panels in an empty space — oh yes, and a fridge. Not here because of beautifully crafted architecture or thoughtful proportions, not even because of interesting construction techniques or some historic relevance. Rather here, maybe precisely because of the rough, plain, straightforward and available space. Teaching, working, studying and sharing in a space that was never meant for this, nor was adapted for it, has been a lesson. No comfort, no architecture, but nevertheless an engaged and creative school. No, this is wrongly formulated. No comfort, no architecture and therefore an engaged and creative school.

43


44

Now, back to the Meurop Building where Campus Sint-Lucas Brussels is located. Some years ago, there was a movement to refurbish the building due to the deficient ventilation and lack of comfort, because of the impractical glass partitions, because we, as a school of architecture, should be exemplary and provide quality amenities (and energy savings). Luckily, possibly due to the lack of money, there was no project and no implementation of this ambition. The authenticity, the engagement and the creativity of the campus in Brussels is a direct consequence of the lack of comfort in the building. The friction between the studios, the limited space to share, the sheer absence of walls for exhibitions are all triggers for a dynamic school. The unequipped cafeteria, the not-so adapted vitrine, the unfriendly staircase. It is a rough structure, in which our school is housed if we dare and if we are creative enough. So maybe, in order to be an exemplary school, we should do absolutely nothing with Meurop. Let us not invest in the building, in the facilities, in the ventilation and in the comfort. Let us wear woolen jumpers when necessary. Let us open the windows and profit from being in the city with its drawbacks, but also with its dynamics. Let us invest all the available means in the studios, in publications and lectures and exhibitions. Let us be exemplary: engaging critically with our activities and physically with the resistance of the environment. Participating in the making of architecture and joining in the reality of architecture. Not falling asleep in optimal comfort, provided with cutting-edge equipment and surrounded by flows of exquisite images. Let us go back to the etymological roots of com-fort: what makes you strong. Let us consider Meurop as a com-fort-able house, as an enhancing structure. Well, maybe that is the exact opposite of the hobbit’s understanding of comfort. What will future architects remember about us? What will the architecture of the first half of the 21st century be remembered for? For its comfortable dilettantism? Or for a renewed engagement with reality?


4 COMFORT, ENERGY, HERE 2 https://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/hansen_15/ 3 https://e360.yale.edu/features/how-the-world-passed-a-carbon-threshold-400ppm-and-why-it-matters

Energy énergie 1. Puissance active de l’organisme. 2. Force d’âme. Montrer, déployer de l’énergie. Parler, agir avec énergie. 3. Terme de théologie. Une puissance de la Divinité. 4. Terme de physique mathématique. Étymologie Ἐνέργεια, de ἐν, en, et ἔργω, faire, agir Emile Littré, Dictionnaire de la langue Française Yeah, I don’t believe it. Donald Trump on a government climate report, november 2018 According to NASA simulations2, global temperatures are following a rough 100,000-year pattern of heating followed by glaciations. The 21st century is witnessing such a heat peak. NASA also suggests that the hottest periods within the last million years culminated at about 1°C above our current temperature. There is a strong consensus that, due to human activity, temperatures will rise approximately 3°C to 5°C in the coming century or even higher3, causing tremendous changes to the earth, potentially threatening the possibility of life as we know it, and most certainly causing important societal issues, unless we deeply modify today’s production and consumption patterns. To ensure that global warming stays under 1.5°C, the global emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide must be rapidly and strongly reduced. Taking into account the likely population growth in the coming decades, it can be calculated that annual CO2 emissions related to human activities should be limited to about 1.50 tonnes per capita. In

45


46

Belgium, in 2018, these emissions totalled roughly 9 tonnes. You do not need a PhD to understand the profound changes this implies. And we are not even talking about plastics, chemicals, deforestation or fresh-water pollution. An immediate and drastic reduction of our environmental impact is crucial. Its nature challenges transportation, housing, alimentation (agriculture) and consumption (industry). Its scale means that technological progress, albeit necessary, will not suffice. The prevailing standards of comfort and luxury must be fundamentally questioned. We can talk about the experiences at the WTC in this light. Not only about the experience itself, but also the fact that the building is going to be refurbished, insulated, re-equipped and optimised. This will rapidly lead us back to Meurop. It is quite easy to estimate the energy cost of insulation works in regard to the savings for a typical house — the results would differ for offices, but this provides us with a useful indication. Nowadays, in Belgium, the average house heating consumption is about 160kWh/ m2/year (quite a lot, indeed). Consider a typical house of about 100 square metres, taking into account an exterior skin of about 300 square metres and 20% of glazing. Many informative websites can aid with the estimation of the grey energy of renovation works4. In the text below, we will consider a low-energy scenario and a passivehouse standard. The following figures compare hemp, mineral wool and polyurethane insulation. The impact of potentially necessary ventilation systems and the resolution of thermal bridges has not been taken into account.

Accumulated energy consumption in KWh with regard to insulating works years no renovation 160kWh/m2year low energy renovation (hemp) 30kWh/m2year passive renovation (hemp) 15kWh/m2year low energy renovation (mineral wool) 30kWh/m2year passive renovation (mineral wool) 15kWh/m2year low energy renovation (polyurethane) 30kWh/m2year passive renovation (poluurethane) 15kWh/m2year no renovation - reducing consumpting 50% 80kWh/m2year

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

0 11.900 13.700 18.500 25.250 54.500 69.500 0

8.000 13.400 14.450 20.000 26.000 56.000 70.250 4.000

16.000 14.900 15.200 21.500 26.750 57.500 71.000 8.000

24.000 16.400 15.950 23.000 27.500 59.000 71.750 12.000

32.000 17.900 16.700 24.500 28.250 60.500 72.500 16.000

40.000 19.400 17.450 26.000 29.000 62.000 73.250 20.000

48.000 20.900 18.200 27.500 29.750 63.500 74.000 24.000


4 COMFORT, ENERGY, HERE 4 https://www.ecoconso.be/fr/L-energie-grise-des-materiaux-de

If the comfort remains unchanged, hemp insulation starts being slightly beneficial only after ten years with regard CO2 emissions. It will take mineral wool over fifteen years to catch the train. After thirty years, polyurethane still does not appear to be interesting. If you simply turn off your radiators in several rooms and manage to reduce your consumption by about 50%, it takes about twenty-five years for the most efficient insulation to stop being a poor climatic option. According to NIBE recommendations, mineral wool is better than lime. What they do not calculate is whether insulation is a good idea after all. While reading this, you were probably wondering what lifespan can expected from these insulating mattresses, air-tight membranes, adhesives and double glazing. We could explore that. But at AgwA Architects, I notice that most transformations and refurbishments take place every thirty years, sometimes more frequently, but often less. Meurop, for instance, was built in 1954, extended in 1972 and refurbished in 1997. This means substantial works happened every twenty-five years. In 2019, twenty-two years after the last works, the idea that ‘we should do something’ is almost palpable, like a thick fog. Insulating a building implies a peak in pollution at the time of the construction, which is only very slowly reabsorbed over time. Would it be sufficient to consider strictly limiting which spaces are heated? At the WTC, it was not possible to control the heating. At Meurop, as I write this, it is impossible to turn off most of the radiators. Often, while studios are in use, the neighbouring spaces are vacant or only vaguely occupied. And all the radiators are wasting their kilowatts due to the single glazing. As a faculty of architecture, in order to be exemplary, should we not both refuse to insulate the building and impose a reduction of the heated zones and times? This would change our perception of the building and its use entirely. Small working spaces that can be greatly expanded in the better days. Adapted opening hours to balance the density of the building’s occupancy rate. Why not evening courses? Night shifts? Excess space could serve as the storage room for scale models and works, plus the

47


students have also been calling for this. Or exhibition spaces. Meurop would be inhabited by a renewed energy. The energy of a permanent construction site. The energy that comes from engagement. The energy of a project. It is a matter of energy indeed. 48

Here ici 1. en ce lieu; 2. il se dit du lieu même où est la personne qui parle, mais en y comprenant une certaine étendue qui varie. C’est l’usage dans votre pays, à Londres, à Rome, mais ici on fait autrement. Emile Littré, Dictionnaire de la langue Française Belgium remains a specialised and apparently perverse taste in a way that no other Western European country does. (…) It’s a country without a label, without an identifying cliché. Jonathan Meades, in Architectural Review, september 2018 on Belgium A few months ago, at AgwA, we were working on a competition with Muck Petzet, who curated ‘Reduce / Reuse / Recycle’ for the Germa­n pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2012. At some point during a design workshop, we were referring to a recently delivered project in Brussels by a Belgian architect. He wondered how it was possible that we had not yet visited it. ‘You architects in Belgium, you’re the hot shit; everybody is looking at you, and you do not even visit the projects next door!’, he said roughly. Well, that may be true. And it may be an issue. In October 2018, our first-year students were invited to travel to New York for their first study trip. New York! Have we gone mad?


4 COMFORT, ENERGY, HERE

On this topic, pages could be written about consumerism, democracy, equal opportunities and privileges, about the civic irresponsibility of emitting over two tonnes of carbon dioxide per person for a one-week architecture fiesta. Maybe New York really is the place every cultivated intellectual should travel to in 2018. A late equivalent of the young Englishmen’s Grand Tour in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization in the 17th century? Well, fortunately for us, 2018 seems to be a time in which Belgian architecture is internationally noted and appreciated, for its perverse contemporary taste, for its ambiguous, engaged, multiple, intelligent history of architects and critics, and for its material complexity, its layeredness and its quality of being a permanent laboratory. And yet, our first-year students were still invited to travel to New York. For an architecture student in Ghent or Brussels, it would suffice to take a short-distance train or to rent a bicycle to explore the incredibly dense context and history of Belgium. A one-week trip to West-Flanders, Brussels, Antwerp or Namur. Or why not to Charlero­i? Here, we could discover Yernaux and his hyperactive intelligence, the refined moderation of Laurent, the ample pragmatism of Depelsenair­e, the cultured modernism of André, the sharp objectivity of Bourgeois, the formal hedonism of Leborgne, and even some work by Van de Velde, who facilitated the foundation of the Bauhaus and founded La Cambre in 1926. We could talk about architecture, urbanity, industry, economy and collectivity, growth and decline. That would be a wonderful experience. We can talk about the experience at the WTC in this light. The World Trade Center. Even its name is interesting. From a globalising ambition, it has become a local topic, rooted in the reality of the city. We may be disappointed because the building will be refurbished into offices, housing and shopping facilities. And maybe because, in the end, the feeling that all that positive energy of the engaged people creating a vibrant space of intellectual freedom only served as a feelgood justification for money-driven real-estate promoters. But as a school, as a faculty of architecture, we may have learned something positive too. At least, I did. Last year, in my studio, we worked on themes proposed by the team of the Brussels Master Architect, on unnoticed vacant office

49


50

buildings, on the industrial heritage along the canal, on ancient military barracks and the residential belt of the ‘50s. Other studios also looked to strike up collaborations. Some exhibited at the CIVA in the nearby Citroën workshops. I guess the list is long. I feel that this movement was accelerated by the dynamics of this new space, on the 24th floor of this welcomingly rough tower. Local collaborations, local topics, local contexts — a world to discover. This year, following this movement, our studio in the master’s theses is working on ‘oversized’ buildings in the city of Charleroi, with the support of Georgios Maillis, the city’s Master Architect, and in collaboration with ULiège, UCL and ULB. A transversal workshop was held at the BPS22, Charleroi’s contemporary arts museum, with an intervention by Pierre-Olivier Rollin, its director, and Inge Vinck, amongst others. Sint-Lucas – the Faculty of Architecture of KU Leuven – is not ETH Zürich. It is not the VIP lounge of the European architectural upper crust. It should not. Not only because, in 2018, it is not environmentally responsible to have all these people flying weekly across the continent. Also not only because, if we do so, this would disfavour other places. Certainly not because the faculty does not have the first euro cent of their Swiss francs. But maybe because there is so much to learn from what is local, from some sense of proximity and from a certain ambiguous rootedness. And also because if Belgium is hot shit today, we need to acknowledge that. The very quality of the architectural scene in Belgium today is a consequence of its ambiguous rootedness. This is also where a pedagogy and a research can be grounded. We should take advantage of the young talented architects, artists and designers who crowd our cities, both in our studios and our research. We do it already. We should amplify it. Multiply collaborations and invitations, exhibitions and publications. This is a primarily outbound movement. When talking about practices in residence, let us not forget that. Now of course, this also is not a question of being from Belgium, Flanders, Wallonia or Brussels, or of protecting a supposed identity. It is not a matter of shields and friends. It is a matter of ‘here’ just as Littré states: it is about the place where we are, but comprising a certain, varying expanse. This expanse is spatial, temporal and cultural. It is a matter of ‘here’, with all of its complexity and its richness.


Tom Schoonjans

WTC as a prosthesis: the phantom pains of Sint-Lucas BIO

Tom Schoonjans is a master’s student in architecture

Let us remember WTC24 for the achievement it may yet realise: being instrumental in discussing not just what any school could be, but what KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture Campus Sint-Lucas Brussels should be. At least I will try to use WTC24 for this purpose, specifically from a graduating student’s perspective. The Casco floor of WTC24 turned out to be a metaphor for architecture and an architecture school whose lack of a substantive agenda became painfully clear when it was confronted with seemingly immeasurable freedom that it did not know how to handle. Endless possibilities, yet no guarantees. WTC24 served as an example for how we allowed architecture (education) to be perceived as a matter of pragmatic management for far too long, rather than discussing content and imagining alternative futures. But why did we move to WTC24 in the first place? It might not be the most interesting question, but it can provide a basic framework for discussion. Looking back, two obvious attractors can be discerned. First, there is a basic need for infrastructure, square metres in particular, which WTC24 was able to satisfy partially and temporarily. Second, the WTC Building itself and, by extension, the entire quarter it’s in, is the historic crime scene of the governmentfunded urbicide known as the ‘Manhattan Plan’ and its contemporary redevelopment. The architects of which were a mere couple of floors down from our new workspace. To check the performance of WTC24 as a workplace, a balance

51


52

could be drawn of the quality of the building, the physical shortcomings, but also the value of self-organisation or the view through the window. It is a complex and unstable assessment that is bound to be incomplete. I will attempt nothing of that sort, but only point out what it consists of. First, some very boring but nonetheless important parameters in the strict sense of the word—calculable and traceable. Climate control, acoustics, technical services, but also to some degree organising the floor, from studio divisions to waste management: all were instrumental in organising a healthy workspace. Early on, it became apparent that none of these would mean an improvement of the situation in the Meurop Building. It was no surprise that the cheap, stripped down ‘70s construction of the WTC just would not suffice. That is good news, because it means we can stop talking air quality and acoustics, as these were obviously not decisive for our move to WTC24. On first sight, this seems to be different in the case of surface area. The sheer amount of square metres would do the work, and did not require proper acoustics or air quality to be useful. But sooner than expected, even this seemingly endless space achieved maximum occupancy, and thus was exposed to conflict. This means that eventually, we would have to rely on a skilful organisation of space, rather than its unrestricted availability, to provide a minimum amount of workspace to every single student — yet again a situation not so different from that at Meurop. Most of us will agree that nagging about air quality and waste management is beside the point of having a studio at the WTC. In many ways, Meurop was obviously not able to compete. Naturally, it was all about having an unparalleled view on the city and quarter, the reason for which the architecture was produced in the first place. Truthfully, the only thing we really needed was to lose the borders between studios, meeting people we would otherwise not meet, bringing friends to a space we otherwise would not have. And, of course, it was about collectively organising and intervening in the space, which for the first time felt like it was ours. For those reasons alone, everyone involved will remember the WTC as an exciting event. The question is whether we should allow these reasons to be the only ones? If that is the case, we can be brief about the ‘legacy’ of WTC24: most of the students involved will have left the school by next summer, and since organising WTC24 was (sadly) exclusively a student matter, so will our ‘knowledge’ about temporary occupation and making a


5 WTC AS A PROSTHESIS: THE PHANTOM PAINS OF SINT-LUCAS 1 At the same time, the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) took place on the first two floors   of WTC1 and 2, and dozens of other creative actors temporarily populated the WTC1 Tower.

school. We cannot afford not to learn today. But, more importantly, if we appear to agree that what made WTC24 worthwhile was its potential for the event1, qualities we cannot express in spreadsheets, and being able to self-organise, why is the Meurop Building being treated in the exact opposite manner? There seems to have been an uncomfortable but crucial backfire. If a maker creates in his or her own image, chances are that WTC24 was never meant to be more than a highbrow, complementary infrastructure. It has, however, given us a glimpse of what it means to be a real school, and turned around to a maker that so far has refused to be one. This is, of course, because the glimpse WTC24 has given us seemed so sitespecific that a projection of these qualities on Meurop was deemed impossible. However, quite the opposite occurred. The generic floor, essentially a plan without any features, forced us to reconstruct what we desire in any workspace. The additional surface area made us realise there will never be enough square metre to compensate for the lack of content or teaching. And a floor without borders did not convince us of their redundancy or their necessity, but rather their need to be designed. WTC24 proved to be a favour to us — not in providing us with what we thought we needed the most, namely square metres, but by demonstrating that not even a dozen of those floors would make up for a school. Of course, WTC24 is excused for this; it being an exception, a short-lived event, a mere satellite. The Meurop Building, however, very much is not. WTC24 stripped Meurop of its excuses by demonstrating that its lack of a school can no longer be (solely) blamed on its lack of infrastructure. But if the lack of a school at WTC24 may be blamed on its temporality and generic construction, what is to blame for the fate of Meurop? Where initially WTC24 and the excitement of the temporary occupation distracted us from the institution, its shortcomings have forced us to look back. Essentially, the generic floor and its emptiness made it impossible not to address the elephant in the room, otherwise disguised by institutional noise: the economisation and academisation of an art and architecture school. Why this is not a topic of debate in our discussions about Sint-Lucas, I’m not sure. It might have long been accepted, ignored or maybe even was deemed

53


54

to be over our heads. In brief, all I can say is: there is simply no more talk of architecture at Sint-Lucas. Students have essentially been reduced to raw materials that demand a minimum amount of resources for their education. Insufficient square metres is but one of many consequences. Take, for example, the impossibility of convincing students to spend their days and nights working on studio projects, when these must be presented and judged in under ten minutes. It is also an illusion to maintain at the same time a logic of the highest possible enrolment of students and keep up an interest in the mixed media, history and theory departments of our school — as they are not considered to be part of the broadest possible understanding of architecture with which we have to lure students in. No amount of square metres will remedy this. But back to the WTC and its second attractor: the never before seen proximity of action. As much as there is no better way to understand bad architecture than to inhabit it, architects are not method actors. Much of their expertise still relies on understanding and constructing a space virtually. However, inhabiting something on the scale of the North Quarter radically altered my architectural, urban and political subjectivity. There is nothing like the terror that is imposed by a scale that is so far from human that it makes it impossible to capture the space with our customary architectural tools. There is no safe space from which we can observe in delight or even maintain a critical distance. We’re engulfed, forced to surrender, because we also lack the architectural imagination to produce an alternative future on this scale. What’s more, if someone does claim to have the tools to do so, we are right to distrust the person. The floor we occupied within this creature can best be described as one big exercise in commoning — the act of producing and maintaining a shared space. Apart from the occasional interventions by the security firm and the unavoidable territorial claims of some, this was to be done by the users of this space and the users only, namely the students. Commoning has never been a very clean act, but it was a liberating lesson in appropriating and handling a space that allowed itself to just ‘be’. All the while, of course, occupying this icon of a ruin, only having a bit of time to indulge in the melancholy from the built memory of abandoned, revolutionary ideologies. For, at the same time, we found ourselves neighbouring the architects and developers that were redrawing it.2 Our presence as an architectural


5 WTC AS A PROSTHESIS: THE PHANTOM PAINS OF SINT-LUCAS 2 Architecture Workroom Brussels (AWB) and 51N4E resided on the 16th floor of WTC1. Together with  Up4North, a partnership of real-estate developers, they form LabNorth, a vehicle for creating an alternative  future for the North Quarter. Simultaneously, 51N4E and Jaspers & Eyers designed the conversion for WTC1

institution and its supposed attraction to knowledge was promising, but how do we measure its performance now? Every time the notion of impact is discussed, I’m reminded of a famous quote by Milan Kundera in his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, on the concept of kitsch: ‘Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!”. The quest to make an impact more often than not risks turning into that ‘second tear’. It tends to overestimate what a school can achieve for a neighbourhood while underestimating how its altruism is more about self-confirmation than we would like to admit. That way the dirty political process of decision-making is often cut short and oversimplified, resulting in overly mediatised happenings that become a mere token for political action. All the while losing our ability to critique our own education. Instead of measuring impact, I propose that we scrutinise that which mediates political action; our events, our commitment, our positions and our audience. First of all, it must be mentioned that our neighbours did not have any special expectations regarding our status as an architecture school. This was attested to by their very select presence: the CEO of Befimmo, the owner of the WTC, lectured for a new real-estate educational programme in the same building but did not bother ascending all the way to the 24th floor, and Freek Persyn, a partner at 51N4E, only addressed the students once to my knowledge — during the closing event for WTC24. We did get a taste of what exploiting our proximity could mean, which made for a productive conflict when government architect Kristiaan Borret was invited to answer some burning questions. He was responsible for a large part (albeit, arguably, not large enough) of the political constructions of the WTC redevelopment. We were able to ask questions we could not ask anyone else, and he was able to speak out like he could not anywhere else —the best possible education on urban politics. Several conversations like this were organised by Lieven De Cauter and Gideon Boie and their

55


56

Open Classes (or ‘learning games’, as they prefer to call it). For these talks, the event-like character of WTC24 was a blessing; it provided urgency and exposure, which provided leverage to their platform. A leverage that was much harder to exploit in the Meurop Building. They demonstrated that an institution (with which Lieven refuses to identify) can provide a dissident platform within the established political narrative. The same went for talks with Albert Martens, a key figure in the resistance against the Manhattan Plan, and Marc Dubois, an architecture historian. Their origin stories on the North Quarter robbed me of the illusion that the Manhattan Plan had ever had anything resembling revolutionary ideology. While WTC24 contributed significantly to the exposure that the activism of the Open Classes heavily relies on, this is not a universal recipe. Not every design studio with a more overtly political agenda can, or should, rely on similar exposure to weigh in on the local decision-making process. Overall, however, our architectural production for a large part reflected an indifference similar to that of our neighbours’. Of course, dozens of studios speculated on the future of the North Quarter, but most of them produced parallel scenarios, rather than actual alternatives that were critical of those being presented by the developers. Vicinity was mostly used as an excuse, rather than a tool. This was exemplified by our failing to somehow bundle our findings and present them as collectively produced expertise on an ongoing development. Not even the working models of the North Quarter were shared, instead we produced a hundred individual ones. In this regard, it is worth mentioning OSWTC24, the first open source digital platform of Sint Lucas. By collecting and sharing the work of every class taking place on the 24th floor, it was the indispensable digital equivalent of the physical space we shared. But instead of scrutinising our actions on the 24th floor, I would again consider WTC24 as merely a symptom of its maker. Meurop too is said to be functioning along the lines of the sandbox principle, where only the basic infrastructure is defined, as such, it allows room for all manner of ideas. Since Meurop has a longer history in its aspiration to ‘facilitate’, it offers a clearer view on the limits of such an ideology. The curriculum, the educational infrastructure if you will, first erects a red flag. Facilitating here has come to mean survival of the fittest. I would like to refer once more to the marginalisation of his-


5 WTC AS A PROSTHESIS: THE PHANTOM PAINS OF SINT-LUCAS 3 PilotBXL consisted of Rosa Fens, Jochen Schamelhout, Anton Parys, Helen Van de Vloet and Kaat Volckaert  (students), initiated by Peter Swinnen and Patrick Moyersoen, supported and assisted by various other  teachers and students.

tory, theory and mixed media, which at some point lost the battle for the student’s attention span and working hours. Obviously, this fits within a broader trend of universities focusing on more practical skills and preparing students for the labour market, but the curriculum nonetheless facilitated it very well. A similar laisser-faire attitude made for a very awkward and artificial division between a national and international master’s programme, an institutional and cultural border that eerily resembles the condition of our fragmented Belgium. A possible future for the Meurop infrastructures had already been presented by 2017. Peter Swinnen, Nel Janssens and Patrick Moyersoe­n were given a mandate to propose some radical scenarios for both architecture and the curriculum. More than anything, highlighted the urgency to again discuss education. The move to WTC24 was an excellent opportunity to introduce the students to this conversation, as our experience of the generic floor might introduce new ideas to the debate about Meurop. Under the guise of ‘PilotBXL’3 and without study credits changing hands, models, drawings, texts and lectures were produced in order to, again, facilitate a discussion on the Meurop Building and the education taking place there. Whatever one’s differences with the ideas, communication or participants of PilotBXL, it mobilised students in a way that even the eventful 24th floor has not been able to. However, their welcome was not very warm, to say the least. Personal grievances and ideological differences with their ideas did not make so much for opposition as it led to a blunt shutdown of the conversation. Somehow, we allowed students with strong ambitions for our school to be classified as totalitarian and antidemocratic, aggressively dissolving the only extracurricular commitment WTC24 has produced. Were they deemed dangerous, maybe because of the absence of a course framework? After all, it was impossible to classify the very real ideas in the academic archive. Or was this put-down necessary to let a multiplicity of individual academicized projects flourish or facilitate, if you will? PilotBXL demonstrated the very real limits of the Meurop sandbox, wherein everyone is entitled to their own space of ideas, as long as they’re not intruding on those of others. In the end, no one wins;

57


58

there is no room to let the wildest fantasies flourish in the sandbox meant to be the receptacle for that very purpose. The aura of radicalism and freedom that surrounded the epic space of WTC24 was electrifying. At the same time, I cannot help but feel that, generally speaking, most of us felt paralysed somehow. As if we were not living up to the expectations a space like this carries. When I look back at Meurop, I’m painfully reminded as to why that is. WTC24 as a project, despite its radicalism, was confined to the same level playing field. Every idea, every position, every project had to be developed in spite of, rather than thanks to, an ideology of facilitation. Rather than coming to terms with an ideology that appears to be oppressive, we should instead acknowledge that this has not been an ideology at all, and it somehow keeps others from truly developing their own. We will have to learn to live in a reality where school has been reduced to pragmatic, infrastructural management that is unable to even sustain itself, let alone architecture and architectural studies. If it has been that easy to separate the management from the content, and we know not to expect advances by the former, then maybe it is time for architects to talk about management. This is not to be understood as returning to the boardroom to discuss air quality and energy efficiency, but instead taking the stage and acknowledging that there will never be enough expertise in this world to produce enough energy efficiency, enough air quality, enough space, enough school. This is above all an act of emancipation, as it allows us to join forces in search of a future education, and it lifts us out of the deadlock the internal debate so far has devolved into. It sheds the illusion that a school can allow anyone to take a position if it refuses to do so itself. And finally, it addresses the key question Jan De Vylder taught us to ask when invited to shed a light on Sint-Lucas in one of the PilotBXL lectures: a school may demand more of its students then the students may demand of their school; but at what point is the school not giving back enough? Characteristically, he refused to do his talk at the WTC, instead forcing us to turn our gazes back to the Meurop Building and our thoughts back to its doors, windows and columns — sending architects back to school.


Lydia Karagiannaki

A plea for crumbling giants BIO

Sometimes, when I’m in a building that is falling apart, I remember the words of a friend, ‘It’s not that I like it, but I do feel that we’re companions.’ Because we’re both in this situation, which neither of us has chosen. When you arrive in a city as a foreigner, you often ignore most of the past and current developments that shape its image. The missing link is not merely the language, but also the cultural- and political-historical framework. It’s always a bit of a dirty story of corruption and lobbying. Where does one even begin to understand? Of course, we learnt in architecture school about the history of the North Quarter in Brussels, but that history didn’t touch us, the so-called ‘international students’. As if this category imposed on us essentially denied our interest in local affairs. We were told that residential houses were demolished in the ‘60s to make way for high-rise office buildings, and that there had been some land speculation and civilian resistance. But beyond those hard facts, we didn’t share a certain referential background, we didn’t know the local lobbies and we missed the urban-political gossip. To us, the WTC tower­s seemed like clumsy giants: abandoned, mythical and harmless. I graduated from KU Leuven Campus Sint Lucas Brussels in 2016, so I missed the temporary occupation of the 24th floor of the WTC1 Tower. I was already familiar

Lydia Karagiannaki is an

architectural researcher with the building from friends who were renting artist’s studio spaces on the floor above WTC24. I used to visit them sometimes. We had lunch and talks, and we occasionally screened films at night, where we were probably alone in the ghost tower. My references to the building, therefore, were rather personal and intimate. When I heard that my former school was going to relocate to an empty floor as a temporary experiment, I was enthusiastic. What a great playground for testing forms of self-organisation, to expand and occupy, to shift one’s viewpoint, to get inspired, visible, ever-changing. A horizontal utopia within the grid of a basic technical infrastructure, without orientation or hierarchy, a realised model of a phantasy designed by Archizoom or Superstudio. In the crumbling tower, everything was possible. That year, WTC1 was the place to be. There was KU Leuven in the 24th floor, the artist studios in the 25th floor, the AWB and 51N4E in the 16th floor, the IABR, the exhibitions, lectures, events, workshops, screenings, the open calls for temporary projects, occupations and young talents. Familiar faces were crossing each other in the lifts. The old-fashioned tower was fashionable again. Aperos were served on the terrace, the DJ was playing the songs of the summer and a yellow pin was distributed: ‘You Are Here’. Crossing dubious shadows hanging out around the North

59


60

Station, we took the lift and were swallowed by the building. Up ‘here’, we were watching Brussels from above, but we were not watched in return. We were looking at ourselves look at the city. The only thing is that, while watching from above, sometimes you would miss what was happening on the ground. One night, having been robbed by one of the shadows on my way to the tower from the North Station, I arrived at the WTC only to realise that I had no way to enter the building nor to notify anyone up ‘there’. I was excluded and invisible while standing by the feet of the giant. Like many others both before and after me. But high above the ground, the Archizoom utopia continued its short life without any shadows cast on it. In early 2018, towards the end of the first semester at WTC24, I joined an event organised by KU Leuven called ‘Super Synthesis Presentation Tour’. The accomplished student projects of that semester’s design studios were displayed in the open grid of the entire floor, cluster by cluster, forming a circle around the core of the building. After the tour around the circle, the instructors of each studio present the projects to the audience, which consisted almost exclusively of the rest of the teaching staff. Although the event was publicly announced, only a few students had joined, reminding me of the painful lack of enthusiasm one often encounters in the institution. By contrast, and as a presentation format, the tour itself was particularly interesting. While studio presentations often cause students immense stress concerning performance and confidence, this time it was the tutors who

were exposed to that stress. In their presentations, while some tutors were overly confident about their studio approach and output, others were obviously uncomfortable on stage. And, while some instructors showed genuine interest in their chosen topic and a certain companionship with their students, others were rather interested in the approval of their colleagues. After the tour, the group was invited to take part in a discussion and round of reflection about the school’s temporary occupation of WTC24. Prepared by the instructors of the interior architecture studio, a large green carpet with green pillows and green balloons served as the backdrop. However, in contrast to the lighthearted and self-mocking installation, the discussion among the teaching staff felt like heavy labour: Opinions were crashing into one another about the superiority of the WTC Tower or the legacy of the Meurop Building, the value of looking at the city from above or being involved with it on the ground, the duty to contribute to the developments in Brussels or the option to move to the campus in Leuven. Some teachers were still scandalised by when the glass façade of the Meurop Building had been broken and vandalised the previous year, as ‘security’ seemed to be a sensitive word after the recent terrorist attacks. For me, the only scandal of the Meurop has been that its few toilets are located far away from the studios. But architects don’t seem to talk about toilets these days, so I kept my opinion to myself while thinking about the irony of the situation. Our teachers having to sit uncomfortably on a football-


6 A PLEA FOR CRUMBLING GIANTS

field-like green floor, among flying balloons, trying to find the most convincing body posture to defend their arguments, defend the values of pedagogy, defend the role of the architect. If architecture school was a kind of family to me, I felt like I had entered an uncomfortable family dinner, the film set of Festen by Thomas Vinterberg. On the green carpet, the only thing that the guests had in common was that they were all part of a situation that none of them had chosen. Eventually, as one grows up, one gets to choose their own family. One year, after the Super Synthesis Presentation Tour, I joined a different event called the ‘Parliament of Schools’ at the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. The topic was ‘radical pedagogy in the fields of architecture, design and art’, and the invited guests came from sixteen institutions from all over the world that offered alternative educational formats. The meeting was informal. As the sun was exceptionally bright that day, the group sat or laid down on the green field (a green carpet which was, this time, alive) in front of the prestigious institution. Discussing topics such as privilege, ethnicity, gender and even personal security, the tone was encouraging and intimate. At some point, a teacher from the ESDI (Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial in Rio de Janeiro) had her turn to speak. Explaining the challenges that her institution was facing after the recent elections in Brazil, she spoke in a broken voice. She spoke about the crisis and complete restructuring of the school in the face of direct danger, the frequent com-

mittees and endless negotiations organised among students, faculty members and directors and her colleague who asked to move into the school with his family when he lost his house. In moments of crisis, she said, a university becomes fragile, and then its people become fragile. Then people start caring. How can one cultivate an ethics of fragility not as something which has to be avoided, ridiculed or suppressed, but as something to be valued, as a driver for solidarity and transformation? Recently, some people wanted to remove a tree from the garden of their school, the first tree around which the building had been erected, as its roots were growing and would destroy the building’s foundation. She said that she declared solidarity with the tree, and that she would prefer to remove the school than remove the tree. Meanwhile, in Schaerbeek, the broken glass panel of the Meurop Building has been replaced, its fragility disguised and its history forgotten. And while there are no trees threatening the WTC Tower, the giant is still crumbling. Who is left ‘here’ to even care for it now? The school, the artists, the architecture firms, the exhibitions and workshops, they have all departed. Piece by piece, the building is being disassembled. You can now buy some of these pieces on the website of a famous Belgian architecture studio. I might do so, for the sentimental aspect. After all, for a while, we were companions in a situation that neither of us had chosen.

61


Poster by Valentijn Goethals

62


Super Synthesis Presentation Tour

63


Super Synthesis Presentation on the green carpet

64


Asli Çiçek

Sharing Spaces BIO

Asli Çiçek is an interior architect, scenographer and interior architecture design studio teacher

As explained in the introduction to this publication, the Ghent and Brussels campuses of the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture have long struggled with spatial infrastructure. The former Sint-Lucas School of Architecture’s rapid academisation upon joining the huge machinery of KU Leuven has presented many challenges. In light of which the spatial shortcomings have been ‘resolved’ rather than thoroughly addressed. In recent years, the needs of an ever growing number of students and researchers, considered a sign of success and popularity (a topic for another debate),, have continually clashed with the insufficient infrastructure. Staff and students have continually expressed their dissatisfaction about the lack of basic facilities on these campuses. But what are the challenges, necessities and conditions these buildings are failing to provide? The list would be long, yet it can be summed up in one simple word: space. This refers not only to space for working but also space for sharing, for meeting others, a space to identify with, to take care of, to modify when necessary, to learn in, to enjoy and to understand. And this goes for every member of an architecture school, from the students to researchers and teachers to the administrative staff, maintenance and security personnel. On the educational side, it was evident from day one of the programme that conceiving of liveable spaces is the purview of architecture and its formation. In our contemporary world with its abundance of built, yet generic, environments, the importance of having cities, buildings and interiors carefully designed by architects is gaining increasing importance. For architectural studies, the joy of making good spaces cannot be sparked in an academic environment with poor spatial qualities. The WTC period was an attempt to provide the students — at least — with the kind of space they could appropriate and work in: a space they could identify with and leave in order to observe their surroundings with greater sensitivity. Nonetheless, we should also remember that the entire action was an experiment, thus it carried all the enthusiasm and potential risks of

65


66

a trial-and-error approach. Not all of the students took to the experiment with the same level of engagement. As expected, some of them kept popping in and out of the weekly feedback sessions like at any other campus we operate. Others, however, tried to fashion an environment out of the space available. They attempted to create their workspace, assembled a temporary office, took care of their surroundings and claimed what they could. There was mess; there was order. In the master’s graduate studio I operated with my colleagues Koen Deprez, Rajesh Heyninckx and Stephan Berteloot, as part of the Interior Architecture Department, a small group of students participated in the experiment. Our studio worked on the theme of Denkmal, the German term for ‘monument’. During the initial preparatory semester, the students produced a three-minute film, under the guidance of Koen Deprez, about a historical event in Brussels that had yet to receive a monument built in its honour. The medium of ‘moving images’ was chosen to counter the static nature of a monument, to introduce time and movement. Our students worked in this medium ‘immaterially’, so to speak, without models, drawings, panels or objects. Though they had limited use of the WTC space, few of the students living in Brussels took the opportunity to appreciate the unique spatial experience of the open floor. For the final project during the second semester, students had to develop a proposal for a monument in Brussels that would provide the event in question with a space for commemoration. Once again, only a few students chose the immediate surroundings of the WTC for their site; others opted for locations further afield in the city. The impact of being in the WTC was not directly evident in the final results. However, from a personal point of view, that wasn’t important to me as a tutor. The relevance of this experiment was the communal atmosphere created on a floor measuring approximately 1,300m² that was shared with other studios, rather than a direct translation of the North Quarter into individual student projects. Obviously, the inspiring view over Brussels played a role: not aesthetically but because the height allowed individuals to perceive the complexity of the truly (and perhaps the only) Belgian metropolitan environment. Yet that had its limitations as well for, after a while, one gets used to the view and begins to notice that the WTC does not always provide a perfectly functioning interior: it was rough, rather cold in the winter and, in early summer, we had to cope with the hu-


7 SHARING SPACES

mid climate. Windows could not be opened, fresh air was reserved for coffee breaks. The studios were without partitions, thus, trying to talk to our students — while the students of other ateliers were sawing on wooden planks for their models — did not take place under the most optimal acoustic conditions. Hence, just like in the Meurop Building, we were confronted here with issues with the building physics and interior conditions, but we managed to function. This may be the right time to zoom in to understand why. I believe the reason our studio was interested in using the WTC was the excitement of attaining workspaces for our students. We found the creation and appropriation of individual workspace for students to be a very attractive prospect. During the teachers’ initial meetings to discuss the floor and organise it, I expressed my desire for each student to have a desk so that he or she would not have to move and would be able to identify with the environment. I wanted the students to feel so at home that they would place, for example, a flower pot to express their personality on the desk that they ‘owned’ during the semester. By that point, however, the views already differed: for some of our colleagues, the challenge of the experiment lay precisely in testing the flexibility and readiness of the students to adapt to a continually evolving work place. For this reason, the students sometimes had to move their desks for presentations. Due to the floor’s generally relaxed atmosphere, the students could tolerate those moments, but for our studio’s small group of professionals engaged in the everyday practicalities of organising the workspace, this proved no small task. However, an experiment such as this requires openness and understanding from all sides as it is also about living together, coexistence and maintaining respect for one another. These notions are just as important as any architectural skill we’re trying to transmit to our students. Because architecture is directly involved in making spaces for habitation, it cannot function without the understanding of the other, of the context, of the conditions. Our school does not advocate viewing architecture as an isolated profession that furnishes beautiful objects for the built environment. Nevertheless, the non-hierarchical structure of the Sint-Lucas campuses does allow the students to adopt many approaches. To have

67


68

some of these approaches literally side by side in the same space was surely an enriching experience for students and teachers alike. At the same time, the participation from both campuses had its limits as some of the students registered in Ghent chose a Brussels-based studio even though they obviously would not change their living situation. For them, it was business as usual: the weekly feedback sessions proceeded as they would anywhere else. Some of the teachers used the location more regularly than others. The objective of introducing practices into the school was not directly realised. Here again, it is necessary to remember that the WTC was an experiment with a limited time frame. Acknowledging this may also help to take some weight off the shoulders of the project. The entire experiment was a test to learn from, but it was also preordained to only be temporary. What we have learned from this temporary action can be summed up as the potential capacity to share and produce work in a flexible environment. But the experiment also confirmed the necessity of having a stable infrastructure in which students are able to study, exchange information and work. Therefore, it would be overly romantic to conclude that the WTC has been a success and has had a ground-breaking impact on students’ work. To achieve that kind of effect, an architecture school must offer more than an open floor plan and a desk space. Only a small portion of architecture takes place at a desk, on paper or on a computer. The rest involves communication, negotiation, adaptation and execution. At this point, the desire for space becomes intertwined with the desire for infrastructure. I firmly believe that architectural studies should provide a balance of transmitted knowledge and empirical research. This balance is predicated on having convenient access to facilities like a good library, workshops offering assistance and skills training for building with different materials in model or prototype scales, and shared spaces such as a cafeteria, a proper exhibition space or outside areas that are made available to students and staff. The flexibility we experienced at the WTC can also be found at most of the architecture schools worldwide and, to a certain extent, it contributes to creative interactions with other available spaces. However, without a basic infrastructure, this flexibility evolves into a kind of never-ending camping. It takes a significant amount of energy to concentrate on a project if the students and the teachers have to find a corner to install themselves in every time they want to have a discussion.


7 SHARING SPACES

Given new pedagogical concepts like web-based teaching, this kind of scepticism about flexibility might sound conservative. But the calmness of a working environment and the proximity of the paper, the model, the maker and the tutor facilitate projects and make them unique. As teachers, we try to provide our students with the aforementioned, but in order for students to attain a high-quality architectural education, we do need basic infrastructure. I firmly believe that without a respectful, generous spatial environment, we cannot be consistent enough to truly transmit our passion for designing good spaces. It is only when our students physically want to be in their school that they will begin to observe and understand the surrounding urban environment, all of the issues involved and where they, as designers, can interact with relevant proposals. In that environment, they have to have a common love for architecture and other things in life, with time not defined solely by studio appointments. Otherwise, all our attempts to change a pedagogy will prove unsustainable and not enjoy the support of the students. However, effecting change by creating a better workspace requires more time than an academic year affords. Change must be established in attitudes, as an approach with which a faculty or a campus can be identified. The WTC embodied the dream of a revolutionary act, maybe even the desire to create a legend. But the experiment’s short life means that it can only serve as a good memory of just what is possible. Looking back, we should embrace this period, viewing it as a fruitful endeavour rather than as a failure. Surely, enough ideas have emerged from the process that will help us improve the inadequate Brussels campus we already have.

69


i

After a while, because we were in the middle of the location we were working on, it was

During the second semester, I chose the MANHAPPEN studio, which focused on the North Quarter. We moved to WTC24 to work with our studio on the context itself, which made us very engaged from the start. Our teachers wanted us to try and identify with the space: to make it our own, act like an office. So we took some furniture that we had found, put down a carpet on the floor (that kept being stolen by other groups) and wrote the name of our ‘office’ on a blackboard mounted on a stick.

I came here from Turkey to complete my master’s in Brussels. At first, we only had classes at the Meurop Building. But we heard from the WTC that we could work there in the evenings and on the weekends. This workspace was exactly what had been missing in the Meurop Building. For the first semester, the main attraction was the pragmatic opening hours and the convenience for group work.

APPROPRIATING THE CONTEXT

Aslì

ii

Aslì, master’s student in Architecture (international studies)

70


The more we personalised the space, the more I started caring about this building and its context. More importantly, the more you begin really looking at its complexities: the history, the mix of people and cultures, the differing agendas ... I think if you’re going to link the subject with the space, it’s really valuable to move out from time to time.

also easier to go outside and interact with the neighbourhood. It was a way to literally get closer to what was happening around us. And this incredibly direct contact was quite effective. For example, we made a poster to invite neighbourhood residents to talk and, right after we had hung them in the streets, we returned to our floor on high and could see it down there, with people gathering around it.

iii

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (7)

71


i

I have two very different memories of WTC24. The start, when everything was new and all were excited to make something of it: the strange space with the green carpet of Marc Godts that no one knew how to use, the new furniture that still had to be arranged, the renewed desire to make the most of it. And then to come back after having been on an Erasmus exchange for half a year, the return felt like total chaos: rubbish everywhere, people leaving trash on the floor and even vaguer partitioning between studios. For me and some of my fellow students, that was the reason to confiscate what we could — because no one else would — and to create our own place for our studio. So, we even claimed the famous green carpet. For the first semester, that carpet was here on the north side of the tower as a kind of art intervention, an almost sacred place that everyone treated a little differently. There was quite a bit of criticism about it, but it was a presence on the floor that could not be denied and also a reliable fixed point to relate to. When I came back after that second

(RE)ACTING AUTONOMOUSLY

Tatiana

ii

Tatiana, master’s student in Architecture

72


In the end, the place we created was the only quiet corner and, at the same time, it was the favourite meeting place that semester: everyone wanted to come and sit here. People thought we had set it up for them. They would come in, work and eat there for an entire day and then leave everything behind. And I’m talking about students as well as teachers. Some teachers really didn’t seem to mind leading a class in the middle of someone else’s mess; they barely emptied their own chair to sit on. In the end, it was a failed common: we wanted to share our place, but we soon felt forced to ‘privatise’. By hanging curtains and painting some tables in black, we made it clear that at least these things had a set place. I’m not angry with the students, but rather with the teachers who didn’t see the importance of this place for us. I noticed that they were either insufficiently informed or did not want to be. For an experiment like this, I think that you can rightly expect a genuine commitment from everyone. I think it may have gone better if we had been better informed and a few rules had been set. It’s not impossible, but everyone has

semester, the carpet was clumsily rolled up in a corner and Marc Godts was just gone...

iii

The greatest aspect was that we had autonomy here; we felt independent from the school. Our studio looked like a ‘real office’. There was no cleaning crew or administration, you were confronted with your own (and other people’s) rubbish and just had to deal with it. Previously, I would describe myself more as a passive person, but within this new context I felt compelled to act.

I do think, however, that an experiment is allowed to fail, an unsuccessful attempt can help one do better next time.

to know what situation they’re in, and basic communication is a must. That’s the only way to foster participation. Personally, I don’t think anarchy is the right policy for a project like WTC24.

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (8)

73


i

I think the openness and freedom were more important than the lack of facilities or planning. I didn’t mind that we didn’t have a specific place or clear partitioning for the studios. I just came in, looked for an empty table and chair and got to work right there.

If I had the choice, I would have spent my entire school career here. Finally, being able to work at a full scale, meeting people from other years, leaving your things where they were and continuing to work on the weekends... This may sound like a strange dream for some, but for architecture students it would be far more convenient.

We started our studio in the Meurop but, halfway through, we moved to WTC24 due to the lack of space. When you arrive on the floor, you immediately feel that it is a kind of free space. It seems to belong to everyone and no one in particular. I realised only then that the Meurop is already more appropriated by KU Leuven and, therefore, less open to alternative uses.

THE SCHOOL AS A FREE SPACE

Océane

ii

Océane, bachelor’s student in Architecture

74


i

The most memorable thing for me was the view. I was completely flabbergasted the first time that I entered the space. Some students had also brought plants and really decorated their place, which was very nice to see. And it was also a bit closer to the North Station, so we could get home more quickly! Although it was nice that we could use that space, in the end, it just felt like an extension of the school. And honestly, a school is a school and a course is still a course.

We didn’t spend a lot of time at WTC24, but were forced to move out twice out of sheer necessity. At a certain point, our models became too big and there were too many of us to be able to stay at the Meurop; that’s when we were able to use WTC24 for a couple of weeks. So, it was really a question of scale. I didn’t even know about the existence of WTC(24) before that, which is a pity.

A SCHOOL WITH A VIEW

Celien & Marie

ii

Celien and Marie, bachelor’s students in Architecture

1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (9+10)

75


Louise Frateur & Tatiana Darnovsky

No rules, no communication, yet so much in common BIO

76

02 October 2017 — 3:53 pm to be exact — I and others from the studio Policy Whispering, left to peruse the new location and see where we would be following class. Being back at Sint-Lucas had already been an adjustment for me; all the more so with a new location filled with unfamiliar teachers and fellow students. A major adjustment. A major challenge. The space was completely empty, devoid of all the elements that provide the comfort of an office space. I was told that a kitchenette would be provided along with some tables and chairs. As for the rest, we were free to organise it for ourselves. Okay, although I could not immediately imagine a school event here, a messy studio would be great! What a space!

The first lesson was: gather around, scrounge up trestles, chairs and table tops, negotiate how to set up the space, sketch, discuss and then arrange everything. The second lesson was: reclaim table tops, trestles and chairs, organise

Louise Frateur is a master’s student in architecture

and then get Tatiana Darnovsky is a master’s to work. The student in architecture third lesson: the same. This all went well until the trash bins began to stink and a mountain of washing-up, replete with flies, took shape in the kitchenette. Maybe it would be smart to plan a meeting with the other studios? A handful of students stepped up to take responsibility for the organisation (particularly the communications) between the studios. The teachers and the school were not expected to show any initiative. This kind of collaboration only worked when students were also on the floor outside of class, as they felt more responsible for a pleasant work space without smelly trash bins and a sink bursting with dishes (while the clean plates had not even been removed from the dishwasher ...). This was tiring. It would not have been excessive to hold a small meeting at the start of the school year, explicitly stating that WTC 24 would be a ‘common space’ without a cleaning crew and that one person was responsible at the secretariat in case of a problem (i.e. replenishing the printer paper, ordering ink cartridges etc.). The teachers were unaware of this. Among the students, a few stood out as effective problem-solvers. The teachers also posed their questions to these initiators because they were at least present at the WTC Tower. This created an atmosphere in which teachers and students


8 NO RULES, NO COMMUNICATION, YET SO MUCH IN COMMON

treated each other as equals. The organisation of studios happened spontaneously on the work floor. Students would run into one another, set up a few trestles, table tops and chairs and simply get to work. The teachers would look for the ‘gathering place’ and, voilà, the studio was born. If students wanted to continue working one more day, that was possible. There was room enough, plus the building was always accessible. After a while, you realised that once you had set up a space (and left as many things as possible on your desk!). there was a good chance that you would claim that space. Valuables were to be left a locker you had reserved, with a padlock. This experience was incredibly instructive for the next studio I was part of: BRU. SLXL. Empty. Discussing the vacant office buildings while working with this same issue smack dab in the middle of a neighbourhood. I could literally gaze outside and begin dreaming up a vision. The use of the building’s floor allowed me to bond with my fellow students in a ‘non-school’ environment (i.e. without classrooms or a dining hall) and to analyse the emptiness together. It allowed me to form a connection more easily, which was good for the overall production. In contrast to the Meurop Building, the atmosphere here was entirely different. There, if you had group work, you would meet up with people, then, once everything had been said, you would quickly speed off to the station to catch your train. At the WTC Tower, you lingered a little longer and, if

other groups had to eat, you went to the shop collectively. 77

There was a microwave and a dishwasher for use. A fellow student had even made a kettle and coffee-maker available to the entire floor. At the WTC Tower, I truly developed my ability to take initiative! This was an invaluable lesson for me as a student and future architect. You must work with different types of people in order to fulfil a building’s purpose. That stereotype of architects who sit behind their computer for days, only coming out to find food (work-eat-sleep-repeat), does not exist. At the same time, it’s the most time-consuming experience you have as a student of architecture. The WTC Tower served as a kind of student association with people who inspired each other rather than viewed one and all as competitors (the atmosphere in the Meurop Building), which was vital to achieving something interesting in practice. In direct contrast to this, you have the large investors (e.g. promoters) who install a building without focusing on


78

its architecture or context. Furthermore, the spare work space and the fact that the building did not belong to anyone made WTC 24 a truly unique experience. The work space also illustrated that not a lot is required for a school building. Or, perhaps, a school building for architecture. You only need a printer-scanner (A3-A4), paper, internet access, a kitchenette, bins, a toilet, (lightweight) tables, chairs and lots of space. Because of this, I found myself questioning the basic standards. Do we really need all of this? Does education have to be so expensive? A nomadic school no longer seemed so far-fetched to me. What if the school occupied a new vacant office building every academic year? The supply is sufficient and, in Brussels, it takes a year for a building request to be approved. A win-win situation, right? The fact that the WTC Tower was no one’s property, or at least not the building inhabitants’, made the atmosphere very respectful. It did not matter who was walking around in the building, whether a refugee walking to the toilet on the 1st floor to charge her mobile or a suited CEO heading to an appointment on the 16th floor. It did not matter. Because of this, I’ve developed a highly critical view of the propaganda about this ‘refugee crisis’. Yes, I could simply look out at the Maximilian Park from my little ‘office’. I was there nearly every day, yet I wasn’t robbed; I’m still alive ... What I want to say is that this experience was an extra layer, and that I never gained this knowledge in the Meurop

Building. The idea that a glass wall acts as a trigger for open studios (as the studio spaces are set up in Meurop) is a flop. This does not work, it never has. Open classes and studios have worked in environments without walls, where you work on a model while following the lesson five metres away. Now THAT’S an open studio! Put plainly, a nomadic school that occupies vacant office buildings represents a perfect marriage, PLUS it’s a place where students learn to take responsibility. And, what I found exceptional was the fact that the door to the WTC Tower was open to everyone throughout the day. The Meurop Building had the same phenomenon; resulting in three laptops stolen from fellow students who felt like grabbing a coke from the machine ... Now we have an access badge system. Because we have to? Or because we sit with our MacBooks in the window display of a former furniture shop? It sells well ... Personally, I was not sure what to expect from a school year in a new environment with unfamiliar students and teachers. However, on the last day, it felt like a home full of good memories. It was a space where I had set up a desk, made models, cooked, ate, laughed, stressed considerably, helped shape our studio, sawed a round table ... A common space can provide order in chaos if one has good communication and respect — however cliché that sounds, but then it really feels like a home. A place that you have claimed, appropriated and experienced.


Appropriated workspace of studio BRU.S.L.XL

79

Stijn preparing a presentation


Work in progress BRU.S.L.XL

80

Picknick on Boulevard Albert ll


Presentation BRU.S.L.XL

81


i

I have been studying in Schaerbeek for seven years. First at Sint Lukas (the arts school) and then at Sint-Lucas (the architecture university). I found it a breath of fresh air to finally be able to take a step back, reflecting on our school and its context from a distance. So, more importantly than feeling involved in the ‘new’ context of the North Quarter, I felt there was a renewed desire among everyone to think about the campus in Schaerbeek. This may have led to the kind of identity crisis that Sint-Lucas is currently experiencing, but that seems to me to be rather positive. Having to deal with this ad hoc situation has improved the campus. WTC24 was not able to uncover some of the issues of the Meurop Building. The emergent reflections revealed both positive and negative aspects of the school. The 24/7 arrangement, for example, is a well-known asset, but it really has changed the mentality of the students in how they deal with the learning environment. It’s a hot topic, but I do think it would be worthwhile

PERSPECTIVES ON MEUROP AS A HOME BASE

Yannick

ii

Yannick, master’s student in Architecture (international studies)

82


to install it at the Meurop in the future. It’s amazing that a school that for a large part is so focused on community building and social cohesion is unable to achieve this for itself within the scope of a single floor. The fact that the only facilities were the square metres did contribute to that shortcoming. The exceptional state that this temporality always means that the board does not find it worthwhile to invest more in the place or the facilities, which is understandable but not sustainable in the long run. I think that, sometimes, before we say anything about a city on the other side of the world and the bad policies in place there, we should first look at how we can invest in our own welfare and our own structures. A great deal of capacity is not spent on the school itself or on the critical internal cohesion. After coming to WTC24, I’ve realised that it’s very valuable to have a ‘home base’ and to focus on it too.

iii

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (11)

83


i

Because our studio didn’t have a permanent place here and, due of all kinds of miscommunication and uncertainty, we were actually not very welcome (there was only space for a certain number of studios). But this was actually very pleasant for us. We didn’t know anything about weekly meetings or cleaning calendars because we weren’t on the mailing list. We were the ‘disturbing factor’ but, in all our ignorance, we made full use of the space.

WTC24 was the ideal place for group work and other forms of cooperation and social contact. After all, you had to. There wasn’t really a point of contact, so we asked each other all our questions. The fact that there was no cafeteria also led to good times together while searching for a nice lunch or a late dinner. The absence of those practical matters turned into something positive. But some facilities are indispensable. The kitchen turned out to be an essential connecting piece. That’s what we need in the Meurop!

SHARED MOMENTS ON A SHARED FLOOR

Ward

ii

Ward, bachelor’s student in Architecture

84


In the end, it always depends on the people. There is something to be made of every place if everyone makes an effort.

Eating together, sleeping together; maybe it wasn’t all allowed. In a short time, however, we had built up a nice connection with the place and with each other. It was precisely those moments that made it exceptional. Attending classes and sketching designs can also be done at the Meurop Building, but what is the real advantage of this place?

iii

iv 1 THE FLOOR IS (Y)OURS - CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS (12)

85


Roeland Dudal

86

A Glass Trojan Horse BIO

Roeland Dudal is an architect, co-founder of Architecture Workroom Brussels and architectural design teacher

Going by the traditional media sources, there seems to be a consensus about the future of the Brussels North Quarter. The outdated, mono-functional office district, which remains empty and grey after office hours, will be mixed, multiple, resilient, urban and innovative in the future. This shouldn’t prove hard given its excellent location in the Brussels metropolis, situated as it is between the most used train station and the future museum of contemporary art in the iconic CitroÍn garage. And where, to boot, the strongest players in the Brussels real estate world have the bulk of the land ownership sitting in their portfolios.1 It is a district with a precarious and painful history. With great fanfare, it was heralded as the Manhattan of Europe. The North Quarter was created as part of a flat clean-up policy. It was completed at a time when speculation in the city was the dominant logic, which means that the balance between public and private interests was not achieved as proclaimed. Vast amounts of precious raw materials were sunk into a neighbourhood that, just thirty to forty years later, is once again poised for a thorough transformation. It is an ailing district. Many point to the momentum that is generated by linking the ongoing reconversion of this district to the social transitions and needs that feature on the agenda with ever increasing prominence. The North Quarter as a laboratory for the future of the city. The Future is Here. But what does this really mean? Whose future is it? What added values are created and who is riding the wave of success? More and more people are concerned about the answers to these questions after calculating the results of the first rush of attention. 2018 was brimming with initiatives that saw renewed potential in the North Quarter, all of which aimed to contribute, in their own way, to a vision for the future of the district. The Faculty of Architecture of KU Leuven set-up a temporary school space, Samenlevings­


9 A GLASS TROJAN HORSE 1 This text is an elaboration of an earlier published version in A+ 278 Brussels, June 2019.

opbouw began testing new housing forms in old offices, Marcel Bike Cafe installed a temporary social bicycle repair area, an urban roof garden arose between the glass towers... Each of the aforementioned initiatives aims to examine how things can be done differently and better. They’re valuable and fragile at the same time. After all, they share a common agenda that isn’t very clear and there is no public mandate. The creation of this agenda is not publicly shared. Research projects overlap and precious time is lost. Precious time, since the North Quarter is already in the throes of transformation: buildings are being demolished, rebuilt or renovated. With Zin in Noord, the future project for the WTC I and II towers, the transition to a new real estate trend may prove final. But it takes time to change urban development practices. The consequences of today’s real estate decisions will only become visible further down the line and policy innovation is slow, while social emergencies and sociospatial issues are accumulating ever more rapidly. Making the right connections between public needs and private dynamics is difficult because of the different speeds involved. As a think-and-do-tank, Architecture Workroom Brussels has stepped into the dynamics of temporary use and the call for the creation of a collective vision for the North Quarter. If we, as an architecture organization, not only want to contribute to the discussion about ‘being right’ but if we also want to have an impact on the practice of ‘being right’, then we need to get our hands dirty from time to time. We moved – as many other small creative businesses did – into a temporary office in the WTC I tower in the North Quarter in Brussels. As curators, we also organized the cultural event ‘You Are Here’, a program of exhibitions, urban debates and a shared workspace, in the framework of the International Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam. To achieve this, we teamed up with various associations, administrations and entrepreneurs. As culmination of the ‘parcours’ through the building from the street to the 23rd floor, the World Trade Centre was occasionally renamed the World Transformation Centre. A shared workspace hosted more than 400 actors and more than 150 events to exchange knowledge on the major societal transitions within a shared agenda for a more qualitative and sustainable - societal and spatial -

87


88

transformation of our cities and landscape. The KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture was also present. The 24th floor was their campus outside the campus. The school outside the school. Why did an architecture school want to contribute to the above-mentioned dynamics in the North District? Similar considerations as above were raised. Students were confronted with their position inside or outside the school, inside or outside the real world. Are we in or above the city? The yearly Springweek workshop took place in WTC I and addressed this question. The Springweek is an intensive exercise of 4 days. During that time, all Bachelor students take on an exceptional task together. From morning to night they work in teams on a collective project. What is the position of the architect on the 24th floor of an old office tower, thinking about his contribution to the city, with a beautiful view on the subject of his study? Where should the architect be: in the school, in his ivory tower or in the city? The fact that Wim Cuyvers, as a guest lecturer, prohibited students from taking such a spread was very refreshing. They examined the immediate edge of the WTC complex and its problematic dialogue with the surrounding public space and its users: local residents, the homeless and people on the run. Confronting close by. Critical proximity. This describes the experiences of many of the temporary users who occupied WTC I for eighteen months. But is this really possible? Can you be critical of the surroundings in which you are embedded? Can you distance yourself from the comfort of the creative eco-system of which you are a part? For example, with the exception of 51N4E, none of the users of WTC I had any say in the plans that were drawn up for the premises. The future of the building was determined by a procedure. The procedure led to secrecy. It was impossible to instigate an open and transparent process of co-design for the building. How could we fool ourselves into working on the future of the city without a mandate to actually shape that future? While the shoe of principle might have pinched, the coat of pragmatism fitted like a glove. The generosity of the building owner, Befimmo, who made thousands of square meters of space available almost free of charge at a prime location with a phenomenal view of the city, who indirectly placed their best minds at our disposal and for whom no practical question was too much, is praiseworthy. Of course, this also served their own agenda. That was not a secret. It was clear from the outset.


9 A GLASS TROJAN HORSE

Were we naive when we enthusiastically saw The Future is Here appear on the facade of WTC I? Naturally, the dynamics of such initiatives increase the development potential and consequently the market demand for the activated sites. Yes, it is problematic if only trendy, creative and artistic practices are given access to the precarious use projects, while real needs, such as the humane reception of refugees, affordable housing for vulnerable groups and space for socio-economic initiatives for example, find no place within the temporary city. This is the most pressing question of all: for whom, and for whose benefit, are we making these efforts? Real estate logic that only uses temporary use as a cover for problematic vacancy management and advocates the traditional profit models is unacceptable. We must raise the stakes and raise the bar. But this bar must be set by the public authorities, which serve the general interest, not by the private parties (alone). In order to realise these ambitions, new collaborations and alternative practices that transcend the traditional dichotomy between private and public interests need to emerge. To this end, temporary use as an in-between space offers a unique opportunity to arrive at new agreements, value frameworks and real estate models through unexpected encounters and experimental alliances. City movements such as Bral and Inter-Environnement Bruxelles detect in the WTC I temporary use project, and by extension in many other schemes in Brussels, merely a diversionary tactic that disguises the urgent need for change with a hint of good intentions. But we can also read the application of temporary use as a glass Trojan horse. An offer for a social revolution and a spatial transformation from the inside out. Not hostile and closed, but open and transparent. The horse may have been put in the stable for a while, but it’s still there. Who is willing to join this adventure, to argue from within – in all transparency – as the foot soldiers of everyone’s interests, and to change the model of city making? Who’s going to give the people in power a thorough shake-up?

89


90

On 23 March 2018, through the windows of WTC24 , one can see some students on the roof of an old furniture store called MEUROP - now the Brussels home base of the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture. As part of the annual Springweek, they made a seven-metre-long flag and they try to keep it high with a few helium-filled balloons in order to mark their school (in the city).


91


Gideon Boie

92

The WTC paradox BIO

Gideon Boie is an architect, philosopher, co-founder of BAVO and architectural theory teacher

The temporary use of the WTC will expire in December 2018. The technical installations have been switched off, and the floors are once more empty. This also brings to a close the remarkable housing of artists, architects and students in a building that symbolises the urbicide of the North Quarter like no other. The KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture, Campus Sint-Lucas Brussels, may also begin the hunt for a new location. So, it’s high time to take stock of WTC 24. The question is whether establishing a faculty at WTC 24 meant anything for the major changes underway in the North Quarter? And what is the significance of WTC 24 for the future of architectural studies in Brussels?1 From Meurop The story begins with a deluge of complaints over the years about the current location in the ‘Meurop’ Building on Paleizenstraat in Schaerbeek. Coussee & Goris renovated the former furniture shop in 1996 according to their in-house philosophy ‘structural work is finishing work’ (ruwbouw is afbouw). Despite the building’s robust design, it’s hard to conceal its defects in terms of the airflow, moisture, acoustic­s and general usage. Thus far, all the talk about renovations and overhauls (including installing palm trees bent over a scale model of the TOP Office) has done nothing to change the sadness. The goal to breathe new life into the building by transforming ‘Campus Brussels’ into a special project school — with its own place in the middle of Campus Ghent and Campus Heverlee — continues to muddle along. The building presents itself as a ‘Palestinian refugee camp’, according to Lieven De Cauter. Beyond the aesthetics, the comparison also applies if we examine the internal social dynamics and the public relations in force. The spatial infrastructure of Meurop is at odds with the teachings of a school that has self-curated learning pathways


10 THE WTC PARADOX 1 This is an elaborated version of a text published by the A+ magazine on 27.11.2018

and new learning methods. The school’s relationship with the neighbourhood is well below the freezing point. After the attacks of March 2016, a badge system was installed in order to keep out all uninvited guests. It’s safer to assign design tasks to students in Casablanca than to speak to a neighbourhood Moroccan resident. The food from the caterer is more affordable than the area’s eateries. Many students rent a room in Leuven just to commute every day to Brussels... ... to the WTC Against the background of a moribund Meurop Building, the temporary use of the vacant WTC was a godsend. During the 2017-2018 academic year, Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture moved into the 24th floor of WTC 1. The annex to Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture was quickly nicknamed ‘WTC 24’. An artists collective on the 25th floor functioned as an example of this new annex. Building owner Befimmo created ‘Up4North’: a cultural association that operates as a social lubricant for its largest developments and as a go-between for negotiations with creative actors. Up4North is a collaboration with architectural practices 51N4E and AWB (Architectural Workroom Brussels), who took up residence on the 16th floor. On the 15th floor, the joint venture of Jaspers-Eyers and 51N4E worked on the tender to give WTC towers 1 & 2 a new lease on life as office space for the Flemish Government. Throughout the year, all manner of creative professions were established on the 26th floor. The doors were thrown wide open for the IABR exhibition on the 23rd floor. Whatever owner Befimmo’s foggy reasons for unlatching the doors, the stay at the WTC was an enriching, unforgettable experience for all involved. The paradox is that the spatial infrastructure of WTC 24 was perhaps even more tired and tatty than that of the Meurop Building; the air quality was much worse, the acoustics even lousier, the quarrel about space nearly got out of hand, the washing-up was always left for some poor dupe and yet ... everyone remained unanimously positive. A few factors explain the success of the space: 1. THE ‘WALK-OUT’: leaving Paleizenstraat was a pleasurable, if minor, transgression. Likewise, the pompous architecture of the

93


94

WTC’s lobby. For the first crossing, each student carried a stool. The professor personally uncorked the wine bottles. An atmosphere of light anarchy dominated the entire academic year. The school environment was effectively ‘no school’ due to the lack of classrooms, signs, auditoriums and reception staff ... It was never quite clear whether class would go through, a lecture was in session or if a reception was being held. Better yet: the receptions became the ideal moments for knowledge transfer. 2. REAL WORLD PARTICIPATION: some design studios organised themselves as an ‘authentic’ design agency. Some of the students claimed a dedicated workplace. The education went far beyond the abstract study of the social drama unfolding in the North Quarter, it was right in the thick of it. There could not have been a better settling-in period. Moreover, the education became part of the reconquest of the North Quarter. The ambition of the Brussels Government Architect to break up the grand plans of the office market formed the perfect backdrop for the students’ education. Not to mention the background of the police actions that State Secretary Theo Francken ordered for Maximilian Park and the citizens courageous push back against this. Architectural studies were part of the social debate for a year and a half, or were at least never far from it. 3. THE SCHOOL AS COMMONS: the gaping void of the office floors was hastily filled with a minimal school infrastructure. It entailed many tables on trestles, chairs, a kitchen unit, a printer, two projectors, a few lockers and toilets. More was not necessary. ‘Self-organisation’ became our slogan. There was no back office. Nobody could retreat into the institute. There was no secure ‘council chamber’ for teachers to discretely withdraw to. No closed studio or auditorium for training ‘obedient sheep’. The open floor symbolised the horizontal organisation of the education on offer. The school’s organisational form was the sum of all its activities. A small group of students spontaneously began to keep the school operating. 4. THE VIEW ON BRUSSELS: the 360° panorama functioned as an attraction, certainly when organising open classes and public


10 THE WTC PARADOX

events. The commuting students got to know Brussels from a great height. It was much easier to invite guests up to the eagle’s nest of the WTC. An empty floor for education: it appealed to the imagination. The all-encompassing view did astonish visitors. The meaning of ‘Brusselisation” could be felt in each person’s body, could be explained by looking in any direction and it charged every design transaction with meaning. Going to school at WTC 24 became an element of pride rather than shame. … and back? The question now is what the future will bring. The tone appears to be set for a permanent nomadic existence of architecture schools in Brussels. A new temporary location, KANAL, has come into view, now with the French-speaking architecture schools in it. That is until the construction site erupts there as well. Or are we moving on to the base for WTC 3 and 4, where Befimmo is also preparing construction plans for a new tower? And what do we do with the vacant space at the CCN/North Station? Or the former cycle station under the arches of the North Station that has since been converted into retail space? The temporary location of an architecture school should not only be viewed as a logistical issue, but as an opportunity to reconsider the place the school occupies within the city. From this perspective, it is significant that a group of students who held WTC 24 above water organised under the name ‘PILOT BXL’ and revisited the original thinking process around Meurop. A scale model was developed that utilised the spatial and pedagogical dynamics of WTC 24 to relaunch Meurop. A lecture series will provide the intellectual sustenance. A dinner in the library gave a preview of the future of the architecture school. A long march through the institution surely lies in waiting, but it’s a good sign that the Pilot BXL initiative has already been taken over by the POC (Permanent Education Committee). The question remains as to how we can stay true to the experiences at WTC 24? Temporary use for an architecture school is not only a logistical issue, but is primarily about the place the school is afforded within the city. In that light, we must also dare to adopt a critical stance toward the success factors mentioned. Let us begin in reverse order:

95


There is little to criticise about the panoramic view of WTC 24, except that the beautiful background did not necessarily inspire a critical relationship between the educational buildings and the city. The temptation to get cosy high and dry in the eagle’s nest was very strong. 96

At WTC 24, the ‘school as commons’ was sometimes too confined to the organisation, such as the fight for square metres, respecting one another’s materials, noisy neighbours and that pervasive question ‘Who’ll do the dishes?’ Undoubtedly, these matters are crucial discussions in the ‘commoning’ process. At the same time, it does make one dream of a more substantive interaction between design studios. Having an impact on the North Quarter will require more time than a school assignment. Students contributed to the festivities on the street and the rooftop terrace, but they never managed to interact with the mysterious 15th th floor where Jaspers-Eyers and 51N4E are discretely working on the future of the tower. The practice was so close yet so far away. Lastly, WTC 24 was unable to shed its ‘school’ yoke. The difference between the service contract for AWB and 51N4E and the lease contract for the Faculty of Architecture is telling. It demonstrates that the education was viewed as a mere consumption of space and the school’s contribution to the future of the North Quarter was virtually nil. The issue extends beyond WTC 24; it’s just as relevant for the future temporary housing at KANAL, a return to Meurop or anywhere else. The fundamental question is what place to assign the urban complexity of Brussels within architectural studies and vice versa. For now, the suspicion is growing that the Faculty of Architecture was mainly tolerated in Jaspers Town. Conversely, the educational institute already appears to be satisfied enough to grant credits to students.


Kristien Vanmerhaeghe & Robin Schaeverbeke

Window dressing on a floor with a view BIO

Kristien Vanmerhaeghe is an architect, co-founder of Burobill and a mixed media/ architectural design teacher

Everyone will remember the WTC complex of Brussels as an accident, a run-down 60s dream Schaeverbeke is a amidst older and newer dreams and nightmares. Robin doctor in architecture and a mixed media teacher A lesser known fact will be that, over a short span of time, one of the towers was given a window of opportunity to explore new ways of learning, working and communicating. In a few years’ time, this window of opportuPhotographic analyse of WTC by Shannon de Wandeler nity will be but a side note, though some of us will happily remember that brief moment where anything was possible. Our first encounter was on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Smokers seeking shelter, revolving doors feeding into a brownish lobby. What’s with the large globe-like structure at the back? ‘That’s the info desk’. A guy, nearly invisible, guards his globe. We think to ourselves, ‘What does one do all day in that artificially lit brass globe?’ Escalators moving up and down from the first floor. In the right-hand corner of the lobby, there’s a vitrine filled with files and boxes ... the archive of the rundown dream? Upstairs, we see select photographs from the WTC’s collection of architectural masterpieces. The images, now a bit faded, also highlight the failure of the ambitions they once represented. More

97


than fifteen years after their tragic demise, the Twin Towers of New York stand firmly amongst their counterparts. The 24th floor. Wow. What happened here? Someone did a great job of stripping this floor down to its bare essentials! Mobile construction spots as lighting, cables, concrete, spruced steel columns and steel deck ceilings ... For some reason, Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s sinister cinematic masterpiece comes to mind. Beyond the building’s nakedness, one is taken aback by the floor’s breathtaking 360º view. It’s as if every aspect of Brussels’ complexity can be scrutinised from a God’s eye view. One is literally on top of the city. Some fellow towers are blocking part of the view, but then again, they provide a peek of the office workers going about their day ... This is supposed to be a school. There are plants, semi-transparent enclosures, IKEA benches and a kitchenette. Some students are working, others are taking classes and some are just hanging out. And what’s with that green carpet? We’re here to investigate whether we can relocate some of our drawing classes to the tower. The view inspires one to reflect upon other ways of looking: at the city, at the building, at teaching and even learning. Gazing down upon Brussels’ oft-debated North Quarter reveals what the city is made of: one part progress, one part misery, one part hope, one part demise, one part poverty, one part corporate identity, homelessness, refugees and alienation. How can one examine all of that merely by looking, drawing, recording, exploring and manipulating?


11 WINDOWDRESSING ON A FLOOR WITH A VIEW Space through the mirror by Fleur Peeters - level 2 WTC

99


100

We immediately embraced the building and rewrote the content of some of our courses to accommodate this window of opportunities. We proposed taking our second-year students on a drawing exploration through and around the building. We challenged a group of master’s students to use the building as thematic material to remould the building and its surroundings, and we invited a bunch of primary school children to observe and draw Brussels from a radically different viewpoint.1 Our aim was to seek out the tower’s alternative histories, futures and spatial qualities.

Experience Teaching at the tower was a liberating experience. It inspired diverse experimentation, for us as the instructors and for the students involved. The tower’s open space led to contacts and conflicts, but the interaction opened up the teaching and learning process. While walking around the floor, we encountered ongoing and evolving work. More often than not, this prompted an open, informal dialogue between various learning groups. At the tower, the curriculum became tangible.


11 WINDOWDRESSING ON A FLOOR WITH A VIEW 1 Science Mundi - ‘The interplay of light and silence’  For the duration of a semester, 10-year-old pupils from a primary school in Schaerbeek work on the  experience of light and silence in the city. Many children live in cramped quarters in tightly packed housing, and  they may only be familiar with their immediate environment. At WTC24, they gain an overview of the city and  establish relationships between fragments from their visual memory. They focus on a part of the environment  and attempt to transfer this to a drawing. Learning to ‘look’. Interaction between 10 year olds and students  (an Innoviris project in collaboration with Karel Deckers and the Hendrick Conscience Primary School)  ‘Perspectives on Brussels’ - second year BAR B - OPO44  Analysing the WTC Tower internally and in relation to its environment. Begin by drawing the outside view on  the inside of the windows. The building’s structure and its details are drawn on a large scale using sections.  The pupils seek out different perspectives by looking through lenses or by using photography and image  processing to distort perspectives and draw them. Both the building’s structure and the environment remain  present. Developing an exploratory vision for the WTC Tower using drawing and developing criticism or future  plans using images. (in collaboration with Riet Eeckhout)  Elective Tinkerlab - Int MAR  A combination of experimental research and specialisation. Sharpening the technical and substantive aspects of  the sketch, as seen from the WTC Tower. Begin here also with window drawings, but at a different level. The  point is not so much where one is looking, but about interpreting what one can see. Here, the size of the  window became the canvas for showing a 1:1 image in an exhibition. The images were created using graphic  techniques (e.g. screen printing and etching) in collaboration with the LUCA School of Arts in Ghent. The  elective concluded with a show at WTC24, where we emptied half a floor before furnishing it as an exhibition  space. Alexandra Moens

Transferring the maintenance of and responsibility for the space led to a new kind of engagement. At least while we were present, different groups worked together to clean and clear areas and, if necessary, to help each other out. The floor’s flexibility accommodated instant changes to the lay-out, accommodating jury panels, gallery space, workshops, exhibitions, Sofa Talks, etcetera. The range of activities provided opportunities to interact and learn from one another vertically, rather than confining the activities to a secluded classroom. Teaching at the tower was a very pleasurable experience for us. While looking, drawing, imagining and moulding, the tower increasingly took on a character, becoming more than merely ‘that building’. Although the tower could be crowded at times, the spatiality of the floor allowed a

101


certain seclusion, as a group as well as an individual. There were the inevitable conflicts, but doesn’t every community have its fair share of them? Compared to our usual surroundings (Meurop’s magnificent 3rd floor), our impression was that the students in the WTC had more space to work. Drawing, both its instruction and practice, requires a bit of space. Not only to draw on 102 Rescaling the city by Fien Vande Maele large sheets, but also to organise one’s tools and artwork. It’s not unusual for a draughtsman or woman to scatter a few drawings around the actual work. On a wall, on the floor ... preferably both. The tower provided an exhibition opportunity (on large panels next to the kitchenette) as well as room to work. During our residency in the tower, the space seemed to provoke observation, concentration, experimentation as well as reflection and comparison. The Innoviris children came during the ‘Spring Week’2, so the place was buzzing with excitement. Precisely what children need to trigger their imaginary desires. They were able to see parts of Brussels, their own neighbourLia Herbots hoods and the connections between the routes, edges, nodes and landmarks of the city3. They were also mesmerised by the evolving large-scale models our students were building. The models triggered their imagination and urge to invent things. Although the attendance of our second-year bachelor’s students sometimes peaked at around 60, we always found sufficient space for everyone during the sessions and exhibitions. Everyone was working with similar


11 WINDOWDRESSING ON A FLOOR WITH A VIEW 2 ‘Spring Week’ is an intense vertical workshop held at the Faculty of Architecture 3 We’re consciously paraphrasing Kevin Lynch here.  Lynch proposes that these mental maps consist of five elements:  (1) paths: routes along which people move throughout the city;  (2) edges: boundaries and breaks in continuity;  (3) districts: areas characterised by common characteristics;  (4) nodes: strategic focus points for orientation, such as squares and junctions; and  (5) landmarks: external points of orientation, usually a physical object in the urban landscape that is easy to  identify.  Of these five elements, paths are especially important according to Lynch, as they organise urban mobility.  (de Lange, M., (2009): review: Kevin Lynch – The Image of the City, in The Mobile City, http://  themobilecity.nl/2009/05/08/review-kevin-lynch-the-image-of- the-city/ accessed march 10th 2019)

thematic materia­l, which triggered discussions about drawings and buildings. During the sessions, we were accompanied by third-year bachelor’s students working on their first integrated proposal. This interaction triggered not only discussion and reflections about drawings and buildings, but also about the content of our courses. For our Friday-morning TinkerLab sessions, the tower had a more or less monastic atmosphere. Apart from a master’s studio, few people were present during our classes. This provided air, a relaxed atmosphere and enough space to do what we had to do. TinkerLab is about indeterminate progress —iteratively searching for ways to extend a tool, technique or formula. This method typically produces explorative series that require reflection in order to discern how to advance the work. These series are displayed during sessions to see their evolution and possibilities. We decided to frame the work according to the proportions of the tower’s windows, the windows becoming the standard measure for the drawings. To conclude the workshop, we cleared a space in the tower and organised a viewing that coincided with Lieven de Cauter and Gideon Boie’s Sofa Talks, garnering an eager crowd for our opening. For these kinds of sessions, it would be fun to have more equipment to work with: printers, plotters, maybe even little presses. To study drawing, we need room to draw and play. In the end, coffee, tea, water and sanitation proved to be essential. The absence of catering forced you to leave the hustle and bustle of the floor. Searching for better coffee, tea and/or lunch soon became incidental moments of reflection. Whether you were going outside to the North Station or using the last standing cafeteria on the 1st floor, you were bound to bump into people. These could be colleagues or

103


Ceiling of level 24. Digital collage by Loïc Vossen

104

other creatives dwelling in and around the tower. This sometimes provoked small detours to unknown floors, practices, studios, exhibitions, ad-hoc restaurants and presentations. Working in such a community is inspiring, sharing learning environments, practices and opportunities to make work across the curriculum. An environment like this entails triggers and challenges because life is more about coincidences than it is about organisation ... The tower meant participating: to keep it clean, to maintain its philosophy. Joining in meant engaging in a learning community: taking part in workshops, juries, meetings, symposia and all manner of workshops. We do not know whether a ‘tower’ was even necessary, perhaps the energy of adding value to that community was enough. When imagining our future campuses, we should wonder whether architecture is up to the task of achieving the ambition of creating an ongoing learning community. And, if not — what is?


Wim Cuyvers

WTC BLUES BIO

Wim Cuyvers is an architect, essayist and architecture teacher

A workshop with a group of architecture students from Monday morning 26 March 2018 to Thursday evening 29 March 2018, 24th floor of the WTC Tower. Feet dragging, I walk that Monday towards the WTC towers. I’d completely forgotten why I’d promised to be a ‘tutor’ for the 2018 edition of the workshop organised every spring by KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture, Campus Sint-Lucas (What a name ...). The night before, I’d read the informational brochure on the train to Brussels, and that had already made me unhappy. Back to school, if only I’d known. I’d read that each tutor was asked to assign the six transition leaps of IABR to his or her group of students. I also learned that I’d been assigned a series of windows as a canvas, that my group should post themselves in front of the windows and work in a studio format on the city visible through the windows (Really, that’s how it was stated in the brochure). I don’t know what a vertical workshop is; I don’t know what OPOs are. I arrive too early at the WTC towers, so I do what I did as a child whenever I was too early for school: I put off entering. I walk away from the entrance; I walk around the building. Without really looking at it, I sense and I feel the building beside me. I walk around it twice. I see all kinds of messages in A4 format stuck on the inside of the windows; I see people waiting around, crush barriers waiting for people to queue, people sitting against the façade of the WTC Building, huts built against the WTC Tower. The reception behind the entrance hall is an installation by Guillaum­e Bijl; another is located on the 16th floor. The Flemish Government Architect (Leo Van Broeck), the Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands (Floris Alkemade) and Architecture Workroom Brusse­ls (Joachim Declerck) and their footmen between gleaming plants, thriving cacti and computers are meeting about the city of tomorrow, including the North Quarter and the WTC towers. The 250 students are asked to give the architects a warm welcome,

105


106

and the brochure calculates that the students are worth 20,000 working hours. It reminds me of my student days: younger students back then would help the graduates at the end of the school year. It was called negeren, (with the emphasis on the first ‘e’, not the second); although the word ‘nigger’ was still very easy to use at the time. In this situation, it had the connotation of ‘slave labour’. You would help someone without getting paid; but at the same time, it was voluntary because there was no pressure. You would help someone who was your friend, someone whose work you found interesting, someone you felt sorry for, someone you wanted as a friend. You knew very well whom you were going to work for. You knew your motives, though they were unspoken, and you knew very well what you were going to work on. You knew the project you were going to help draw or for which you were going to make a model. It was a delightful, accidental, unusual educational situation that did not involve a teacher. Students always learn the most from each other. The graduate student who committed to slightly younger students nearly always failed. That negeren took place over a few days and nights, it came close to workshop conditions, but the word ‘workshop’, in this sense, had not yet penetrated Flanders. I wonder whom those students will negeren in the coming week. After the general introduction, I travel with a group of students to the 24th floor. I put three proposals to them. The first is not to respond to the request of those who organised the workshop to design and plant a flag in the city; The flag is always a symbol, a symbol that a group supports, against another group, above another group. I don’t believe that ‘planting a flag gives rise to meaning’, as stated in the workshop’s brochure. My second proposal is to set aside the ‘transition leaps’ mentioned in the brochure: renewable energy landscape, healthy agriculture, a caring living environment, space for biodiversity and water, a new mobility system and a productive city). We have a measly three days to work ... And thirdly, I propose not entering into the city, because I think it will be a waste of time as the risk is too great that we will walk through the city like tourists. I suggest instead that they walk around the building we’re in, to observe, to note things down and to photograph what there is to see, possibly even to bring intriguing things that they encounter on that short walk. They deliberate briefly before deciding to accept my proposals. All of the students return from their walk around the WTC Tower


12 WTC BLUES

at roughly the same time, and now we’re back on the 24th floor again. I ask them to talk about what they have seen, to tell each other and me about it and to show anything they may have brought with them. They talk about the rows of people they’ve seen standing, people who are waiting, along the WTC Tower. They describe the crush barriers that are shifted to maintain order in the waiting group. They talk about announcements, in plastic folders, stuck to the crush barriers or behind the windows on the ground floor of the WTC Tower and about a food distribution point in a small park just next to the building, about a queue with people waiting and tents built with brightly coloured blankets and cardboard, stretched and secured with clamps taken from the plastic clothes hangers that you find so often in the shopping streets on the other side of the North Station. They talk about the people lying in the meagre tents and those sitting right next to them on that one plastic garden chair that is always next to such a tent, about the shoes resting in front of a tent on a piece of cardboard. They show me pictures on their smartphones, and they relay what someone has told them, someone who has been living in such a tent for years against one of the façades of the WTC Tower. They would be inclined to say: the back of the WTC Tower. But at the same time, they naturally, and rightly, ask themselves: the back as compared to what? And they show cardboard archive boxes they’ve discovered on the stoop of the WTC Building. They are the application files of asylum seekers — very recent files: files from the last seven or eight years. Files of people from Russia, Mali, China and Afghanistan. The files contain administrative documents with data, photos of the boyfriend or girlfriend they want to reunite with, health files with blood test results. I notice how quiet the students are. They’re surprised and indignant about what they found, on the street, the lives of those people found on the street. But they are also surprised at themselves, almost angry at the fact that they have never seen this before, that they come here day in and day out for school, that they have always walked directly from the station to their ‘school’, that they have never turned around and that they never seen the reality. That they only came to look at the urban panorama from the protected interior space of the school. That they have never really seen the city. They cannot understand how reality could remain so hidden from them. I’m not at

107


108

all sure that the WTC Tower would be a better, more up-to-date architecture school than Sint-Lucas in Schaerbeek, that students would be more involved with the city if they went to the exceptional panorama on the 24th floor in the WTC- Tower or to that old furniture shop on Paleizenstraat in Schaerbeek. Does an architecture school do its students a favour by placing them in an ultra-poor architectural building, educating them and having them reflect from this panoramic position? We talk at length about what to do. We decide not to design anything, that we will bring up what we have seen down there, that what is there, is alive and invisible to those who are on the 24 th floor in the school (and, undoubtedly, also to those who are on the 16 th floor). No, there will be no panoramic drawing at the end of the first day, indicating the site (with a drawn flag) of the expo of that day, as the programme booklet asks us to. The group decides to rebuild the huts or tents against the façade, with similar blankets; they’re available for free on Brabantstraat, with clamps pulled from the plastic coat stands that they are sure to find in the street. The story of someone who lives in such a tent will reverberate in the space. The files will be available for perusal on the tables, but not only that. They will also place documents from the files on the floor, so that anyone who wants to go past our workplace will have to walk over them, will not be able to walk over those documents. For students in the other groups, it quickly becomes clear what we’re doing, what we want to show, what it’s about. They frequently come and sit at the table, begin reading the files and grow indignant. A prize is awarded to a group each day. The second or third day of the workshop, the group I’m a tutoring wins the prize: gingerbread, fruit ... The students think that they have not earned that prize, that the luxurious breakfast belongs to the man who’s been living for years against one of the façades of the WTC Tower. But when they bring him the cakes and fruit, he says very calmly that he does not need them, he is not hungry. He does not need food, but he does need papers. It comes as a hard shock for the students: they realise that they’ve taken on the role of the compassionate counsellor too easily. They have suddenly realised what it means to have no papers or not to have the right ones. I could never have told them so clearly. Just like that, from one moment to the next, it has become clear to them how the world works. Later that day, they interview the man. They


12 WTC BLUES

want his story, or fragments of his story, to be heard in the space on the 24th floor. One of the students asks him why he sits against that façade all day. Why doesn’t he go to the library? “‘I can’t go to the library’”, the man explains. “‘I don’t have any papers.’” Once more we’re sitting together. The stories keep coming about how many years the man from Afghanistan has been here now, without his family he had to leave behind in a war zone. The students read from the files that they found on the street. Someone asks what will happen to that couple from Belarus. “‘That’s not hard to find out’”, says another student. ‘We’ll find “that out on Facebook, won’t we?’ Accurately, as it turns out. Those people are now in Paris. Another family that we were talking about now resides in Austria. The students decide to print out the information accessible to everyone on Facebook of a few of the people whose files were on the street and to display them in the WTC Tower as posters. Strangely enough, it is these printouts that cause a big commotion. Accusatory comments are attached to the posters very quickly, posters are torn off and are openly discussed. Various students from other groups think this is a bridge too far. They don’t think that it’s right to just hang up the lives of those people for all to see. The students in my group try to explain, with conviction, that the things they have hung on the wall are accessible to everyone on the internet. They (rightly) argue that it is less problematic to hang snapshots of the family in front of a castle in Bavaria than to let their blood analyses and legal file sling around the street. The conversation shifts from the fate of those who want to come to Belgium or who want to reunite their family to the sad life of the officials who take the train to Brussels every morning from Dendermonde or God knows where. Who have to be happy because some politician ensured that they received their post, who walks daily from the North Station to the WTC towers and then back again, in the evening, once the sandwich box is empty. Who has to sit all day interfering in the private lives of people, who all day long has to classify lists of their Skype conversations, their mobile phone conversations, photos of loved ones, police reports, judicial reports, medical reports, psychiatric reports, etcetera, to staple them together, to tick the boxes on the forms, and then to store all of that in cardboard boxes, plac-

109


110

ing names, numbers and a year on them, and then later, to see those boxes on the street. Or can they no longer see that? Their life is not worth more than that of the boy from Ghana. I could not ask them, but I know that a good number of the students who were sitting there at that time thought that their own situation was no different. Thursday afternoon, there will be a jury, points will be awarded followed by a tour: Roeland Dudal (AWB) guides Brussels politicians and estate agents (no, Leo, Floris and Joachim were not there) through the student work that is arranged on the 23rd and the 24th floor. Like a shop presenter who has to praise fish fingers, pantyliners and sausages on Saturday morning with a wireless microphone in his hand in the supermarket of a provincial town. He tries to sell the projects, to get the politicians excited. You just have to want to do it, and you have to be able to do it. This makes me unhappy. Students and tutors explain why they have planned to put their flag there and nowhere else and why they have thought up something and made it in recent days. The cracking of the paper containing the SMOS sandwiches and the rustling of the air conditioning drown out everything. Each sound echoes in an endless wave between the cement floor and the concrete ceiling. Someone in the know tells me that the rent of a floor, now that the building has been stripped is languishing and will be leased for cultural initiatives, is not much lower than when the building was rented out as an office space: the paying form of anti-squat. The politicians and real-estate agents are waiting for it to pass, also near the work produced by the students that I worked with. What else would you expect? That they would improve their political vision immediately on the spot and forget their urge to broker? They will soon have to go to a fair and to the inauguration of a new wing at a retirement home: you have to want to do it, and you have to be able to do it. Earlier in the week, Luc Deleu told me he didn’t think it was a good idea for a school to house its students in a building choked with asbestos. That is absolutely true. But I must admit that I’m not capable of distinguishing asbestos-containing aerated concrete from harmless aerated concrete or asbestos-dust flakes from dust flakes without asbestos. But I’m convinced that it’s not a good idea to conclude a working week for architecture students with a non-critical tour with politicians and real-estate agents. I can’t find any educational reason for why you should do that. And that closing is an exponent of the


12 WTC BLUES

entire Spring Week of 2018. Why would you want to hijack 250 students to play in a political-real estate game without giving them the possibility to participate: it’s like the ball-retrievers at Wimbledon. I think it’s high time to seriously reflect on the special form of education that workshops are: there’s an inflation of workshops for architecture students. We should hold urgent, in-depth discussions about the methods used, ways of doing things, protocol intentions, and the illusions in the workshops for architecture students. When does a ball-retriever for Federer throw a tennis ball back in his face? At the time of the workshop, the offices of the Office of the ‘Commissariaa­t-generaal voor de Vluchtelingen en de Staatlozen’ (Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons) were housed in the WTC Tower: these are the standards relating to privacy and personal data that they impose on themselves. Privacy- Persoonsgegevens Algemeen kader Het CGVS hecht veel belang aan het respect voor de privacy en de bescherming van uw persoonsgegevens in de uitoefening van zijn wettelijke opdrachten. Deze privacyverklaring biedt u gedetailleerde informatie in verband met de bescherming van uw persoonsgegevens door het CGVS en de rechten die u heeft. U vindt hier de privacyverklaringen van de Federale Overheidsdienst Binnenlandse Zaken (https://ibz.be/nl/privacyverklaring) en van de Federale Overheid (https://www.belgium.be/nl/persoonsgegevens). Alle persoonsgegevens (dat wil zeggen: gegevens waarmee u rechtstreeks of onrechtstreeks kan worden geïdentificeerd) die u aan het CGVS toevertrouwt zullen met de nodige zorg worden behandeld. Dit houdt uiteraard in dat alle verwerkingen van deze persoonsgegevens verlopen conform de Verordening 2016/679 van 27 april 2016 van het Europees Parlement en de Raad betreffende de bescherming van natuurlijke personen in verband met de verwerking van persoonsgegevens en betreffende het vrije verkeer van die gegevens en tot intrekking van Richtlijn 95/46/EG, verder afgekort als AVG. U wordt verzocht deze privacyverklaring zorgvuldig door te lezen en kennis te nemen van haar inhoud. Indien nodig wordt u via specifieke kanalen nadere informatie verschaft.

111


Rechtsgrond

112

Het CGVS is een federale onafhankelijke administratie, die de verzoeken om internationale bescherming ingediend in BelgiĂŤ behandelt. De opdracht van het CGVS bestaat erin bescherming te bieden aan personen die in geval van terugkeer naar hun land van herkomst risico op vervolging of ernstige schade lopen. Het CGVS levert ook documenten van burgerlijke stand af aan erkende vluchtelingen en staatlozen. De werking van het CGVS past binnen een strikt wettelijk kader. De Wet van 15 december 1980 betreffende de toegang tot het grondgebied, het verblijf, de vestiging en de verwijdering van vreemdelingen (de Vreemdelingenwet) bevat bepalingen, zowel voor de vluchtelingenstatus als voor de subsidiaire beschermingsstatus. Het CGVS verwerkt uw persoonsgegevens dan ook hoofdzakelijk in het kader van zijn wettelijke verplichtingen, voor de vervulling van een taak van algemeen belang, voor de uitoefening van het openbaar gezag dat aan het CGVS is verleend. Voor welke doeleinden verwerken wij uw persoonsgegevens? In het kader van de uitvoering van de wettelijke opdrachten van het CGVS: Het nemen van beslissingen inzake de verzoeken om internationale bescherming/asiel Het afleveren van attesten aan erkende vluchtelingen Het verstrekken van adviezen aan de Minister of zijn gemachtigde Beheer van tussenkomende partijen in de verzoeken om internationale bescherming Beheer van geschillen in verband met de genomen beslissingen Voor statistische doeleinden voor beheer en monitoring van de interne organisatie van de werking van het CGVS Daarnaast dient het CGVS in zijn dagelijkse werking eveneens persoonsgegevens te verwerken: Administratie van het personeel Beheer van de leveranciers Welke persoonsgegevens verzamelen wij? Het CGVS verzamelt en gebruikt uitsluitend de persoonsgegevens die nodig zijn in het kader van zijn wettelijke opdrachten, voor de vervulling van een taak van algemeen belang, voor de uitoefening van het openbaar gezag dat aan het CGVS is verleend of die nodig zijn om u te informeren en/of te antwoorden. Het CGVS verbindt zich ertoe enkel persoonsgegevens te verwerken die toereikend zijn, ter zake dienend en niet buitensporig in verhouding tot de doeleinden waarvoor ze zijn


12 WTC BLUES verzameld, en ze niet verder te gebruiken op een wijze die onverenigbaar is met die doeleinden. Behalve de persoonsgegevens die we rechtstreeks bij u verzamelen, kan het CGVS ook bij derden informatie verzamelen. Zo is de Commissaris-generaal gerechtigd om alle bescheiden en inlichtingen die voor de uitoefening van zijn opdracht nuttig zijn, door elke Belgische overheid te doen overleggen (artikel 57/7 §1 van de Vreemdelingenwet). Daarnaast kan de Commissaris-generaal informatie van alle aard die via elektronische weg is verstuurd of ontvangen door de verzoeker om internationale bescherming en die niet persoonlijk voor de Commissarisgeneraal voor de Vluchtelingen en de Staatlozen is bestemd, maar die publiek toegankelijk is, raadplegen en gebruiken voor de beoordeling van het verzoek om internationale bescherming (artikel 57/7 §2 Vreemdelingenwet). Gelet op het ingediende verzoek om internationale bescherming, kan het gaan om de volgende categorieën van gegevens: Identificatiegegevens Contactgegevens Persoonlijke kenmerken Leefgewoonten Samenstelling van het gezin Studie en opleiding Beroep en betrekking Rijksregisternummer Financiële situatie Gerechtelijke gegevens Raciale of etnische gegevens Politieke opvattingen/lidmaatschap van een vakvereniging Filosofische en religieuze overtuigingen Gegevens met betrekking tot het seksueel gedrag of seksuele gerichtheid Gegevens betreffende de gezondheid Met wie delen wij uw persoonsgegevens? In het kader van de uitvoering van zijn wettelijke opdrachten is het mogelijk dat het CGVS uw persoonsgegevens moet meedelen aan de volgende personen (zie onder meer artikel 57/27 van de Vreemdelingenwet):

113


114

Uzelf, uw wettelijke vertegenwoordigers Uw beroepsraadgevers of deze van uw wettelijke vertegenwoordigers De beroepsinstanties (RvV en RvS) De Dienst Vreemdelingenzaken De Dienst Voogdij Inlichtingen- en veiligheidsdiensten Politiediensten, procureur des Konings, federale procureur of onderzoeksrechter Het wachtregister In het kader van zijn wettelijke opdrachten kan het CGVS ertoe worden gebracht om, op uitdrukkelijk verzoek van en conform hun regelgeving, sommige van uw persoonsgegevens aan Europese of internationale rechtbanken over te maken. Hoe lang bewaren wij uw persoonsgegevens? Uw persoonsgegevens worden niet langer bewaard dan nodig is voor de doeleinden waarvoor zij worden verwerkt. In regel bewaart het CGVS uw persoonsgegevens verwerkt in het kader van de uitvoering van zijn wettelijke opdrachten volgens de behoeften van de dienst en zolang het dossier open is. Hierna wordt het dossier, na een selectie van de documenten in het dossier, overgedragen aan het Rijksarchief. Afhankelijk van de bron en specifieke wettelijke kaders kunnen bewaartermijnen afwijken van deze algemene regel. Gebruik van contactinformatie Indien u voor het verkrijgen van inlichtingen of om informatie te verstrekken telefonisch, via e-mail, fax of per post contact opneemt met het CGVS buiten het kader van de behandeling van een specifiek verzoek om internationale bescherming, verkrijgt het CGVS automatisch bepaalde persoonsgegevens. Deze gegevens zullen worden gebruikt om uw boodschap of vraag te beantwoorden. Zij kunnen ook opgeslagen worden. U heeft het recht op inzage en toegang tot uw gegevens, u kan vragen om ze te rectificeren of u kan bezwaar indienen tegen de verwerking. Deze contactinformatie zal in geen geval worden doorgegeven aan derden. Toegang tot de website - cookies Het CGVS hecht veel belang aan de bescherming van de privacy van de gebruiker van deze website. De informatie is op de website beschikbaar zonder dat de bezoeker persoonlijke gegevens moet verstrekken. Elk bezoek aan de website wordt geregistreerd. Deze registratie gebeurt enkel om statis-


12 WTC BLUES tische redenen. Het CGVS verzamelt anonieme registratiegegevens om het aantal bezoekers op de website te meten en om na te gaan welke informatie het meest geraadpleegd wordt. Dit maakt het mogelijk om de website permanent te optimaliseren voor de gebruikers. De website gebruikt cookies. De cookies worden gebruikt om de taalkeuze van de gebruiker te onthouden en het gebruiksgemak van de terugkerende bezoeker te verhogen. De cookies worden niet gebruikt om het surfgedrag van de gebruiker op andere websites na te gaan. De internetbrowser laat toe het gebruik van cookies te verhinderen, een waarschuwing te ontvangen wanneer een cookie geĂŻnstalleerd wordt of cookies nadien van de harde schijf te verwijderen. Raadpleeg hiervoor de help-functie van uw internetbrowser. Geschillen De onlineovereenkomst en alle geschillen of vorderingen die voortkomen uit de website of enig daarin vervatte gegevens, vallen onder de toepassing van het Belgisch recht. Raadpleging van de website houdt in dat de gebruiker aanvaardt dat, in geval van een geschil, enkel de rechtscolleges te Brussel bevoegd zijn. Wat zijn uw rechten en hoe kunt u deze uitoefenen? U beschikt over een welbepaald aantal rechten met betrekking tot uw persoonsgegevens. Een aantal van die rechten zijn enkel in beperkte gevallen van toepassing. U heeft het recht uitsluitsel te krijgen of uw persoonsgegevens door het CGVS worden verwerkt, en in bevestigend geval kan u inzage en toegang tot uw gegevens verkrijgen. U kan eveneens vragen om ze te rectificeren of u kan bezwaar indienen tegen de verwerking. In een aantal gevallen die zijn vastgelegd in de AVG heeft u het recht de beperking van de verwerking van persoonsgegevens te verkrijgen. Indien u uw rechten betreffende de verwerking van uw persoonsgegevens wil doen gelden, kan u steeds contact opnemen met de functionaris voor gegevensbescherming (DPO, Data Protection Officer) van het CGVS. Hoe u dit doet, kan u hier lezen: https://ibz.be/nl/hoekunt-u-uw-rechten-uitoefenen. Opgelet, dit betreft louter vragen omtrent de verwerking van uw persoonsgegevens door het CGVS en het doen gelden van uw rechten betreffende deze verwerking. Indien u als advocaat of verzoeker inzage wil vragen in de notities van het persoonlijk onderhoud of u een kopie wil aanvragen van bepaalde documenten uit het asieldossier en/of inzage wil vragen in het asieldossier, kan u hier de passende informatie vinden: http://www.cgvs.be/nl/Formulieren/.

115


Indien u meent dat het CGVS uw persoonsgegevens niet verwerkt overeenkomstig de AVG, kan u ook klacht indienen bij de Gegevensbeschermingsautoriteit, Drukpersstraat 35, 1000 Brussel. https://www.gegevensbeschermingsautoriteit.be/. Veiligheid en vertrouwelijkheid van de gegevens

116

Het CGVS onderneemt de nodige stappen voor de beveiliging van uw persoonsgegevens. Om ervoor te zorgen dat uw gegevens worden beschermd tegen onder meer ongeoorloofde toegang, onrechtmatig gebruik, verlies of ongeoorloofde wijzigingen maakt het CGVS-gebruik van verschillende technische en organisatorische maatregelen. Contactgegevens De verwerkingsverantwoordelijke van de verwerking van persoonsgegevens door het CGVS in het kader van zijn wettelijk omschreven opdrachten is: De commissaris-generaal voor de Vluchtelingen en de Staatlozen, Ernest Blerotstraat 39, 1070 BRUSSEL. Indien u vragen heeft omtrent de verwerking van uw persoonsgegevens door het CGVS of u uw rechten betreffende de verwerking van uw persoonsgegevens wil doen gelden, kan u steeds contact opnemen met de functionaris voor gegevensbescherming (DPO, Data Protection Officer) van het CGVS. Hoe u dit doet, leest u hier: https://ibz.be/nl/ hoe-kunt-u-uw-rechten-uitoefenen. Zoals reeds eerder aangehaald, dit betreft louter vragen omtrent de verwerking van uw persoonsgegevens door het CGVS en het doen gelden van uw rechten betreffende deze verwerking. Indien u als advocaat of verzoeker inzage wil vragen in de notities van het persoonlijk onderhoud of u een kopie wil aanvragen van bepaalde documenten uit het asieldossier en/of inzage wil vragen in het asieldossier, vindt u hier de passende informatie: https://www.cgvs.be/nl/Formulieren. Wijziging van de privacyverklaring De privacyverklaring kan aangepast of bijgewerkt worden. Het CGVS raadt u dan ook aan om deze regelmatig te bekijken om op de hoogte te blijven van deze aanpassingen. Na elke aanpassing wordt ook de datum waarop dit document voor het laatst is bijgewerkt gewijzigd. Het spreekt voor zich dat alle nieuwe versies van deze verklaring steeds zullen blijven overeenstemmen met de hogervermelde verordening.


Wouter Krokaert

Experienced Space BIO

Since 2015, I’ve used an exercise in the opo15 design studio that I’ve borrowed from my practice as a performer and have further developed for this studio. The point of departure for this exercise is a floor that gives the illusion that it’s balancing on a needle in the centre. As soon as you step onto the floor, it tilts, unless someone positions herself within the space, or something is placed precisely on that place, so that the balance is restored. With this situation as the primary input, first a balance is sought, after which we begin examining compositional tension and how to work with it. Marc Godts and Wim Goossens invited me to their floor-on-floor in this studio, where we let the centre from the design studio converge with Marc’s debatable, displaceable relative centre. In 2017, under the name Lost in Space, Ephraim Joris submitted this studio for the prize awarded by the KU Leuven Education Council, and won. A portion of that prize money went to applying new layers to the floor. This was a transparent, thick plastic that showed the sub-layers and acted as a playing surface where the physical experience in combination with various design tasks generated different designs. A green carpet was added for use as a backdrop and a modular space, in a resumption of an earlier project by Wim Goossens and Arnaud Hendrickx. Due to its colour and texture, this zone marked

Wouter Krokaert is a dancer/ performer and interior architectural design teacher

a defined yet open space that quickly attracted students for work or served as a space to hold conversations and evaluations. For the design studio, working at WT C24 meant that we immediately had the free space necessary to get to work physically without having to shove aside tables and chairs that occupied a major portion of the space. During the design process, the students could immediately adjust their objects to the size of the room by working directly on the floor, in relation to the human body, without having to take those objects home time and again. Having to move the objects back and forth in years prior had resulted in them often only being visible only at the end or remaining very small; consequently, the compositional aspect of the assignment did not receive sufficient attention. In the following photographs, you can see the defined area — in the first phase with tape — with yellow, tightly stretched ropes that mark the debatable, displaceable relative centre. We looked for compositions within this space. First with apples because, due to their shape and size, they are virtually indistinguishable from one another, so they particularly emphasise the surface area. We then played with the volume of the space by placing a human body in it. Home-made objects were subsequently added. Within the opo15 design studio, for the first assignment for

117


the interior architecture students, this took place via small performances to explore the relationships between the human body, objects, time and space. The last two photographs show the transparent floor on top of the ropes. 118


barb15 2017-18


biab15 2017-18


biab15 2018-19


Aurelie De Smet, Burak Pak, Yves Schoonjans

122

Solidary Mobile Housing Live Project BIO

Aurelie De Smet is an architect, researcher and international master design studio teacher

There is a growing need to assemble teams — for shared authorship — without imposing Burak Pak is a doctor in and international traditional hierarchical structures that impede architecture master design studio teacher the coherent conception or development of Yves Schoonjans is a doctor qualitative projects. It would be a shame not in architecture is a professor architectural history and to take advantage of a changing society and, in theory by extension, the changing built environment or not to rethink the discipline and practice of architecture, design and urbanism.

During autumn semester of 2017, we set up the Solidary Mobile Housing (SMH) Design Studio at WTC 24 as a part of the project Solidary Affordable Housing for the Houseless: a mobile model in the Brussels Capital Region, funded by the Innoviris co-create programme’, The goal of this project was to address the affordable housing problem by developing, testing and refining a resilient model for the co-creation (and building) of solidary mobile homes in vacant lots in Brussels. SMH Design Studio brings together various aspects to address a range of issues: providing an affordable home for the homeless (the affordable housing issue), uniting them into a solid community (so the homeless constitute an interactive group but with individual housing), the issue of neighbourhood interaction (the project aims to interface with the neighbourhood and act as a catalyst for creating small-scale neighbourhood networks) and, finally, by being mobile, it addresses the issue of the myriad empty lots in Brussels. Temporary use receives a great deal of attention within urban planning and design. Applying this method, the vacant sites, especially the Wait-


14 SOLIDARY MOBILE HOUSING LIVE PROJECT

ing Spaces, can become more active in the different neighbourhoods. Our claim is that this project explores how safeguarding the solidary nature of Waiting Spaces, even for temporary use, for citizens in need can help establish a landscape and housing democracy. This exploration took place within an inclusive design studio that was atypical for a variety of reasons. A live, interactive project The studio was based on a live project: with real problems in a real setting. Of course, this is not so exceptional. Other studios have the same ambition to forge a relationship with urban areas. We believe, however, that Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture needs more studios that are directly linked to real-life issues. Our ambition was not to interact with just one local stakeholder but to seek out and interact with the ‘complexity of many different actors simultaneously’: Samenlevingsopbouw Brussels, concerned for disadvantaged Brussels residents and their right to the city; Centrum voor Algemeen Welzijn Brussel, focusing on the day-to-day welfare of the homeless, Atelier Groot Eiland that supports people excluded from the labour market during their work search, thereby helping to combat poverty, Sociale Innovatiefabriek, regional and local governments, students, teachers, researchers, BC ARCHITECTS (a Brussels-based architectural practice) and, of course, the homeless themselves. In contrast with academic design studios, live projects unfold in concrete settings and address concrete societal issues. See also: https://liveprojectsnetwork.org. Creating empowerment through participation, co-creation and the inclusion of local stakeholders, live projects embody a deep, multilayered complexity. Arising from daily life, live projects are not protected by well-defined boundaries, rather they connect with a range of design issues in a collaborative and interdisciplinary way. At the same time, they possess a determinate and indeterminate framework that motivates students and teachers, alike to step outside of their comfort zone, turn off ‘autopilot’ and critically rethink their own role, knowledge and actions. Of course, this ‘estrangement’ is interesting because the discipline is always changing and shifting, expanding into other fields and areas. With this live project, we aimed to push the bounda-

123


124

ries of architecture toward social and critical spatial design. A significant challenge in this undertaking was to extend people’s understanding of architecture to include the non-physical. As a discipline, architectural design has been suffering from the long -term isolation of the spatial from the social, which assumes space as an independent construct. However, it is impossible to understand space without also taking social conditions into consideration. Rethinking architecture enabled us to go beyond the physical in order to explore new realities, critically questioning the existing protocols and rewriting them, when necessary..

Familiarity and estrangement The importance of estrangement in architectural studies often seems to be ignored or forgotten in the curThe partners working together on the design of the housing units and collective space(s) in the riculum. Of course, one can find rockdesign studio solid arguments for creating a solid framework for students, for realising a well-thought out studio environment and for structured lectures as well as comprehensive learning platforms and clear communication tools. One can also find sound pedagogical arguments for creating a comfortable study environment that is optimised for learning and scientific pedagogic articles on how alienation can weaken learning environments, thereby diminishing educational efficiency However, it appears to us that in the journey to become a ‘good’ architect, urbanist or designer, the aspect of estrangement may be crucial. Encouraging students to move out of their comfort zone is not only informative, it is the very essence of creativity. Furthermore, it can help teachers and students to envisage unforeseen possibilities. One could argue that all students and staff should regularly move to another context, another school, another real-life project, another country in order to rethink the limitations of their own world view and familiar strategies. One advantage of this strategy would be to


14 SOLIDARY MOBILE HOUSING LIVE PROJECT

prepare them adequately for a complex future that, to quote Alvin Toffler, ‘comes too fast and in the wrong order’. Alienation or estrangement is not only an educational strategy to spark creativity, it is also in and of itself an ‘essential part of new daily architectural practice’. Societal, political and cultural differences, tensions and contrasts are an integral part of life today; as such, they increasingly influence contemporary discourses in architecture, design and urbanism. This means that new challenges for architecture and urbanism are emerging because the political and socio-cultural debate is becoming a protagonist for architectural, design and urban discourses, demanding a more critical attitude of all actors involved. In relation to the increasing complexity of our living environment, we require new answers to respond to the aforementioned challenges and future possibilities. Contrary to the planning and design models of the past, new and alternative approaches will emerge in the field of architecture, design and urbanism. A co-creation studio – a collective intelligence The design studio is at the heart of architecture and urban design studies It is a place for ‘reflection-in-action’ where students learn through experience by designing their own projects. Yet, this reflection is mostly limited to individual interactions within a traditional studio setting: the design studio in this constrained form is predominantly mono-disciplinary and student-teacher centred. In this context, rethinking the design studio as a medium for learning critical spatial practices required the use of specific strategies and methods. The SMH co-creation studio did more than just bring the various stakeholders together through a live project that led to the co-creation of a learning space with the homeless. Together, the partners created eight affordable mobile housing units with one or more collective spaces, enabling interactions between the inhabitants and the neighbourhood. By participating in every step of the conceptualisation and construction of their own homes, the future inhabitants of the SWOT-Mobile project will not only have co-designed their individual housing units, but they will also have co-built them and will gradually co-create a solidary living community that interacts with the surrounding neighbourhood. This studio has explored experimental

125


forms of empowerment and inclusion with a special focus on solidarity. The design studio was far from isolated; it interacted with research and building electives, creating not only knowledge exchange that exceeded the boundaries of the courses, but also of the students themselves. Throughout the project, the SWOT-Mobile Live Project will take 126 on different forms with the aim of co-creating a learning environment with all the partners — including the Shifting roles in het design studio homeless, a group that is usually not involved in this and that generally does not get much say out their housing track. We have tried out different approaches to organising the knowledge production and information exchange between the participants. The grouping of the participants and the interaction modes varied in each case. This enabled the students to see the different aspects through the eyes of the inhabitants and vice versa. It is vital to understand that all partners are equal, that they all have knowledge to bring to the design process. With the studio, we intended to move away from traditional models of pedagogical authority, seekConstruction workshop on the 27th floor of the WTC: building a 3D mockup of the design ing instead to develop a conceptual practice determined by the networked relationships of coordinating agents. We motivated graduate students of architecture to interact and operate with others within and outside of the faculty to exchange knowledge in practice by establishing an open system of interconnected people and things. The importance of co-creation is hard to underestimate in the architectural practice of tomorrow. Renewed authorship An essential aspect of the studio was to question the architect’s role and


14 SOLIDARY MOBILE HOUSING LIVE PROJECT

position within society and the city. By linking critical spatial practices with education and research, the studio facilitated designing for temporary use, from within temporary use with temporary users. This spurred a reflective learning experience for the co-creators to both understand and perform temporary use in everyday life. Stereotypical interventions based on problem-solving and blueprint thinking were avoided. New approaches to appropriating space, designing objects, defining interior spaces and restructuring urban areas appear to look for alternative and creative solutions based on, in many cases, what is already there, i.e. on existing adjacencies. Breaking free from prevailing modes of urban-architectural design and the project established a working practice that exploited the productive encounters between a range of disciplines. Through an interdisciplinary network practice, we investigated how we as practitioners can learn from different disciplines and reformulate this into a new way of operating. While it is about a network, our critical spatial practice represents itself as a networked practice in itself. This is akin to the ‘cross-bench practitioner’ Markus Miessen describes as an ‘outsider and a participator who is not limited by existing protocols, and who enters the arena with creative intellect and the will to generate change.” Our studio was a form of action research that took place within the framework of a research project. The students combined their change agent role with that of researcher, thereby committing themselves to reflexivity as they paid attention to the processes of action and reflection as they unfolded. Our studio provided a testing ground for phenomena, methods and tools that we consider as elements of our transdisciplinary framework. This was the staging of a reorganised relationship, combining a re-thinking of existing disciplines with the production of a new body of recognisable work. At the same time, research and design consortiums have developed similar characteristics: new, emerging alliances, newly defined partnerships, focusing on new approaches to transdisciplinary thinking and setting up new kinds of joint professional or academic projects. Critical spatial design aims to go beyond architecture as a physical construction and explore the construction of alternate realities, criticising existing protocols, and generating new protocols for this

127


128

venture as Miessen puts it. In the SMH studio, we introduced novel spatial perspectives for understanding and intervening in public space as a means to enable a critical version of the ‘reflective practicum in designing’. This involved developing the students’ capacity of reflecting-in-action and reflecting-on-action as a cross-bencher and for going off of autopilot. In other words, instead of the students blindly following and repeating what they had learned in the past, they questioned the existing protocols within the field of architecture while drawing upon the will to develop new critical practices. This required students and studio coordinators to transcend the comfortable boundaries of traditional expertise in architecture, towards the unknown, towards the intentional and skilful mastery of incompetence in the ocean of practices. Neutral interactive floors 17-24-27 Being on the 24th floor of a skyscraper may not be the ideal place for a vivid and direct interaction with the city itself. However, as a location outside of the ‘institutional’ school it was a less institutional, lower threshold workspace, where we could collaborate freely with the students and future inhabitants. It is from this perspective that we participated in the temporary use of All the partners visiting the selected terrain the WTC Tower, organised by the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture. It felt like neutral ground for all stakeholders. The homeless did not have to enter a, for them, foreign institutional building; especially since the workspaces for Samenlevingsopbouw Brussels were temporarily located on the 17th floor of the same building. Interaction was achieved between the 17th floor (the station of the NGOs), the 24th floor (the design studio) and the 27th floor, where we had room for mock-ups and try-outs, exhibitions, and outreach. The co-creation at the WTC (as a place out of the boundaries of the formal university set-up) helped the studio establish meaningful interactions between the co-creators, and it supported the recognition and inclusion of all the different needs, establishing new relationships between the studio and the society.


14 SOLIDARY MOBILE HOUSING LIVE PROJECT * SMH Live Project Team (the homeless, students, practitioners, researchers, NGOs and social workers):  Geraldine Bruyneel, Julie Charlot, Gerd Claes, Hanna Clarys, Didier, Ken de Cooman, Tom Dedeurwaerder,  Aurelie De Smet, Jeremie C., Hedieh Ghaem, Kevin Halflants, Arno H., Bregt Hoppenbrouwers, Omar H.,  Amina Lamari, Dennis P., Burak Pak, Chris Ringoet, Marc S., Yves Schoonjans, Michel, Nangula Shilongo,  Benoit V., Bob Van Hoecke, Jelena Van Meerbeek, Kathleen Vanlerberghe, Tinneke Van Heesvelde,  Boryana Vladislavova

A design-build project The last particular aspect of the design studio is that it will be realised in the summer of 2019 … By the time of the Participatory Hands-on Workshop, organised in the middle of the design studio’s term, the students and future inhabitants had already participated in design conversations and collectively searched for creative and innovative solutions at certain moments. Through the hands-on ‘making’ activities, both the students and the future inhabitants began to consider the ‘buildability’ of their ideas. In their search for a ‘conscious use of materials’, the students tested out the possibilities and constraints of different traditional and non-traditional building materials. They also became more aware of the (natural) conditions of the site and its surroundings and of the potential usable elements that were already present. The future inhabitants’ 1:1 mockup-exercise led to the submission and selection of possible design solutions for the interior design of small-scale housing units and to drawing their own interior plan. The group conversations helped us better understand their wishes concerning the notions of ‘private’, ‘collective’ and ‘public’, which were made explicit in a list of requirements for the collective space(s). The results of the week were presented and collectively discussed. The final exhibition also allowed the broader network of partner stakeholders to learn about and provide feedback on the more detailed and practical aspects of the project. Through innovative ‘infrastructuring’ solutions, the homeless have been empowered to make and remake their homes during the design process and, after the completion of the project, in response to their ever-changing needs.*

129


Recollections of the 24th floor - from Meurop to WTC (and back)

Rosa Fens & PilotBXL

Photo by Arnaud Hendrickx

Poster by Valentijn Goethals

23.02.’17 PALMIERS DEBAT We hear the rumors of an important debate on the future and the identity of the school... Palm trees are carried around the school and the cafetaria is cleaned up for the first time in months. Big names are mentioned. Why are we (the students) not invited? Is this not our future too? We approach the dean and he says everyone is welcome.

MEUROP ALFA EN OMEGA

26.09.’17 FIRST DESIGN STUDIO DAY OF ‘POLICY WHISPERING’ Nel Janssens and Peter Swinnen give an introduction and open the discussion on WTC24: nothing has been decided yet, input is welcome, engagement needed.

Some students read the empty floor as an opportunity to finally be able to choose and make their own workplace. They start to organise themselves to draw up a floor plan together, giving each studio a fare amount of space, but also foreseeing shared presentation tables in between and a lunch/break area.

25.09.’17 START OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR IN THE MEUROP BUILDING The possibility of using an empty floor in the WTC I tower is mentioned in some studio-descriptions, but the floor is not accessible yet.

PALMIERS debate on the potentials of the Brussels campus with Peter Swinnen and invited guests. Introduction by dean Dag Boutsen. In a setting by Arnaud Hendrickx and Wim Goossens called ‘de ingepalmde campus’


10.10.’17 DELIVERY OF THE BASICS : TABLES, CHAIRS, A PRINTER

After several drawings and countings of the available material, and some grateful and some agitated responses, the floorplan is sent out to all future users of the 24th floor. A teacher says: ‘It’ll be all hands on deck for a while to get everything installed, and then to keep things running... Remember, the school has promised to provide the rent, necessary insurances and some basic equipment - the rest is up to us!’

05.10.’17 THE WALK OUT WTC24 hasn’t been opened yet, but the impatience to leave the school’s lousy auditorium is too big : after the first hour of the Critique and Ethics Seminar, Lieven De Cauter and his students walk out the door, grabbing some plastic stools on their way out. 15 minutes later the floor is operational.

16.10.’17 Spontaneous ‘official’ opening by the students is cancelled due to overwhelming enthusiasm (500+ attendees on facebook) and practical objections (fire evacution)

The day before the first use of WTC 24 the ordered equipment arrives : 100 tabletops, 200 trestles, 80 chairs. The school hasn’t made all practical arrangements with the owners yet - so when after a beautiful sunset the empty space turns from orange to gloomy red to completely dark and the lights stay out, a few students (the inventors of the first floorplans) keep dragging tables from one place to the other using the lights from their phones, providing every studio with a tool-kit for a good start of the academic year.

13.10.’17 FIRST GENERAL COMMUNICATION EMAIL ON WTC24 Some enthusiastic students ask the administration to sent out their proposal : a floor plan and a set of guidelines to start using the floor together.


19.10.’17 FIRST FLOOR MEETING, CONDUCTED BY PATRICK MOYERSOEN Student- and teacher responsables from each studio (ideally) put the first practical and fundamental issues on the table. A weekly meeting is suggested to manage the floor.

06.11.’17 AFTER SOME CANCALLED ‘FLOOR MEETINGS’ STUDENTS COME TOGETHER ON THEIR OWN INITIATIVE The need for a better curatorship of the floor arises, as well as the desire to have a way of communicating all that happens on WTC24.

19.11.’17 LAUNCH OF ‘OSWTC24’ ‘OPEN SOURCE WTC 24TH FLOOR’ A facebook page of which everyone can become administrator to post events, questions and so on. And a google drive with folders per studio and shared information on the building, the area, handy tools, etc...

Floor Reshuffle#1 Architects and teachers Wim Goossens and Arnaud Hendrickx propose a spatial transformation (reshuffle) for the official inauguration of WTC24. Drawings of an abstract grid of tables and palm trees are shared with the student representatives, asking to provide the necessary (emptied) 100 table tops and help from students if possible to install the project. The palms refer to the Palmiers debate which they want to remember students and staff off. Students can show their best work on the provided tables in the grid. And on one table there is a tiny model of the Meurop building with some invitations to install an office on one of the floors there (almost empty now, since half of the school moved to the WTC).


Soon voices of protest arise against this strange architectural intervention, embodying somehow a characteristic detached attitude of the architect - designing on a white empty surface in his office, while students and teachers felt they had already appropriated the space. And yet a revitalisation of space and thought is welcome, and so we found ourselves helping to dismantle our own studio spaces.

17.11.’17 ‘LIVING NORTH PRESENTS : MEETING NORTH’ One of the design studio’s - Bru.s.l.xl. organises a cafe in an empty groundfloor around the corner to bring different actors of the North Quarter together

Poster by Valentijn Goethals

(Architectural Association London)

Poster by Valentijn Goethals

FACU LTEIT ARCHITECTUUR

17.30 Welcome drinks Barbara Campbell-Lange 18.00 Introduction Dean Dag Boutsen 19:00 Welcome Drinks 18.10−18.30 ‘Futuring the Legacy, Campus St.-Lucas Brussels, a pilot project’ Intro Students in conversation with Dean by: Dag Xaveer19:15 De Geyter (XDGA, Brussels) Presentation PeterBoutsen Swinnen, Nel Janssens, Patrick Moyersoen 18.30−19.45 Audience debate / invited audience guests VLOER OPBrussels) VLOER, Marc19.45 Godts & Wouter Krokaert Lionel 19:45 Devlieger (ROTOR, Envoi: Vice Dean Carl Bourgeois & Jan De Vylder Floor Reshuffle#1, Wim Goossens & Arnaud 20.00 Drinks/Staff Party Hendrickx André20:15 Loeckx (Prof. Em. KUL, Leuven) 20:30 Food & drinks This event doubles as Open Faculty Board Bart Verschaffel (UGent, Ghent)

DEBATE / FUTURING WTC24 THELEGACY OPEN Campus St.-Lucas Brussels: an20/11/17 educational pilot project MEUROP Floor 23/02/2017 Reshuffle#1 with:

20.11.’17 ‘OFFICIAL INAUGURATION OF THE WTC24’ - Students in conversation with the dean Dag Boutsen, on the how and why of the school in WTC - installment of ‘the green carpet’ called ‘Vloer op Vloer’ by Marc Godts, Wouter Krokaert and Wim Goossens - Reshuffle #1 - palm trees (referring to Palmiers) - Wodka Tonic Citroen (lemon) cocktail


07 Dec 2017 16:53

30.11.’17 FIRST OPEN CLASS IN THE ‘WELCOME IN JAPSERS TOWN’ SERIES Gideon Boie and the students of the Critique & Ethics seminar decide to open their classes to the inhabitants of the WTC building and the broader public - opening up the discussions about the developments in the neighbourhood, inhabiting a 1970’s catastrophe, architecture education and much more.

05 Jan 2018 17:05

Characteristic for WTC24 were the ‘extra’ activities, events and projects that (sometimes spontaneously) took place on the floor. The project of the ‘vloer op vloer’ (an installation by Marc Godts, Wouter Krokaert and Wim Goossens) often referred to as ‘the green carpet’ as an exceptional zone on the chaotic floor, was exemplary for these extra-curricular events. For some a ‘freespace’, for others a work of art, for still others a lost opportunity of valuable space... In any case, the carpet often provided the place and at the same time the subject of discussion, serving as an excellent basis for organizing lectures, debates, aperitifs and presentations.


07.12.’17 OPEN CLASS #2

07 Dec 2017 16:53

05 Jan 2018 17:05

08 - 12.12.’17 WEEK 14 - GRAND FINALE All design studios show their final results on the 24th floor, a week-long collective exposition of the production, curated by Roeland Dudal (AWB, 16th floor). In addition to the communication and a (spatial) script, he formulates four aims 1. Showing the results 2. Cross linking and reflecting 3. Documenting and archiving 4. Being together

14.12.’17 OPEN CLASS #3


21.12.’17 OPEN CLASS #4 : GUEST MARC DUBOIS

23.01.’18 OPEN CLASS #5 : GUEST KRISTIAAN BORRET

06.02.’18 START OF THE 2ND SEMESTER A second attempt : 16 design studio’s and electives move into WTC24. The challenge is to look for an optimised usage of the space : the number of participants is almost doubled. This time around professors and initiators Peter Swinnen and Patrick Moyersoen communicate a floor plan with everyone at the start.


09.02.’18 THE NOTION OF A PILOTBxl Peter Swinnen is refreshing a classroom (A22) in the Meurop and sends out a message that night to some students. An invitation to work along on the idea of PILOTBxl - the search for a more specific and precise identity for the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture, Campus Sint-Lucas Brussels.

15.02.’18 ‘Become a place in the city, not an island’ Internal communication from Patrick and Peter to better manage the floor, encouraging public events and creative sharing (because table tops keep dissappearing)


22.02.’18 MAINTENANCE AGENDA An unwanted but seemingly inevitable calendar is made by one of the students, each day another studio is responsible for cleaning the floor.

08.03.’18 FIRST OFFICIAL PILOTBXL MEETING attendees: Peter Swinnen, Patrick Moyersoen, Dirk Jaspaert, Arnaud Hendrickx, Carl Bourgeois, Helen Van de Vloet, Anton Parys, Jochen Schamelhout, Kaat Volckaert, Tom Schoonjans, Rosa Fens, Burak Ozdemir, Stijn Maes, Olicia Cornelis,...

12 - 18.03.’18 DAILY ENCOUNTERS Unclear communication leads to chaos on the floor. The inventors of the first floor plans (who have become the provisional secretariat by now), take a daily walk around the block to get acquainted and check the state of affairs. Teachers become suspicously silent during these intereuptions of their classes.One student says: ‘Maybe it was easier for our group exactly because we had no place on the plan - we were freed from the rules because they were not written for us’.

20.03.’18 DELIVERY OF SECOND BATCH OF EQUIPMENT


20.04.’18 OPEN CLASS WITH ALBERT MARTENS

In seven groups the students develop seven conceptual proposals, each of them materialised in a 1:20 model, projected on the exisitng MEUROP building. In the end of the week everythin is put together. In the contours of the old building, a new school begins to emerge.

26 - 30.03.’18 WEEK 7 ‘SPRINGWEEK 18’ The Fragile elective organises the yearly workshopweek at WTC 23 and 24, guided by teachers Arnout Van Vaerenbergh and Roeland Dudal, the topics of the week refer to the themes of the upcoming IABR that will partly take place on WTC23 guest tutors are

Wim Cuyvers Luc Deleu Laura Muyldermans Sofie Vanderlinden Antoine Chaudemanche MEUROP*


13.04.’18 07h00 - 19h00 The access hours are narrowed down to 7 - 19u (Not everyone is used to working with students). A small disaster for architecture students - working day and night and weekends with deadlines ahead.

15.05.’18 A PERMANENT WORKSPACE When the school arranges full access again, the opportunity is taken to really use the floor as a permanent atelier. All we truly need is a table where we can leave our work behind - the opportunity to come back day after day and continue where we left off. Working in each others procimity all the time is as challenging as it is stimulating. It almost looks like a real architecture school.

The students of the PILOTBxl working group decide to put MEUROP on the agenda - for a week they work together with a group of 40 bachelor students on different scenarios for the future of architectural education in Brussels. Through the windows of the WTC24 they look at the home of the faculty in Schaerbeek: the MEUROP building. What else could it be?


02.06.’18 21.06.’18 YOU ARE HERE FINAL JURIES Opening of You Are Here, the Brussels On the explicit request of the students, section of the IABR 2018-2019 (the miss- the masterthesis exhibition can be ing link). Some student work is organised on WTC24. Students gather to propose a scenography with enough space and tables for everyone - unlike the years before.


01.07.’18 SUMMER HOLIDAYS

08.08.’18 PILOT BXL In the meantime, the notion of MEUROP as a possible Pilot Campus continues to evolve. The many meetings trigger something. How can these ideas be put into practice?

09.08.’18 A THOUGHT MODEL FOR THE SCHOOL The students working under the name of PILOT BXL (as working title and guideline) have set up a meeting to start work on the scale model.

Scale model MEUROP

18.08 - 25.08.’18 MEUROP 1:33 For a week the workgroup stays in the freshly painted A22 locally in Meurop to make thoughts about the school tangible in a model. Infrastructure and curriculum are brought together and challenge each other. Peter and Gideon come by to question things again (and again). By the end of the week nothing is finished but we do know a lot more about the school and what makes is (not so) great.


27 - 28.09.’18 STARTWORKSHOP / 3d SEMESTER

11.10.’18 PEDAGOGY BEYOND THE UNIVERSITY: ARCHITECTS AND THE CITY ISABELLE DOUCET AND CÉDRIC LIBERT. Isabelle Doucet presented her research on a variety of ‘live projects’, such as the ‘polyark bus’ at the Architectural Association in London and the ‘contre-projets’ at La Cambre. Doucet deliberately avoided heroising these already notorious projects, but described them in a sober way by highlighting the many unforeseen circumstances with

which the students had to deal and the less fortunate consequences it produced. That way she established a link with WTC24 as a live project, where nothing was really organised by the institute and students were ‘invited’ to organise the floor themselves.


18.10.’18 WRITING NOT TYPING TOM WEAVER AND VÉRONIQUE PATTEEUW Tom Weaver, former editor of the AAfiles magazine gave a lecture called Writing Not Typing in which he made a plea for writing architecture, with more good sentences. And that sometimes the best project is not a building but a book.

08.11.’18 THE PRACTICE IS THE RESEARCH / THE RESEARCH IS NOT THE PRACTICE JAN DE VYLDER AND ASLI CIÇEK For the third conversation Jan De Vylder was invited to come back to Sint-Lucas and share his vision on practice and teaching. He refused to join us in the WTC, so we moved the event and the back to Meurop. The title polemically reflected his approach. He demonstrated how the practice in the office and the practice of teaching and working with

students are interfering and closely interacting all the time. De Vylder ended his presentation with some neologisms of which practeaching was definitely the most memorable.


06.12.’18 of communication, but also as a source of RE-PRACTICE MEUROP: enthusiasm and just as much friction. CLAIM THE SCHOOL PILOTBXL with students & teachers For the most important debate, all students and teachers are invited as guests of honor. It was about an open discussion about architectural education, and specifically about the possibilities of the Brussels Campus (Meurop). The hope is to give a kick start to further discussions with mixed groups of students, teachers, researchers and employees. The 1:33 model serves as a tactile means

Posters by Ferre Marnef

20.12.’18 THE END OF THE WTC ERA Final open class, with Freek Persyn and Carl Bourgeois

04.01.’19 WTC24 EMPTY AGAIN What is left behind will be thrown away


Karel Deckers

146

To be vertiginous or agoraphobic? Perspectives after the pop-up school WTC24 BIO

‘[ ] Ik zal beginnen mijn debacle te geven ik zal beginnen mijn failliet te geven ik zal mij geven een stuk gereten arme grond een vertrapte grond een heidegrond een bezette stad’

Karel Deckers is a doctor in architecture, and interior architectural design teacher

‘[ ] Let me commence by admitting my failure, I shall begin by giving myself up, I shall give myself a piece of wretched land, Trampled earth, A piece of moor, An occupied city.’ A fragment extracted from ‘Festivities of Anxiety and Pain’. Verse six, by Paul van Ostaijen, 1921.


16 TO BE VERTIGINOUS OR AGORAPHOBIC?

The Flemish Poet, Paul van Ostaijen (1896 - 1928) wrote this moving poem during his stay in a war-infested Berlin, shortly after WW I. Signalling the worldwide calamity of torn modern ideals, the bombardments in Berlin resonate through Van Ostaijen’s own sense of despair, having finally lost faith in the modern project himself. WTC: destruction or construction? The story of the WTC towers also begins with high ideals. The ideology of CIAM (Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne) proliferated new ideas about urbanism and introduced fascinating perspectives. The new towers were to generate a renewed sense of interconnection. They were meant to create a chain of cities around the globe. In Brussels, the construction of the WTC project — the socalled ‘Manhattan Project’ — was promoted at the time by its politically ambitious mayor, Paul Vanden Boeynants (1919-2001) and the, perhaps equally infamous, building promoter Charlie De Pauw (1920198­4). Their unique public-private partnership sealed the fate of the North Quarter, a once thriving neighbourhood located in the north of Brussels. Speculating heavily on the advent of new WTC towers, many inhabitants were expelled from their homes to make way for a series of eight towers. According to hegemonic and technocratic CIAM concepts, these towers would pay tribute to the Modernist ideals that separated the functions of working, living, recreation and mobility into distinctly designed geographic zones. The redundant existing patchwork of houses, small shops, little workshops was to be demolished, making way for high-rise housing, workspaces, large avenues and public green zones. The towers would be connected by large urban motorways for vehicles on the ground floor, while pedestrians were evacuated to walkways suspended above the busy traffic. The project — inspired by the example of numerous American cities — meant that Brussels and Belgium could join in the rise of modern nations. However, the ambitious plan for the Manhattan Project stalled due to an economic crisis and the lack of demand: only three towers were built, which served as governmental buildings. Until the ‘90s, a large portion of the demolished North Quarter remained unbuilt: ironically, it remained a muddy grass field, a no man’s land, not far from the city

147


148

centre but fenced off by miserable barriers. After that, it was gradually occupied by rather charmless, glazed high-rise towers with little to no commercial activity on their ground floor. After five o’clock, the North Quarter became a popular place for prostitutes to hang out and pick up clients. An informal kind of street life took over, but the towers remained largely empty after office hours. In this respect, the story of the WTC towers is one of a failed kind of modernism: high ideals, shameless destruction and, eventually, also unintended resurrection. Generally speaking, the WTC provides an indication of the degree to which a certain — primarily American-influenced — way of thinking about global trade and business networks had infiltrated urban strategies during the second half of the 20th century. The mission statement on the current WTC website explains the following: ‘The World Trade Centers Association stimulates trade and investment opportunities for commercial property developers, economic development agencies and international businesses looking to connect globally and prosper locally. [It aims to] provide members support in enabling them to connect with their counterparts within the network to foster international trade.’ Next to the outspoken wish to connect and create networks as materialised in the WTC towers, perhaps another more implicit aspiration played a significant role: The WTC project provided the momentum to demolish informal neighbourhoods by replacing them with novel structures that crystallised into a uniform and iconic high-rise cityscape. Witness to the numerous protests by the North Quarter’s residents, modern architecture became uneasily implicated — if not an accomplice to — the developer’s dreams to demolish the old in order to relentlessly promote the new. The original, dynamic network ideal of the WTC largely remained a spectre locked up inside a massive air-cooled space. Was the lack of openness toward the city a decisive factor in the WTC’s failure to thrive? WTC24 in the year 2019 After the dereliction of the North Quarter, how should we look back on the temporary pop-up school WTC24? How relevant is the temporary installation of an architecture school on the 24th floor of


16 TO BE VERTIGINOUS OR AGORAPHOBIC?

a former office building? And secondly, what are the potential social merits that we could attribute to such a pedagogic space? Does the temporary scope provide enough space for a deeper and underlying social engagement? A possible answer can be found in the article ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’ (1993) by Eric Raymond, author and software developer. Raymond critically distinguishes two spatial concepts: cathedrals and bazaars, carriers of closed and open networks; respectively. He considers cathedrals in terms of formal structures, erected only after centuries of a slow building process. In other words, to the outside world, the cathedral presents itself as a closed network with little to no evolution. By contrast, the bazaar presents itself as a lively and generous place to network and trade goods. In the bazaar, informal networks can thrive whereby people, goods and thoughts interact and align. Is the architecture of the WTC complex comparable to a cathedral or a bazaar? In contrast to a lively bazaar, the current WTC complex is too isolated from its immediate environment. Arguably, its impressive height and recessed volumes from the street thwart any intense societal engagement. The abstract and distant panoramas are phenomenal, but they do not lend themselves to active participation in street life. The pedestal of the WTC does not embrace, but rather it retracts from the city surrounding it. In this sense, we can consider the towers to be metaphorical cathedrals with closed networks that do not have any vivid connections to the city. If the architecture remains largely indifferent, could we consider its interior to be an informal bazaar? Could one consider the short-lived school on the 24th floor as an informal network of ideas and persons? Given the short blossoming of pedagogical activities, it would be correct to assume so. What have been the characteristics of the pedagogic space? It is possible to indicate a few. In contrast to the smaller compartments of the Meurop, Leuven’s current Faculty of Architecture, WTC24, has an openness and airiness that lends itself to organising parallel sessions. In this way, a sense of potential synchronicity infiltrates the interior: a space where dialogues, discussions, lectures and reviews can be simultaneously organised without interfering with other activi-

149


150

ties. In this wealth of possibilities, the idea of the bazaar takes hold. The workshop with the children of the Hendrick Conscience primary school in Schaerbeek is a prime example of such a bazaar-like activity. The children from the 5th grade visited the WTC for a series of workshops held between March and June of 2018, as part of the INNOVIRIS programme. This programme is allied with a research project funded by the government of the Brussels-Capital Region, which aims to advance and communicate the research progress being made in Brussels. In March of 2018, everything seemed to come together: architecture students worked side by side with the primary school children in a collaboration supervised by the author Kristien Vanmerhaeghe. By projecting images of contours onto adhesive transparent mica, the children were able to produce intriguing drawings on the windows of the WTC. As a result, a series of intriguing hybrid images emerged. Through a childlike view on the city, on the building itself, and with students and teachers in the background, an exciting union between generations and visions emerged. The generous lighting and sights gave the impression of a tilted luminous box as a framework upon which the drawings were suspended.


16 TO BE VERTIGINOUS OR AGORAPHOBIC?

151

The interior of WTC24 acts like a soft sponge: it attracts people, ideas and material aspects into a single space. Due to its inherent capacity for social relations, WTC24 actively encourages encounters: the open structure of WTC24 led to meetings between different programmes, such as interior architecture, architecture and urbanism, and between people such as teachers and students in horizontal and egalitarian understanding. ‘Social space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather it subsumes things produced, and encompasses their interrelations in their coexistence and simultaneity


— their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder. It is the outcome of a sequence and set of operations, and thus cannot be reduced to the rank of a simple object.’ (Lefevbre, 1991: 73)

152

Apart from generating immaterial and social values, the concrete structure of the WTC was resilient enough for making and storing things. In this sense, WTC24 facilitates a culture of making: through the making of models, the editing of materials, leaving artefacts behind, updating the infrastructure, organising lectures, etcetera. During the Spring Week of 2018, this manufacturing spirit resonated throughout the theme of ‘Working in the city’. However, in my opinion, the interaction with the city in this edition was not essential, though it certainly legitimated organising the workshop. A deeper engagement with the city life may have been possible, but it did not materialise into a permanent engagement. Finally, it seemed advantageous for the students that the outer shell of the building was disassembled, even absent, so that the structure became visible. This allowed a world behind the things to reveal itself. What usually remains invisible within the infrastructure now radically came to the fore. The crude finish, the bare walls and the installations opened up an unusual space that became readable, attaining an almost pedagogical quality. It is beneficial for students to reside and work in this basic space. This naked space, this absence of completion, the presence of bare materials and installations, the asbestos fibres floating in mid-air, the ventilation shafts attached to the ceiling, the old heating installations; they all provide an incredible insight into the secrets of architecture. The pedagogical project WTC24, therefore, has pumped new blood into a 50-year-old concept that aimed to enshrine and instigate a culture of networks. By filling the building with people and ideas, the old idea of a global network has somehow remained relevant. The global network has been replaced with a local network of people and ideas in which research and education go hand in hand. Therefore, it is regrettable that the WTC24 experiment was only temporary. Perhaps, the idea of a free and open network and pedagogic space did not have sufficient time to really take hold. The year-anda-half had specific qualities like the sense of improvisation in the ad hoc organisation of the school. However, it had the same drawbacks as any pop-up event, such as being short-lived and non-structured.


16 TO BE VERTIGINOUS OR AGORAPHOBIC?

Hammarkullen Is there an alternative to the short-lived concept of pop ups? Perhaps we could propose an alternative by referencing foreign examples. Some projects have addressed the same problematic issues as WTC24, such as high-rise buildings in deprived neighbourhoods, only in a more structural way. In a joint action, the University of Gothenburg and the Chalmers University of Technology rented an apartment in a high-rise tower in the suburb of Hammarkullen. Hammarkullen, a Gothenburg neighbourhood just north of the city centre, is a small enclave surrounded by woodland, being relatively detached from other neighbourhoods in the vicinity. Hammarkullen, like many other housing areas built as part of the ‘Million homes programme’, a housing project from the ‘60s, has been stigmatised as a neighbourhood with large-scale buildings and social problems. Since the ‘80s, Hammarkullen has not communicated well with the city centre, gradually turning into a problematic neighbourhood that conveys a sense of alienation to outsiders. As part of a larger scheme to address social needs and participation in Gothenburg, the universities decided at some point to permanently rent a small satellite-like apartment in a tower block in the Hammarkullen area. In this small apartment, the universities jointly ran the Centre for Urban Studies in order to have a place to meet, to work and to negotiate with the local community. Note that this apartment is also located in a high-rise estate, also on one of the top floors. The difference, however, is that it lies within an inhabited residential building in a ‘real’ context. The project subsequently becomes more complex than merely organising a temporary university outlet, becoming instead a real base for a more structured exploration of the area. The apartment itself is not a wide-open space, but rather a small, compartmentalised apartment where a maximum of twenty people can gather and work. Should you want a break, you have to take the lift that is shared with the inhabitants and go to the local shop. The conscious decision to rent a residential apartment facilitates opportunities to connect with the neighbours or the local merchants. By getting close to the source of the problems, but also close to stakeholders like the tenants in high-rise blocks, the Chalmers Uni-

153


154

versity of Technology has demonstrated its commitment to society. In this way, the university and its community can reflect upon alternative strategies by having real encounters with the local community. Unfortunately, the apartment was recently rented out, so the Centre of Urban studies has been displaced to a locale that is closer to Gothenburg’s city centre. Officially, the Hammarkullen experiment has ceased to exist in its previous form. Of course, the student work and the research from both universities is ongoing, only in an altered form. Lessons learned The initiative to organise a school on the 24th floor of the WTC deserves credit for its vision of reusing modernist heritage in a temporary setting. Yet, some recommendations could be instituted as well. In the future, I would recommend choosing to work in an existing, non-iconic or a mundane building. It might be better to have a direct link with the public by working on the ground floor, although this is the more obvious option. Or, perhaps even better, the next WTC24 project could be part of a more strategic approach by the university to a certain — problematic — quarter in Brussels. Choosing a less formal building in which casual networks are possible may represent a more interesting option than opting for a large, prestigious cathedral-like building such as the Canal or the WTC. My plea is mostly inspired by ethical questions and reasoning: should the university seek out short-term raised profile or should it promote a more permanent social narrative that maximises the engagement with the city? Both are legitimate options, but their consequences potentially run deeper than a one-and-a-half-year period.


Christopher Paesbrugghe, Petra Pferdmenges, Nele Stragier

Studio Bru.S.L.XL

BIO

STUDENTS: Mathilde Jacobs, Elena Verelst, Jessica Vercruysse, Bahareh Sabouri, Lara Lentzen, Camille Passeleur, Caro Baens, Sam Vander Elst and Joris van Arkel

Petra Pferdmenges is a doctor in architecture, founder of Alive Architecture and architecture design studio teacher Nele Stragier is an architect, founder of NSA and architectural design teacher

STUDIO BRU.S.L.XL BRU.SLXL was created in 2015 in a collaboration between architects Nele Stragier, Dr Petra Pferdmenges and Christopher Paesbrugghe. It was born during the second phase of the Master’s in Architecture at the KU Leven Faculty of Architecture, Campus Sint-Lucas Brussels, with the goal of partnering with

Christopher Paesbrugghe is an architect, co-founder of collectief noord and architectural design teacher

students on a design lab that would rsearch visions for the Brussels region on a range of scales. The projects were designed using the existing spatial and social context, whereby a transition process was proposed for the zone starting from today on scale S (urban interventions on a 1:1 scale) via the near future on

Starting day of studio BRU.S.L.XL

155


156

scale L (an architectural and urban proposal) to a vision for the development of the entire neighbourhood that we regarded as scale XL (urban vision until 2040). We considered Studio BRU.S.L.XL to be an academic practice where students come into contact with ‘practitioners’: teachers who collaborate in their practice in Brussels with local users and experts in the field via weekly workshops, lectures ... STUDIO BRU.S.L.XL: LIVING NORTH The temporary occupation of the 24th floor of WTC1 inspired us to work with the students in our studio in the North Quarter of Brussels. The students founded a collective lab, Living North, with a permanent work space on the 24th floor of the building in the middle of the North Quarter. The opportunity to work in situ encouraged the students every day to observe, experience and inhabit the mono-functional office zone behind the North Station with its specific problem set, such as an oversized and ill-defined public space, vacant office buildings, lingering transitory migrants and commuters who work but do not live in the neighbourhood ... Running from a lane of Aarschotstraat, over the North Station and the WTC towers, all the way to the canal, the students developed a collective vision for the spatial transition of the North Quarter from now through 2040. The result of their vision is an integral design on three levels for the city of tomorrow.

SCALE S www.youtube.com/ watch?v=cjBlAPn6SFc&feature=youtu.be Based on their observations of the everyday urban environment in situ, a report issued about the quarter and meetings and workshops held with various users. Due to the various urban interventions on a 1:1 scale, the students were in direct contact with all walks of life in the North Quarter. Through the participatory workshops, supported by the representative of the owners of the WTC towers, LabNorth, the students were able to test their views with the commuters, residents and assorted representatives from the urban policy bodies of the Brussels region.


17 STUDIO BRU.S.L.XL

SCALE XL www.youtube.com. watch?v=uKMEfdaBV_E An ambitious master plan the students developed for the North Quarter based on the existing spatial structure and social fabric of the area. The students drew conclusions in workshops that became the basis for their collective vision to propose a transformational process, starting from today and ending in 2040, departing from a circular model. Their proposal was to ‘create a city’ situated between ‘top down’ thinking and ‘bottom up’ moving, so that people would eventually take on the responsibility for generating an identity for this ‘non-place’, this void, in Brussels.

SCALE L www.youtube.com/ watch?v=oAivEzQ6__8 The design for the public space connects the North Quarter with its surrounding neighbourhood, serving as the architectonic backbone for five pilot projects. The observations and the personal vision for a socio-spatial transformation resulted in several architectural or urban projects that the students developed further on an individual basis. Nevertheless, these projects had to fit within the collective context they had devised, as well as the context of the other students’ projects, in continuous development.

157


STUDIO BRU.S.L.XL IN TRANSIT

158

The transition school WTC 24 impacted the studio for the following reasons: Firstly, the project was developed based on the existing socio-spatial context of our (temporary) school at the WTC. This in-situ laboratory gave the students the opportunity to not only observe the

urban transformation of the North Quarter in Brussels. Secondly, the students have learned in greater depth how to design qualitative architecture and urban development, but also how to design a socio-spatial process from an urban transformation like this. As such, they learned about the importance of time in urban development, about the

Get to know your neighbours

site and its use from the inside, but also to engage with local actors in a relatively easy fashion. In addition, their on-site presence combined with the existing owners and public organisations’ interest in transforming the neighbourhood enabled the students to attract these same people to their events as well as the final exhibit. This presence, we hope, will enable our students’ academic practice to affect the

changes in the population over twenty-five years and about the importance of politics and contacting the people within urban administrations in order to have an impact. Thirdly, the students learned how to work as an academic practice. This meant they were required to set up their organisation and identify and acknowledge the importance of each student’s contribution according to his or her re-


17 STUDIO BRU.S.L.XL Presentation day

159

spective expertise and approach. In doing so, they had to engage in continuous debate with each other. Thereby taking the project to a higher level, and also taking into account the ever-changing context. Consequently, the students came to understand that a project with particular interests is never achieved on one’s own. Fourthly, the output was also a design task. In that sense, the exhibition scenography had to be at a specific location within the WTC Tower, and the exhibit’s form had to be conceived and coordinated with the content. The students collected and organised their work into three films (scale S, scale L and scale XL) that were

subsequently projected (available for viewing via the previously indicated links). Finally, their work was selected for exhibition in a limited selection at IABR 2018, and it was published in the magazine A+. This made their hard work and design research over a five-month span visible to others. We believe that this has incredible added value for the students in terms of their portfolio, but also for our school to boost our profile and recognition as well as for society to learn from the students’ experiences.


160


Gideon Boie

Welcome to Jaspers Town BIO

1 THE START OF A LEARNING PLAY Academic settings are driven by the promise of intellectual emancipation, which simultaneously makes this impossible. Years of experimenting with teaching a theory course on the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture, in tandem with Lieven De Cauter, confronted us time and again with the hollow, suffocating, if not mortifying, apparatus of the auditorium. Behaving like an ignorant master, teaching via Skype, acting like the best student in the class, restless questioning from the fellow teacher, discussing texts I haven’t read, walkouts, guest lectures in community centres, exams as a big colloquium game, self-assessment ... The results were surprising, but there was no way to escape the master-slave dichotomy on which the academic mind feeds. The lesson we drew after teaching one-and-a-half years at the WTC Tower? Withdrawing from the school is the only way to rediscover the ‘free space’ of school. The Criticism and Ethics course in Brussels moved to the WTC1 Tower, where the 24th floor functioned as a temporary dépendance for the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture, Campus Brussels. Fate decided that, in that same academic year, the Criticism and Ethics course at Campus Ghent would be banished to the Dr Guislain Psychiatric Centre.

Gideon Boie is an architect, philosopher, co-founder of BAVO and architectural theory teacher

The heterotopic qualities of the madhouse and the WTC formed the ideal framework for further experimentation with our teaching algorithm. We wrote a manual on education as a self-organising learning play. In the end, apparently the manual was not that easy to follow, but at least it set the tone. During the first meeting of the Criticism section at WTC24, we organised an evaluation of the previous weeks and set the agenda for the upcoming meetings. During the evaluation, form and content came together. Form dealt with ways to better direct the self-organising element of the learning game. For example, although we adopted the Indignados’ gestures, they did not prove very effective in our small group of around twenty-five people. We also decided that, ideally, the aperitif debrief should be part of the class itself, not just an after-play. In terms of content, we brainstormed exciting topics that united politics and architecture, such as the new Belgian Anti-Squat Act, housing models for newcomers (on the occasion of an exhibition by HEIM), the architecture of the North Quarter and the typical Belgian phenomenon of the Mayor-Baumeister (on the occasion of a PANO documentary broadcast on television). The next week’s gathering felt like a sobering moment, as it appeared that nothing had happened in-between. A group

161


ApĂŠro Debrief

162

Critique and Ethics seminar


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

of students — the suckers of the day — had prepared some chapters on the theory section, but silence descended like a wet blanket when we began discussing the topics in the beta section. We stared at each other, at the ground, at the phenomenal view of Brussels. It is a fundamental rule in architectural studies: the master is not only supposed to embody the truth, but he or she is also supposed to kill every quiet moment with an endless stream of consciousness. From that moment on, we decided to discuss only one topic: WTC24. There were only the following questions at stake: What are we doing here? Why architecture? Why education? Why the WTC? It was the first lesson in the self-organising learning play: education should reflect on statements and on the place of enunciation. The reception inspired us to declare each class an Open Class and to publicly announce this. The poster to that effect was distributed throughout the WTC, especially in the lift, the only properly functioning public space in the office tower. The first Open Class was a failure and, perhaps for that very reason, an unforgettable event. The poster mainly had a PR effect as it garnered a lot of reactions on online platforms. Only one person showed up: an artist working at the 26th floor, having been seduced by the posters in the lift. He found us sitting in a circle, but his arrival created discomfort among all those involved. The unannounced guest said, ‘Ah, you have already started’. I stam-

mered, ‘N-n-n-no, we’re still busy with the reading.’ The students were frozen. This turned out to be the second lesson in the self-organising learning play: the Open Class also functions without an audience. For each class, we made a poster and event announcement with abstract, disseminating it publicly. The gaping void of the floor was an invitation to experiment with the classical apparatus of the auditorium. A dream become reality. The spatial layout of the class changed week after week. The impossible task of creating an auditorium — moving a chair or table — became a habit to play with each week. It literally got students moving. The passive attitude of leaning back, hiding behind the back of another, waiting for someone else to answer, staring blindly at infinity: the strange symptomatology of education was gone — at least for the most part. Another issue was freeing the students from the omnipresent productivity neurosis of the architecture school. When the question arose as to whether Criticism and Ethics had anything that could be shown at the ‘Reshuffle 1’ exhibition, nothing had been prepared. Everyone appeared to be ‘busy, busy, busy’ with design studio work. The theory course had no solidified ideas worthy of presentation. When the same question was posed at the ‘Reshuffle 2’ exhibition — also known as the ‘Super Synthesis Tour’ — we proudly presented the gaping emptiness of the section of floor beside the kitchen as symbolic of the presence of the Criticism and Ethics course.

163


164

This became the third lesson of the self-organising learning game: we produce (almost) nothing. School is free time: it’s all about time, rather than a place. The fourth Open Class hit the bullseye. The name Marc Dubois and the topic of architecture and real estate in the North Quarter attracted a real audience. The result was a professional debate. I, the teacher, now an equal in the audience, was hanging on the lips of the professor I had enjoyed classes from years ago, now restlessly questioning his speech, eager to know more. The shock of losing the master-student dichotomy induced a new problem. At the aperitif debrief, a student said, ‘Shit, I prepared an A4-sheet full of questions, but I didn’t dare ask even one from the list.’ It takes guts to speak up, not just as a student but also as a professional, as an architect, on the use of architecture in the context of real estate, particularly about the WTC. The Open Class was no longer part of the schooling. It was a lesson in de-schooling: using the school context to get real for a change. At one of the receptions, after the ‘Reshuffle 1’ exhibition, I was chatting with Kristiaan Borret, who appeared to be well informed on the announcements of the Open Classes, who felt personally reproached and who was especially keen to know what Marc Dubois had been talking about the week before. The friendly suggestion by Kristiaan Borret to invite him to an Open Class to allow him to respond was immediately agreed to. The only problem being that the course was already over and exams were just around

the corner. Once again, the reception brought redemption: the idea was to skip the exam, or better yet: to view the exam as foreplay to the serious business of addressing all our questions directly to the Brussels Government Architect. Thus was the Sofa Talk born. The rule was very simple: no lecturing, no preparation, no PowerPoints. We would just kick-off with a set of burning questions on an urgent issue. The talks were announced with short notice, allowing us to adapt the programme, if you could call it that, to the urgencies of the day or to the feedback from previous talks. This is the short history of the self-organising learning play and how it led us to experiment endlessly with education. In the next chapters, you will read the minutes of five Sofa Talks that dealt specifically with the issue of the WTC. Some parts have been published already as an opinion article by the architecture review A+ or BRUZZ newspaper – which is another thing that we learned: criticism is a lesson in urgency and cannot wait for the slow book-production process. The following contains the notes on five subsequent Sofa Talks that addressed the issue of architecture and real estate in the North Quarter with: Marc Dubois Kristiaan Borret Albert Martens Joachim Declerck Freek Persyn and Carl Bourgeois


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

(The guest list for the Sofa Talks is male only by accident. I’m not sure whether it had something to do with the WTC. In any case, it prompted us to only invite female architects to the next series of Sofa Talks.)

165


2 SQUATTING THE NORTH QUARTER Marc Dubois on architecture and real estate in Brussels 166

‘Jaspers is back at the top in Brussels’, wrote Marc Dubois, architecture critic and emeritus professor, in a private e-mail, adding an image of the new information panel at the construction site of the BNP Paribas Fortis headquarters. The panel shows the logos of the architecture firms involved, Jaspers-Eyers Architects, Baumschlager Eberle and Styfhals & Partners Architects, in that specific order. I was surprised because there had been no mention of Jaspers-Eyers in the design competition set up at the time by former Brussels Government Architect Olivier Bastin. On the contrary, the design of the new BNP Paribas Fortis building had to prove that high-quality architecture also stood a chance in the Brussels real estate market. Marc Dubois’ dry response was, ‘That’s how it always goes in Brussels… halfway

through the journey, this office [JaspersEyer­s­] gets on the train and puts itself at the driving wheel ... It’s happened several times already …’ The downgrading of Baumschlager Eberle to the level of subcontractor was reason enough to invite Marc Dubois to an Open Class at WTC24 (21/12/2017). In the Criticism and Ethics course, for several weeks the students had been discussing the rather unsettling PANO documentary ‘Mayor and Master Builder’ (Broadcast on the Flemish Public Channel, 15/11/2017). The documentary dealt with questionable real-estate developments in Knokke-Zoute and Middelkerke but, in the end, it functioned as a reflection board for the typical Belgian ways of working. Although, it was to counter these kinds of developments that the partnership of Jaspers-Eyers and 51N4E in the design of the WTC1 and 2 towers had been announced as a historic break. In the background, the Brussels Government Architect Kristiaan Borret had invested a lot of energy, in continuity with the work by Olivier Bastin at BNP Paribas Fortis, to have WTC property owner Befimmo select another kind of architecture. During the Open Class, Marc Dubois defended the thesis, to the surprise of many, that architectural quality and real estate in Brussels are not incompatible. He conjured up a whole series of examples of good practice on screen. The ‘Residence Palace’ by the architect Michel Polak was presented as a prime example of a modernist package


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

boat that — albeit in an anachronistic style — gave way to a ‘proliferation of functions’ and, with a screed of no less than ten centimetres, allowed for a floor height that leaves space for sustainable redevelopment. With a sufficient screed, the structure of a building can be maintained in case of re-use, and not only the facades. The Martini Tower (designed by Jacques Cuisinier) demonstrated how a building plinth can forge a meaningful relationship with the street while still engaging in the organic partitioning of the building into body parts. The ‘Prévoyance Sociale’ (design by Hugo Van Kuyck) on the Kruidtuin was not only a final element on the traffic axis to the giant Koekelberg Church, but it also had a local plinth with a generous entrance hall, restaurant and roof terrace, four-metre-high door sections, and so on. The Bank Lambert (designed by Gordon Bunshaft and SOM) displays a rich concrete structure in front of the glass façade, a location inspired by the Lever Building by Mies von der Rohe (relating to the other side of the street) and floor finishings in Travertino that continue from the public square to the interior.

Finally, two masterpieces at the Chaussée de la Hulpe in Bosvoorde: the CBR Building designed by Constanti­n Brodzki (1970) and the Glaverbel Building designed by Renaat Braem, Pierre Guillissen, André Jacqmai­n and Victor Mulpas (1964). In contrast, the WTC complex designed by André and Jean Polak around 1972 cannot help but appear as a child of its time. The pompous architecture fits the grandiose yet grotesque ambitions of the Manhattan Plan. Marc Dubois points out the ridiculously small corridor, the size of a mole rat, leading visitors from the revolving door on street level via the escalators to the lift on the first floor. The one-sided use of the floor capacity for offices (‘apartments were considered too great a legal uncertainty’) and the paltry three-centimetre screed (allowing one to reduce the floor height). Marc Dubois considers the WTC a symbol of a type of real estate that is ‘not about design, but financing mechanisms’. Over the years, there has been a shift from architecture created through family capital (e.g. the retail chain C&A with buildings designed by Léwwon Stynen and Paul De Meyer) to buildings erected but awaiting use, awaiting income and awaiting resale directly after they are completed, usually to pension funds from the Netherlands, Germany and Norway as they are not allowed to play on the stock market, considering instead real estate a favourite investment product. For

167


168

Marc Dubois, the common thread between the WTC complex and the North Gate/ Ferrar­is office buildings in the North Quarter designed by Jaspers-Eyers during the ‘90s is the speculative element. Next, Marc Dubois hints at the oil crisis of 1974 and economic growth that had plummeted to 1%. It made a world of a difference in the ‘60s, when economic growth of 8% generated an atmosphere of ‘the sky is the limit’ — made literally visible with the 1958 Sputnik endeavour and Neil Armstrong as the first person to walk on the moon in 1969. On top of that, the real-estate developments in the ‘70s did face fierce social critique, including from ARAU who put forward their famous ‘counter projects’. Marc Dubois describes how the real-estate market in the North Quarter was saved miraculously in the ‘80s by the federalisation of the Belgium State and the Flemish Community, with Brussels as its chosen capital. The office space required by Flemish government administrations resulted in rental contracts of twenty years or longer, securing a safe income for the property developers. No wonder that the North Quarter remained in a comatose existence. There was never any need for the real-estate operators to seriously invest in a lively, public space. Marc Dubois describes how the climate in the North Quarter has changed completely after many Flemish administrations found shelter in the new Herman Teirlinck Building designed by Neutelings Riedijk Architects at the Tour & Taxis development area. The property owners in the North Quarter were in a panic, seeing no

alternative but to demolish the Baudouin Building (designed by Jaspers-Eyers) after barely twenty-eight years of use. Other buildings are also standing idle, such as WTC1, 2 and 3 and North Star (designed by Jaspers-Eyers and Atelier de Genval), which name changed into Graaf de Ferraris once the building was rented out to the Flemish Community. Marc Dubois sees the name change as the cynical sign of the limited participation of users in a mere speculation product. The fact that Befimmo took 51N4E on board with Jaspers-Eyers for the redevelopment of WTC1 & 2 could be read as a sign that the real-estate market is well aware that things need to improve.

This was the context in which Marc Dubois had publicly warned the Brussels Government Architect Kristiaan Borret about the skewed relationships in the collaboration of Jaspers-Eyers and 51N4E. This gives rise to many ethical issues. In the first place, there is the danger of window dressing by a corporate architec-


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

ture firm like Jaspers-Eyers. It happened in the real-estate developments on the Pachecolaan, also designed by JaspersEyers. ‘Arno Quinze’s ambient design served best to keep the sandwiches warm, disappearing from view at the appropriate time,’ says Marc Dubois. Secondly, the question is how is it justifiable for an architecture firm like 51N4E to deliver the architectural quality but only operate for 1% of the architectural assignment? The total sum may be generous (JaspersEyers has been allocated 4.75%, i.e. between €4-5 million, which means that 0.95% corresponds to €1 million), but it is intellectually unfair. Architecture firms like Jaspers-Eyers are particularly known for their sound office structure and good business relations, not for architectural quality. ‘They give an impression of Wir Schaffen Das,’ says Marc Dubois, ‘even in a sector in which the firm has hardly been active, such as housing.’ There’s nothing wrong with that, but that job has a name: executive architect. Nothing more, nothing less. Delivering architectural quality is something entirely different.

169


3 NEW FASHION IN THE NORTH QUARTER Kristiaan Borret on architecture and real estate in Brussels 170

As part of WTC24, Brussels Government Architect Kristiaan Borret took a seat on the sofa (23/01/2018) to discuss the question of how much ‘architectural quality’ the North Quarter can tolerate. The immediate reason for the discussion was Marc Dubois’ fierce criticism of the competition aimed at linking a quality architecture firm to Jaspers-Eyers for the redesign of WTC1 & 2 – at the time of Dubois’ critique, the choice of 51N4E had not been made known. Marc Dubois presented the competition as a ruse by the status quo to maintain its grip, and he equally denounced the extremely low fee for architectural quality – barely 1%. Kristiaan Borret felt personally reproached: ‘It is my goal to break open the Brussels real-estate market, which is currently monopolised by

a small number of players’. The goal was to convince project developers to choose a different kind of high-quality architecture. Borret bounced the ball back with the proverbial question: is the glass half-full or half empty? Instrumentalization is a risk that cannot be ruled out, but in the end the charge is about 1/5 of the fee — to be precise 0.95% of 4.75% — in any case, a lot of money. During the conversation with Kristiaan Borret, it became clear how the connection between Jaspers-Eyers and 51N4E is about much more than just the WTC. In the first place, we are talking about a change in political trends. In the collaboration between Jaspers-Eyers and 51N4E for the WTC project, we see a significant expansion of the bandwidth in which architectural quality is discussed and assessed. Kristiaan Borret referred to the end of his period as the Antwerp City Government Architect — an end that began with Bart De Wever (also president from the rightist-populist N-VA party) taking office as the mayor of Antwerp in 2013. Statements by the City Government Architect about strategy, the social mix and the programme were no longer tolerated, as this content was considered to be the part of the ‘primacy of politics’. He described it as revenge for the years of attempting to professionalise architecture and a counterattempt to reduce the juries of architectural competitions to a purely technical affair. The ideology was that the market and politics had to operate freely without the interference of a mediating level. Now, years later and acting as Brussels


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

Government Architect, Kristiaan Borret has experienced the opposite tendency, whereby the assessment of architectural quality on the basis of the glass façade is coming to an end. The contribution of 51N4E to the renovation of the WTC is certainly a symbol of the new openness in Brussels to intervene in the programme of the North Quarter.

This brings us to a second change in political trends. In view of the limited public ownership in Brussels, an architectural policy will only succeed if it manages to seduce the real-estate market to create an interesting urban project. Until recently, the real-estate market in the North Quarter only thought in terms of office floor square metres and any demand for greater ambition collided with the standard response: ‘Ça va etre compliqué!’ Kristiaa­n Borret says, and I paraphrase, ‘The good news of the current vacancy is that the real-estate market was obliged to reflect on the quality of life and work in the North Quarter. He used the end of year-long lease contracts with the government as an opportunity to proactively

reach out to the real-estate market. The role of the Brussels Government Architect consisted of broadening the scope of architecture, promoting good practice examples and matchmaking through open competition. In this way, idealism (the belief in capacity building within the real-estate market) goes hand in hand with a healthy dose of opportunism (cooperation as the quickest way to obtain a building permit). For the Brussels Government Architect, the WTC — since March of 2019 renamed ZIN — has to function in itself as a best practice at the moment that other vacant buildings in the North Quarter are put on the design table. The key question remains whether there are guarantees that 51N4E will not be used as useful idiots who, in their pursuit of architectural quality, ultimately offer the existing players in the North Quarter their only chance of survival. In response to this question, Kristiaan Borret confidently answered from the sofa: ‘Problems in cooperation will cause bad vibes’, suggesting that bad press is the thing market players cannot endure. However, this logic mainly plays a role in the rat race of the tendering process. The signing of the contract usually marks the beginning of a new era. It would not be the first time that the good name of architects had been used to embellish the bid presentation, but is apparently not worth a penny after the contract has been signed. In order for the Brussels Government Architect to succeed, it is vital to monitor the quality in the next step of the

171


172

building permit process. Kristiaan Borre­t is well aware of this and states, ‘The risk of quality erosion or window dressing remains, but we will try to control the project for a longer time than just the competition phase.’ In short, we can only present the WTC project as an exemplary project if we know whether the vivid dream images of ZIN have an expiry date.


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

4 THE TRAGEDY OF THE NORTH QUARTER Albert Martens on architecture and criminal urbanism in Brussels

After years of a comatose existence, the Brussels North Quarter is finally showing signs of life. During the academic year, the pleasant hustle and bustle of the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture on the 24th floor of WTC1 functioned as a taster. Shortly before the summer, the International Architecture Biennial Rotterdam (IABR) accelerated the process. Interactive think tanks left no theme unanswered. The vegetable garden on the unused roof terrace and street parties with food trucks

at the Bolivar roundabout provided photogenic moments. The most desolate part of Belgium was renamed with a wordplay the ‘World Transformation Centre’ – all under the approving eye of property owner Befimmo and associates. In the midst of the heightened dream work, we invited professor emeritus Albert Martens to the sofa on the 24th floor. Albert Martens is a local resident who has spent a lifetime fighting against the destruction of the North Quarter. He has a fist-thick book of figures and statistics he has collected on what he calls an act of ‘urban criminality’. Three mayors came together, designating an area of more than 530,000 square metres for the construction of two intersecting motorways and two towers for Schaerbeek, two towers for Saint-Josse and four towers for Brussels. The megalomaniac Manhattan Plan was the opening salvo for a demolition and relocation operation without precedent.

Particularly noteworthy was the interpretation of the prominent role that architects played in the crimes against the North Quarter. ‘The tragedy of archi-

173


174

tecture,’ said Albert Martens, ‘is that architects have actually come to believe in modernism.” Questions about financial and political interests were pushed into the background by an absolute belief in architectural quality. A modern city became a blessing for people and fatherland. The North Quarter became the chosen laboratory. The architectural plan created the consensus. The ideology was ‘the future is here’. Turning dreams into action. ‘The reference to Manhattan reveals all the more the ideological lie,’ Martens laughs wholeheartedly, ‘as the architects, project developers and politicians actually went on a research visit to the Houston Business District. The daydream of the architect was the consensus that brought the most diverse actors around the table. It is too easy to only point the finger at the concrete suppliers and politicians. Albert Martens mentions, in particular, the trade unions that saw bread in the employment of their base. The media also gave a helping hand with juicy stories that denigrated the neighbourhood. Finally, the limited stamina of local residents undoubtedly also played a role. ‘Life in a permanent Pompeii of destruction cannot not be underestimated,’ notes Albert Martens resignedly. The tragedy becomes even greater if we assume that modern architecture had quite a few social inspirations. Modernism promised the separation of traffic flows from esplanades as a connection between the urban plinths providing social facilities and the engines of human encounters. In judging good intentions and beautiful prom-

ises, Albert Martens advises to ‘always look at what has NOT been realised from a plan.’ In the Manhattan Plan, the motorways were omitted — although this was due to fierce protest from residents of the North Quarter. The urban platform and the plinth with social facilities were soon dropped due to budget cuts. The housing blocks can hardly be considered as a social mix. To sum up: the public facilities implemented according to plan were limited to the road works and the sewerage system. History threatens to repeat itself in the North Quarter. The dream of modernism has been placed with the bulk waste in the meantime. Once again, the North Quarter has become the chosen laboratory. The gaping emptiness of WTC Tower 1 is considered the ideal stage for the new dream of ecology, sustainability, liveliness, productive cities and whatever. The building is a testing ground where social problems can be solved in a few exciting scenarios. The building is the manifestation of the ambition to take action. ‘The future is here’ is written in giant letters on the glass façade. Meanwhile, the interests of the stakeholders disappear into the background. The same players responsible for half a century of stagnation in the North Quarter present themselves today as key inciters for the future. Isn’t it time that we find the courage to render the interests of the North Quarter visible in the plans for the future? The question is not only which qualities the North Quarter needs in the future. First and foremost, the question is to whom we entrust the question and what guarantees


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

they provide. Stating that the atmosphere in the North Quarter could become more lively or more sustainable is like breaking an open door. The demolition of the former Baudouin Building is the ultimate symbol of the efficient stupidity that lies at the origin of the quarter. The new plans for WTC towers 1 and 2, where 51N4E was added to Jaspers-Eyers, are still on the waiting line. The design is now in the hands of the building permit department of the city administration. Participation in the design was not even considered. The rise in ambition gets the benefit of the doubt. We already know the key question: What was NOT realised from the exaggerated ambitions?

175


5 INTERMEZZO: ACTION AT SAINT ROCH

176

This intervention by the Manhappen Studio at the new Saint-Rochus Church on the Chaussée d’Anvers (Brussels) happened in the shadow of the official opening ‘You Are Here’ as part of IABR–2018+2020 – THE MISSING LINK in Brussels. The morning after (2 June 2018) the Bolivar Square was open for cars again and children could no longer swim in the fountain (the slogan ‘No pool is no cool’ was certainly prophetic). Junkspace was restored as the creatives and food trucks left the theatre. Around the corner, a group of students put up the poster of the old Saint Roch church, demolished in 1971 to make place for the so-called Manhattan Plan, in front of the new Saint Roch church, a refurbished hangar opened in 1995. The church made the news a few years ago by serving as a shelter for illegal refugees. In accompanying interviews, locals discuss the name of the non-square that apparently has no name. People simply refer to it by the bus stop ‘Nicolay’. Others suggest calling it Place CDA (the Chaussé­e d’Anvers cuts through the square), la Terrace or Place O Sole Mio (the Italian pizzeria). Against the wall of the monstrous North Gate government building (a piece of hyper architecture designed by none other than Jaspers-Eyers) a poster was put up with a super save from the Red Devils goalkeeper. Children helped to put the poster up and began to use it immediately, as a fantasy screen

for a play. An old lady has no time to join the happening as she catches the bus, but nods in agreement. The action derives from the Sofa Talk with Albert Martens, who finished with the suggestion to draw the outlines of the old Saint Roch Church on Simon Bolivar Boulevard, along which the WTC towers stand.


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

177


6 THE FUTURE IS (NOT) HERE Joachim Declerck on the future of the North Quarter and design practice 178

The temporary use of the WTC is comin­g to an end. On 4 January 2019, the technical installations will be stopped and the tower must be evacuated by that time. The students have mixed emotions. One can feel their resignation about the imminent closure and yet one is hopeful about the follow-up. What next? All users are looking for alternative, temporary accommodation. The plinth of WTC3 and 4, the vacant CCN, the shopping mall of the North Station, the KANAL culture pole and other flight lines are discussed. The question remains as to what exactly will happen with the WTC complex. After experiencing one-and-a-half years of WTC24, students began to identify with the ‘Bruxellisation’ icon of the ‘70s. At the time of the Sofa Talk with Joachim Declerck, the design by 51N4E is still secret. It is an ideal moment to organise a retrospective at the beginning moment. We invite Joachim Declerck to take a seat on the sofa, the director of Architecture Workroom Brussels (AWB) who has held office for one and a half years at WTC16 and a co-curator of the ‘You Are Here’ manifestation that took place in the WTC as part of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR). The question about the future of the WTC should not solely concern the redevelopment of the complex (design under preparation by Jaspers-Eyers and

51N4E), but it should also focus on the immediate future for its temporary use. The reason to evacuate the WTC Tower was a calculation in which the added value of the temporary use did not outweigh the heavy financial burden of keeping the technical installations in operation (ventilation, electricity, water, lifts, ...). The renovation works will probably not start before 2020. Joachim Declerck reacts somewhat resignedly, ‘It shows our fragile position in the WTC. The building remains an Excel sheet, a tool for profit creation.’ The proposition of the You Are Here manifestation was to complete an architectural walk through the WTC complex, thereby allowing many people to cross the threshold of a formerly closed-off premises. The property owner Befimmo went along with the story, as part of their aspiration with Up4North to rethink the future of the North Quarter, but one day they did settle the bill.

In the evaluation, Joachim Declerck remain­s optimistic, as the eighteen months of temporary use of a few floors does break with trends. ‘In the new developers’ slang, this is called multi-tenant occupation’, says Joachim Declerck, ‘something


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

that until now has been regarded as difficult and complex on the office market.’ The temporary use of the building brought together many different, small tenants onto one floor, and that requires a completely different business model. Over the past few decades, property owners have been keen to conclude long-term leases with government administrations, often for a period of eighteen years or longer. In such a context of guaranteed profit, there was not the least need to think about the future, let alone consider multiple-space usage. The stagnation in the North Quarter cannot be attributed solely to the realestat­e developer. The facility services of the government bear an equally great share of the responsibility. Joachim Declerck says, ‘The government has the power, the tools and the regulations to initiate change, but it behaves like a zapper watching television and choosing between buildings X, Y or Z.’ Today there is a lot of movement in the North Quarter because some long-term contracts will soon expire and the Flemish and Brussels authorities are entering the market in their search for new accommodation. The Brussels architect Kristiaan Borret takes this as an opportunity to make clear that a real-estate project in the North Quarter will no longer be judged on the basis of the aesthetics of the glass façade, but on how it functions as an urban project. As part of the tendering process, a government must impose a visionary framework

on the building market. Architecture Workroom Brussels (AWB) has taken the initiative for LabNorth, a partnership between Up4North (the non-profit left-hand of Befimmo and other real-estate owners in the North Quarter), Vraiment Vraiment, 51N4E and AWB. LabNorth is aimed at initiating a reflection on how to transform the North Quarter into a lively and inclusive district. It was in this context that the temporary use of the WTC Tower, that started years ago with artists on the 26th floor, got extended with the organisation of the AWB and 51N4E office space (at 16), the ‘You Are Here’ manifestation and the organisation of the so-called ‘World Transformation Center’ (in the plinth and on the 23th floor), KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture (24) and later the gathering architects, creative people and civil organisations (at 17, 18 and 25). The roof terrace was subsequently opened for festivities. Joachim Declerck describes the role of the AWB as an ‘instigator, rather than a consumer’. The aim was to attract attention to a positive urban project for the North Quarter. Surprisingly, Joachim Declerck also considers a change in the field of architecture to be necessary. ‘Extensive reflection does not fit into the business model of the architectural profession’, says Joachim Declerc­k. Architecture competitions always run the danger of sliding into beauty contests and architecture magazines leave little room for the big narratives. Joachim Declerck provocatively calls it a ‘negationism in which

179


180

we [architects] are only concerned with the feasible’. It is within such a culture that architects (like Vincent Callebaut) easily get away with a wafer-thin story about sustainability, green façades and other ecological gadgets. Negationism is also present in the architecture of good taste, particularly when an architecture that tickles the imagination appears to be reduced to a commodity (think of the round villa of Office KGDVS). The answer of AWB lies in what Joachim Declerck defines as a ‘democracy of doing’. Achieving the climate objectives — part of the Summer Agreement of the Flemish government — is a case in point. In this case, people often think in terms of direct results, such as the electrification of the vehicle fleet, in order to ‘actively not want to know what is coming at you’. In contrast, the aim of ‘You Are Here’ was ‘to create a meaningful context’ in which architects were placed to further the cause of sustainable transition. Transformation sessions were held focusing on waterscapes, the circular economy, biodiversity, sprawl and much more. The set-up was the development of a chain of causation that would stir actors and call them to action: developing working methods, designing questions, defining projects, identifying actors, building coalitions, connecting money, tools and people, and so forth. If the temporary use of the WTC was instrumental for one thing, it was about functioning as a cultural incubator for a discursive design practice that aimed to formulate the right question and bring the right people together.


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

7 THE END OF THE WTC ERA Freek Persyn and Carl Bourgeois on the cohabitation of education and practice in the North Quarter

The temporary use of the WTC tower is to expire. On 4 January 2019, the technical installations will be stopped as the temporary use does not outweigh the costs. Artists, architects, students and other temporary users are looking for another location. WTC24 has already been largely evacuated. In this context, Carl Bourgeois (vice-dean of the KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture) and Freek Persyn (co-founder of 51N4E) take a seat on the sofa at the 24th floor (20/12/2018) to

talk about the one-and-a-half year experience of bringing architectural practice and education together in the Brussels North Quarter. A retrospective look at the origins of the temporary use of WTC makes clear that both gentlemen, not without reason, have their own version of history. Carl Bourgeois talks about the search by the KU Leuven Faculty of Architectur­e, Campus Sint-Lucas, for extra square metres of useful floor space. The point of departure was the limitations of the faculty’s accommodation on Paleizenstraa­t, the so-called Meurop Building, named after the former furniture shop at that location. In the background, there was a year-long search for a specific identity, in terms of school infrastructure and pedagogy, that could grant Campus Brussels a defined place between Campus Ghent and Campus Leuven. The overnight decision to seize the opportunity to organise a temporary school dépendance at the WTC Tower formed the blueprint for what later became known as WTC24. It was basically a copy-paste of the school programme at Paleizenstraat. Freek Persyn got involved after the two-week ‘Hybrid Business Districts’ workshop (February 2017) on the topic of ‘Adaptive Reuse’ organised by Hasselt University in the WTC towers. The classic idea of the reuse of religious heritage was translated into modernist office blocks. The TAD Tower in Albani­a, designed by 51N4E, was highlighted as an exemplary

181


182

project. Many different people were involved, such as Vermeir & Heiremans (part of the artist collective Wolke and Overtoon, active on WTC26 since 2016), Christoph Grafe (director of the Flemish Architecture Institute), Peter Swinnen (Flemish Government Architect), Oana Bogdan (Bogdan Van Broeck architects, was the author of a feasibility study for the Ferraris Building), Petra Pferdmenge­s (Alive Architecture), etc. The initiative took place within the framework of the non-profit Up4North, a collaboration (since September 2016) between AG Real Estate, Allianz, AXA, Banimmo, Befimmo, Belfius Insurance, Immob­el and Triuva, headed by Alain Deneef and Sven Lenaerts. Freek Persyn says: ‘They [the landowners] are competitors, but they do share a sense of urgency: i.e. to generate public attention for the North Quarter.’ The divergent origin stories somehow hint at the fact that the ambitions of both architectural practice and architectural education never came together completely during the one and a half years of cohabitation in the WTC. 51N4E’s approach was entrepreneurial. The Adaptive Reuse workshop was the trigger for setting up LabNorth, a collaboration between Up4North, VraimentVraimen­t, 51N4E and Architecture Workroom Brussels (AWB). Freek Persyn says: ‘It was not just about cheap space, but to prove that diversity and mixed use in the North Quarter is feasible, using your own presence as an architect to activate the neighbourhood and establish alliances among diverse actors.’

The try-out caused what Persyn calls a ‘productive conflict’, since Sven Lenaerts (Up4North) was not at all prepared for the heavy logistics and security involved in the temporary use of the towers, especially with regard to opening the roof terrace (on top of the plinth) as a public space for the IABR exhibition. The approach by KU Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture was based on self-reflection. Carl Bourgeois emphasises the notion of a ‘school being a sanctuary’ and finds it important to protect that in order to provide a ‘safe place for students’. Also, from a technical perspective, it was quite a challenge to organise education in an office environment, with the ventilation switching off after working hours. Given the relatively high cost for renting the floor, the Faculty made the decision from the start not to provide administrative and technical staff. The WTC24 dépendance had to function without a reception or a back office. Turning need into virtue, selforganization became the watchword. Carl Bourgeois presented the empty floor as an ideal playground for ‘experiments with practices’. Someone in the public adds: ‘The openness of the floor became the main programme of the Faculty.’ The contrasting interests and desires are reflected in the contracts regulating the temporary use of the WTC Tower with the Faculty of Architecture acting as a tenant (consumer) and AWB/51N4E acting as a service provider (producer). For KU Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture, the initial rental costs were roughly €50,000, with added costs for the minimal


18 WELCOME TO JASPERS TOWN

provision of a kitchen, printer, panels, tables, chairs, etc. In contrast, AWB and 51N4E enjoyed a service contract offering ‘free’ space in return. In the case of the AWB, the service was to drum up attention for the North Quarter and to have people visiting the building (which happened in the context of the IABR exhibition and its public programme).

In the evaluation of the asymmetric cohabitation, the important issue is not so much the number of zeros in the contract, but the obvious question: is it conceivable that a university would also provide services in the context of the temporary use of the WTC? Again, the opinions diverge. Freek Persyn gives a straight forward, positive answer: ‘Yes, a school can provide dialogue, experimentation and inspiration, all the things a market player lacks.’ Carl Bourgeois is equally clear in swearing by the ‘safe atmosphere for students’. Strikingly, both visions do not exclude each other, as the school sanctuary is perhaps the best way to organise dialogue, experimentation and inspiration. In that respect, Freek Persyn expresses

regret about one thing: ‘During our stay of one and a half years in the WTC, we failed to set up a common space.’ In the end, the cohabitation of architectural practice and education was limited by having only the lift and roof terrace as the space for spontaneous cross-pollination. Critical reactions concern the opposite question: has the presence of KU Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture yielded nothing in terms of attention for the North Quarter? Petra Pferdmenges intervenes in the debate, arguing affirmatively: ‘Like nobody else, we did animate the parties on the floors, on the rooftop and in the neighbourhood.’ Which brings us to the follow-up question: did property owner Befimmo not derive any benefit from the presence of the Faculty of Architecture on the floor? Here Lieven De Cauter intervenes: ‘We had great pleasure, and we also did a great service to capitalism... they [property owners] should have paid for our stay at WTC.’ A final question in the evaluation of the stay at WTC concerns the inheritance. Someone in the public asks: ‘Is temporary use only fast food or does temporary use also have lasting power?’ After the closure of the WTC was announced, there was a great deal of enthusiasm among the occupants for a ‘permanent temporariness’. Befimmo/ Up4Nort­h organised information sessions on the temporary use of other vacant facilities available in the North Quarter, such as the plinth of WTC3 & 4, the

183


184

NMBS Museum, the vacant CCN, the former cycle service station besides the North Station, etc. Finally, all occupants swarm out. A lot of architects moved from WTC26 to an empty office space in the North Station. 51N4E and AWB ended up in a new but empty office building on Guimardstraat, using the building before it was introduced onto the market. The KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture will move to KANAL Centre Pompidou, together with its sister faculties of UCL and ULB, organising an ‘Interfaculty Lab’ in the former Citroën garage until the construction works kick off there as well. An entirely different sequel lies in the question of whether the ‘temporary’ can be converted into something ‘permanent’. In answer to this question, Freek Persyn reacts enthusiastically and points to the design for the renovation of the WTC complex – at the time of the Sofa Talk not yet made public. Although Freek Persyn cannot yet go into the detail, he insists: ‘The design is completely informed by our presence here at the WTC.’ It is an important victory, as it was initially feared that 51N4E’s collaboration with JaspersEyers would be limited to the design of the façade. Persyn continues: ‘We thought we could change the neighbourhood, but after all the neighbourhood did change us more.’


Bjorn Houttekier interview with Luc Deleu

Moving Without Changing BIO

Bjorn Houttekier is an architect

DKA and architecture design Luc Deleu, founder of the T.O.P. Office and at studio teacher famed for his research into world-encompassing architecture known as ‘Orbanism’, studied at Sint-Lucas and taught there for many years. He is a doctor honoris causa at Hasse­lt University and has travelled around the world by sailboat and cargo ship. T.O.P. Office has published classic books such as ‘URBI ET ORBI’ and ‘ORBAN SPACE’ and exhibited the scale model of The Unadapted City internationally. Luc Deleu, a fan of Bob Dylan and Le Corbusier, officially placed ‘The Last Stone of Belgium’ in 1979. Because of his role as a one-week tutor during the Spring Week (‘Jump Week’) of 2018, he joined us for a talk: about the WTC versus the Meurop Building, Rem Koolhaas at the Furkapass and the problem of vertically-oriented slides.

Mr Deleu, you were a student when the North Quarter was redesigned in the ‘60s. Did that inspire you to assist with the workshops so many decades later during the Spring Week at WTC24?   Rather the opposite, actually. Because of what I saw happening during my student days, I really didn’t feel like coming over during Spring Week. Our graduation project was situated in the North Quarter, but due to all the political machinations at the time, I quickly decided that my final project should focus on something different altogether. I was horrified by what was happening back then.

DELEU

What do you mean by ‘political machinations’? The massive expropriations at the time?

185


‘Expropriations’ is far too polite for what went on. It was undeniably Mafioso behaviour, with threats meant to scare people away. The principle was simple but criminal: we want to get rid of the baker, so we buy the house on the left and the house on the right and when those two are broken down, we ‘accidentally’ knock over the baker’s house. It was harrowing to watch. Especially knowing that it was architects who placed their signatures for all of those interventions.

DELEU

186

Philip Johnson was right then when he labelled architects as prostitutes, doing everything in their power to keep on working? Especially when questionable rationalisations are made afterwards? I’m referring, for example, to the explanations offered by Rem Koolhaas in defence of his CCTV project in China.   Well, this is exactly how it works. Nearly all architects are eager to do business, regardless of their explanations afterwards. And certainly Koolhaas, business is his middle name. He singlehandedly destroyed architecture as we knew it, despite all the great rhetoric. What he does is purely capitalistic building, with a frame of mind that says: ‘I want a building here that dwarfs everything around me’, or: ‘I want a mastodon there that doesn’t care about anything else.’ Quite terrible that kind of attitude — that can’t be stressed enough, I think.

DELEU

You mentioned your refusal to complete a graduation project about the North Quarter because of how the urban development plan was tackled at the time. But despite your antipathy for the North Quarter and the WTC towers, you were a tutor for a week. Can you remember what your first reaction was when you entered WTC24?   Well, I remember that the first thing I wondered was whether there was asbestos on that floor. Everything was completely stripped, so you saw the exposed steel beams and columns on which a kind of white slurry had been sprayed. I’m pretty sure it contained asbestos, but the reactions were rather evasive. ‘It’s quite all right,’ they said, while five metres away students were lashing ropes around those structures: you could almost see the dust floating around. As far as I’m aware, only the 24th floor and the one above

DELEU


19 MOVING WITHOUT CHANGING

it were completely stripped. I suspect this was done to accommodate refugees because, on the news, they called it ‘preparation for an alternative use’. A nice phrase to describe the complete demolition of an interior, don’t you think? It was certainly not a bad deal for the real-estate agent to rent out such an unfurnished floor to a school for a year. One could, of course, also label the students who temporarily moved to WTC24 as a kind of refugee. Can you paint a picture of what you found at the start of the Spring Week?   What I remember well, and what somewhat surprised me, was how timid and respectful everybody was in dealing with that stripped floor. At the start of the exercise, for example, students had to draw on the windows. On plastic film, can you imagine? Because ‘these windows are not allowed to get dirty’, which I found rather bizarre in a building that was set to be completely renovated. I myself suggested putting a big message on the windows with spraypaint, but that did not get a big response: ‘What if we can’t get rid of the paint afterwards?’ came the reply. While I just thought, ‘The bigger the slogan, the better.’ There is only one thing an office tower is able to do, and that is talk to the city.

DELEU

Or, really, just whisper? Since the WTC towers are hermetically sealed off, a dialogue with the environment is scarcely possible.   Quite right. But that is also precisely why scribbling on the windows doesn’t make any impression. The only advantage of ceilin­g-high windows is that you have a view of the city, which at least gives one the feeling of being able to do something for that city.

DELEU

There were all sorts of reasons why Sint-Lucas moved to WTC24. Some considered the Meurop Building too small and insisted on extra square metres. Others had the ambition to explore the neighbourhood and to relate the architecture courses directly to the city. Still others indicated they wanted to collaborate with some of the architectur­e firms on the upper floors.

187


To me, that last thing definitely does not seem like something you want to pursue. I think that architecture students, especially today, should stay clear of architecture agencies and think tanks for as long as possible because often they have a corrupted architectural mindset. An attitude that too easily rubs up against corporate agendas and equity portfolios, often with highly questionable motives.

DELEU

188

So, you see no benefit in cross-border projects where students come into contact with architectural practices during their studies?   None whatsoever. I’m truly convinced that architecture students should function in a cocoon for as long as possible. As a student, you should be completely free in order to have time to think and to dream. The last one in particular, dreaming, is essential when trying to find your way in architecture.

DELEU

Yet an architecture school nowadays is a place where students are initiated and taught by practising architects. Some of whom unconsciously, or even consciously, push their students in a certain direction.   That is a relatively recent phenomenon provoked by the Board of Architects, which made it compulsory to have an architectural diploma to work as an architect. Something which provided a monopoly to qualified architects and robbed architectural studies of its free-floating character. Before then, architect was not protected title and one could just roll into architecture little by little, getting to grips with the profession in any small-town practice.

DELEU

Is that a plea to get rid of architectural studies?   Even if you wanted to, it would be impossible today. But people sometimes forget that, for a long time historically, you could do perfectly fine without that title. Think of the school in Weimar led by Henry van de Velde, which was based on this free-floating system of architectural studies rather than on the quasi-sectarian nature of the contemporary architectural world. Le Corbusier never followed architectural studies. He went to

DELEU


19 MOVING WITHOUT CHANGING

drawing school and was destined to become a watch engraver. It was a drawing teacher who guided him towards architecture. Le Corbusier went to work at the studios of Auguste Perret and Peter Behrens and, through that experience, developed a keen sense of what was good or bad or what kind of architecture was worth consideration. Is it fair to say that the education of architects should develop via an interesting detour? A suggestion which complies more or less with how journalists view journalism education. According to them, it’s far more valuable to study law, history or economics than to attend journalism school. Because only that kind of knowledge can truly establish you as a capable journalist.   There’s a great deal of truth in that. I’m convinced that a rock academy isn’t the best place to learn how to play rock. The Beatles did not graduate from a rock academy and clearly neither did Bob Dylan. He just looked around, played music and suddenly said about himself: ‘I’m a poet and I know it.’ When I studied architecture, in the time of Alfons Hoppenbrouwers (the former director of the Department of Architecture), it was in an art school. You can also find it listed that way in the dictionary: architecture is ‘building art’. Nowadays, the emphasis is increasingly on architecture management. Portfolios must be compiled, presentations made, and then there’s this irritating fascination for ‘renderings’. Partly because of this, architectural studies have turned into a kind of branch of the advertising industry. Building has become branding.

DELEU

What, then, should architecture students study or learn about?   In particular, they should busy themselves with small things, little architectural projects, so that there is time to think about other, more fundamental things, such as: ‘What kind of architecture do I want to create?’ Or ‘where do I want to go with my studies?’ Students must also be shown that designing is fun. And that they do not have to search for beauty explicitly, because it always reveals itself gradually. In the office, for example, we always used

DELEU

189


to design on thick tracing paper which you could scratch over and over and reuse multiple times for drawing. As if emerging out of a kind of fog, it was mesmerising, even beautiful, to see how the design revealed itself after a while. At least, if ‘beautiful’ is a word we’re still allowed to use today. 190

For me, it’s certainly not a taboo word. It even leads us to an aspect of architectural studies that focuses not on content but rather on the physical. More specifically, the form or appearance of the school building. It is almost obvious to state that architecture schools require some sort of unique appearance: be it a mug shot or a baby face that shows what the school stands for, or what kind of architectural thinking is taught. One could refer to such examples as the architecture academy in Nantes by Lacaton Vassal, or that in Glasgow by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, or, completely on the other side of the spectrum: the expansion of Cornell University in New York by O.M.A. All three buildings, might they be called typologies? — seem to want to convey something else.   For me, such a specific appearance, a ‘face’, is absolutely unnecessary. Just look at Meurop, which, if I’m honest, is a really ugly building – I hope I can say that? So, what is a façade like that saying about Sint-Lucas? Nothing. There is absolutely no relation whatsoever with what is going on inside. Things were different for the Bauhaus because in that case, the building was the embodiment of a movement: it physically demonstrated the radicalism of modernism. Nowadays, such statements are outdated. I even wonder if architecture schools should consider not building at all. Because ultimately, it is not the architecture but the location that is all-important. Meurop, with its very striking placement, is a very good example of that.

DELEU

You mean the fact that it’s present in a very mixed, chaotic neighbourhood of Brussels?   Well, that too, although too little was done with that given. What I really mean is Meurop’s position in the city. Driving towards Brussels by train, you clearly see the building standing out. I even once suggested that, instead of the big original letters with

DELEU


19 MOVING WITHOUT CHANGING

‘MEUROP’, ‘COCA COLA’ should be attached to the façade to fund the school, after which the Coke vending machines could be thrown out. 191

So, this means that if the building — the hardware — is of little to no importance, that it’s the ‘software’ that determines the spirit of a school?


Of course, that is the essence of everything. Who is teaching there? And how does he or she teach? And what about? That is probably the most important issue of all. One that is closely related to what we discussed earlier: how do you leave students alone enough so that they have the opportunity to critically examine architecture? It is very peculiar to teach and not bother the student at the same time.

DELEU

192

In that sense, are there lessons to be learned from the Meurop Building? You have taught studio and theory classes for many years.   Well, firstly, make sure there is no asbestos in the floors! And, secondly, provide some sort of basic comfort.

DELEU

By that, you mean the facilities: toilets, workspace, things like that? WTC24, unlike Meurop, was a kind of floating platform, maybe comfort there could be considered secondary to the atmosphere of the space.   That is a total misconception, that comfort should give way to atmosphere or vice versa — the two are not communicating vessels. Also, I’m not thinking about WTC24 here, but first and foremost Meurop, and how teaching was dealt with there. SintLucas didn’t have to move to WTC24 to learn something. A solid, concentrated look at Meurop would have been enough to figure out what wasn’t working there.

DELEU

Someone recently told me that Meurop, before it was renovated, looked quite similar to WTC24 — a very intriguing thought. One may wonder whether that renovation was for the good or the bad. Were qualities lost due to the adaptations in Meurop or did everything suddenly improve?   One thing that must be stated clearly is that the renovation of Meurop had to happen way too fast. There was just no concept and everything had to be finished in a single summer holiday. So, often things were done just like that. To me, it seems more logical to hang out or live in a building for a while before rebuilding it.

DELEU


19 MOVING WITHOUT CHANGING

Does that mean that many of the interventions in Meurop were counterproductive?   Well, the renovation of Meurop consisted of a whole range of haphazard proposals. In order not to offend any of the teaching staff at the time, everyone got their ‘corner’ to design: one did the auditorium, the other the glass box where the reception desk would be, and so forth. I designed an inclined ramp parallel to the sloping footpath bordering the school. The idea was to situate the entrance on the side façade. Once inside, you could choose to go up to the studio floors using the stairs or down to a student hangout, via this new ramp. Now, with the entrance at the front, it’s rather silly to have the ramp, although I still use it when I have to go upstairs!

DELEU

The renovated Meurop, therefore, was a sort of a collage? An environment to disrupt its users or rather alluding to a surprise?   If it was, then it certainly didn’t succeed. Most of the surprises at Meurop were quite unpleasant, even caricatural in nature. The theory classrooms, for example, were completely formless, which is already an achievement. In those rooms you had to keep two metres away from the heating pipes in the corner or you would burn your skin. And, of course, the acoustics were really abominable in many spaces. First and foremost, I’m thinking of the dining and sitting areas for the students on the ground floor: you still get a headache if you want to talk to each other there. Another joke was how they succeeded in hanging the speakers in front of the projection screen in the auditorium. But the worst thing was that you couldn’t display a vertical slide show anywhere in the building! That was because the people who came to install the projectors and screens only brought horizontal slides to test the devices, quite astonishing…

DELEU

These are, of course, very fundamental technical issues that may have been considered secondary to other concerns. Did any of the interventions have any positive effect on the spatial functioning of the school?

193


Well, they build glass walls, which are quite impractical to work in. But what really changed everything was the decision to do away with the privatised studio room. Something I consider the essence of an architecture school: to have a room or a zone where you can hold discussions and work for a few weeks without always having to move everything. In that sense, the renovation has done little good. Everyone in Meurop became a refugee overnight.

DELEU

194

That suddenly sounds very much like WTC24.   Well yes, but it’s hard to understand why fleeing something that is dysfunctional to go stay in something that is dysfunctional too, would help. Let alone constantly fleeing each other in one and the same building. It was rather crude how we were suddenly forced to work that way. Nobody had a dedicated room where material could remain untouched. Or where you could go at any time of the day to continue working on a model.

DELEU

What you express here is also something I gathered from students who worked at WTC24: that the excess of space allowed everyone to annex a piece of floor with a personal working table. The possibility of continue to work in the evening is a recurring characteristic of WTC24. On the other hand, one of the reasons for leaving Meurop temporarily was the shortage of square metres. Something that might at least be a valid motivation for a move?   What you’re saying is: because the problems in Meurop are unsolvable, let’s try again somewhere else? It’s not because you move that you change. And when it comes to square metres, why not add an extra floor on top of Meurop? At least if the structure allows it … And you know my opinion about the glass partitions everywhere: they can certainly be removed again or replaced by walls. Still, I don’t think it should be that exotic at all. Invest in decent sanitation facilities to begin with. And, even though I’m rather opposed to insulation, five centimetres of PUR against the façade wouldn’t hurt.

DELEU

So, for you, it’s all about user comfort as a basis for educational quality?


19 MOVING WITHOUT CHANGING

  Look, I don’t know many schools where a leaking roof or the lamentable state of the plumbing is considered very attractive for new students. Such things seem to me fairly essential to be able to teach well. Also, solve the space problem. Add an extra floor, as I mentioned. Or, why not less room for bureaucracy? It’s remarkable that, for example, the administration is allocated permanent places. They never have to make room for anyone.

DELEU

We’re now speaking very concretely about WTC24 versus Meurop, which, of course, is the purpose of this discussion. But perhaps the trade-off between both locations is absurd. If you could choose between the following three places to teach architecture students, what would it be: a struction site, an office tower or an aircraft carrier?   That is obviously a provocation! [TOP. office made the proposal in 1972 to house the University of Antwerp on three aircraft carriers and to have them travel the world: the Mobile Medium University] I still really think there is nothing more interesting than being a student in this big cocoon on the ocean for five years and anchoring at a completely different city every few days. On a ship, you see the world in real life. For example, I was able to see that bungalow housing is just about the most built form on the planet. And recently I read that UNESCO has added reggae to its ‘world heritage’ list. Well, by sailing around the world and mooring everywhere, I could witness that first hand — almost everywhere you go, you hear Bob Marley. You don’t experience things like that in an office tower. And, by the way, is there anything more beautiful than the architecture of a ship?

DELEU

195


Now that we’re talking about world heritage and the proposals from T.O.P. Office: if you could choose one of your projects to go on that UNESCO list, which one would it be?   Now, that’s a question! As a world heritage site, you say? Nothing, I’m guessing?

DELEU

196

I’m just asking because of the ‘House in Bordeaux’ from O.M.A. (Villa Lemoine in Floriac) has been on the monument list in France since 2002.   That is quite different from world heritage! My own house is also a monument, so let’s just say that it’s not such a big event

DELEU


19 MOVING WITHOUT CHANGING

for Koolhaas. We were both born in the same year (1944) you know, although that does not quite make us friends. At the end of the ‘80s I contacted him to see if he would like to renovate the hotel Furkablick at the Furkapass in Switzerland, while I would do an extension of the service building. That’s how it actually went: he did the hotel and I got the consolation prize a little further down the mountain. So now we stand side by side on one of the Swiss Alps. That makes me, I think, the Belgian architect who has built in the highest place in the world. But Koolhaas still ended up a little higher with his hotel?   On the contrary! My little concrete shed is at 2,436 metres and Koolhaas’ intervention is about six metres lower. So, to answer your earlier question about UNESCO: perhaps that intervention should become world heritage, with the untouched interior of Panamarenko in it. Panamarenko bought that studio at the time, and his poetic mess is still waiting for him.

DELEU

197


To conclude, something about the ambitions of an architecture school. The AA School of Architecture in London has the slogan ‘Desig­n with beauty, build in truth’. Is that slogan laughable, provocative or simply accurate?   There’s a lot to say about it, but for me, it’s simple: you have to be careful with mottos, especially if they are repeated everywhere. Look at ‘L’union fait la force’ with which Belgium presents itself. Total nonsense, no? In advertising, it’s an unspoken but ironic law that you have to sell your weaknesses as a quality. Belgium does that quite well, I think.

DELEU

198

However, Firmitas, Utilitas, Venustas is also a slogan that has been around for a long time.   For 2,000 years now. But that is not a slogan in itself, rather it’s architecture theory that has subsequently become a slogan. One with a lot of truth in it. Look at Meurop: fix it up properly like we discussed, and then make sure that students can busy themselves with the beautiful, no matter how exalted that may sound.

DELEU

Then perhaps the slogan of the AA in reverse order sounds like a good motto for Sint-Lucas: ‘Design in truth, build with beauty’?   Let us stick to that. And also: ‘It is better to adapt yourself to the building than have the building adapted to you.’

DELEU


Jan Denoo

Scientists, lab rats and uncertainty in the experimental city BIO

Jan Denoo is a master student in urban studies & agogics at VUB

Modernism killed the past. Postmodernism killed the future. Today, a new planning paradigm is emerging from both sides in this ‘temporal rupture’1 (p. 355). Rejecting lessons from the past or utopias for the future, ‘Urban Experimentation’ is put forth in public and private spheres as a new narrative that enables thinking and acting upon the city between a contested present and an uncertain future2–8. Exchanging secluded test-sites for complex society9,10 and clear hypotheses for open-endedness5,7,11,12; urban experimentation has been resurrected from its pragmatist past3,5,7,13,14. Merging with this laboratorisation of the urbanscape is the rising practice of temporary use15. Next to 1) ‘preventing decay’ and 2) ‘revitalising its surrounding context’, this practice is often framed as a ‘lab’ to 3) test out structures and programmes on a temporally, spatially and budgetarily bounded scale that could inspire future projects5. While the first two motivations for temporary use are often criticised as rent-gap creating and gentrifying marketing tools16, this third argument is often staged to legitimise temporary use as radical experimentation that ‘can open up cities to more radical agendas of change’7 (p. 3). In Brussels, a similar narrative is coming to the fore. As stated by the Chief Government Architect of the Brussels Capital Region, Kristiaan Borret, the 6,500,000 square metres of vacant space in the region17 offers the opportunity for temporary use as ‘there is no deterioration awaiting the start of the construction project, there will

199


200

be a fresh impulse for the neighbourhood, or even a test phase, to uncover new ideas for the final project.’18 (p. 1). After a range of small- to medium-sized urban experiments that took place in the capital, a new and large-scale one was introduced in its contested North Quarter, of which the temporary occupation of the 24th floor of the WTC1 Tower by KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture Campus Sint-Lucas was part. To understand and critically evaluate the current experimental framing of the neighbourhood development and the position of temporary occupation of the WTC1 building therein, it cannot be isolated from (and is embedded within) its paradigmatic, extreme and contested planning history19. Approaching planning as ‘controlling uncertainty’ about the future20 (p. 159), and uncertainty as a contested social construct, three post-WWII phases of dealing with uncertainty in the North Quarter and Brussels as a whole are identified via oneand-a-half years of fieldwork, more than thirty interviews, debates and international literature research. By denaturalising uncertainty about the future and laying bare its capture by economic rationales, the process of dealing with it through urban planning is critically evaluated and repoliticised. Transcending uncertainty An initial planning phase can be situated in the post-WWII era. After years of mourning and the gradual reconstruction of the traumatic recent past, a new perspective on the future was developed. This perspective was reflected in the modern urban planning that had already begun breeding that century in the United States, envisioning largescale and ambitious new futures. The first radical, if hesitant, proposals for the North Quarter in 1928 by V. Bourgeois, followed by those of Groupe Structures in the ‘60s,21 led to the first wave of residents leaving home, breaking away from the uncertainty that hovered over the neighbourhood. The fabricated decay that followed in certain streets was framed and generalised for the whole neighbourhood as an ‘urban disease’ that — as in other parts of the world22–25— was central to legitimising an even more radical ambition for the neighbourhood. ‘My fellow citizens. Belgium is about to enter a new dimension. And the inhabitants of this country will be able to live wealthier and think broader. At least, if they are willing to do so.’ Half a century


20 SCIENTISTS, LAB RATS & UNCERTAINTY IN THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY 1  Madanipour, A. Connectivity and contingency in planning. Plan. Theory 9, 351–368 (2010). 2  Abbott, J. Understanding and Managing the Unknown: The Nature of Uncertainty in Planning.    J. Plan. Educ. Res. 24, 237–251 (2005). 3  Caprotti, F. & Cowley, R. Interrogating urban experiments. Urban Geogr. 38, 1441–1450 (2017). 4  Davies, G. Where do experiments end? Geoforum 41, 667–670 (2010). 5  Evans, J. Trials and Tribulations: Problematizing the City through/as Urban Experimentation:     Trials and Tribulations. Geogr. Compass 10, 429–443 (2016). 6  Hodson, M., Evans, J. & Schliwa, G. Conditioning experimentation: The struggle for place-based discretion in    shaping urban infrastructures. Environ. Plan. C Polit. Space 239965441876548 (2018).   doi:10.1177/2399654418765480 7  Karvonen, A. & van Heur, B. Urban Laboratories: Experiments in Reworking Cities: Introduction.   Int. J. Urban Reg. Res. 38, 379–392 (2014). 8  Powell, R. C. & Vasudevan, A. Geographies of Experiment. Environ. Plan. A 39, 1790–1793 (2007). 9  Gross & Krohn. Society as experimental or sociological foundations for a self-experimental society. (2005). 10 Heathcott, J. ‘The Whole City Is Our Laboratory’: Harland Bartholomew and the Production of Urban Knowledge. J. Plan. Hist. 4, 322–355 (2005). 11 Kenny, M. K. M. & Meadowcroft, J. M. J. Planning sustainability edited by Michael Kenny and James Meadowcroft. (London: New York: Routledge, 1999). 12 Meadowcroft, J. What about the politics? Sustainable development, transition management, and long-term energy transitions. Integrating Knowl. Pract. Adv. Hum. Dign. 42, 323–340 (2009). 13 Dewey, J. The quest for certainty: a study of the relation of knowledge and action. (Kessinger Publishing, 2005). 14 Park, R. E. The city as a social laboratory’, in T.V. Smith and L.D. White (eds) Chicago: An Experiment in Social Science Research, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. in Chicago: An Experiment in Social Science Research (University of Chicago Press, 1929). 15 Madanipour, A. Temporary use of space: Urban processes between flexibility, opportunity and precarity. Urban Stud. 55, 1093–1110 (2018). 16 May, T. & Perry, B. Knowledge for just urban sustainability. Local Environ. 22, 23–35 (2017). 17 Kennis, P., Dirkx, L. & Destrijcker, L. Leegstond. (Toestand, 2018). 18 Bruzz. Team Bouwmeester: ‘Leegstaande gebouwen verdienen een ruimer perspectief’. Bruzz (2018). Available at: https://www.bruzz.be/opinie/team-bouwmeester-leegstaande-gebouwen-verdienen-een-ruimerperspectief-2018-12-14. (Accessed: 3rd January 2019) 19 Flyvbjerg, B. Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research. Qual. Inq. 12, 219–245 (2006). 20 Marris, P. Meaning and action: community planning and conceptions of change. (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987). 21 Wonen TA/BK. Noordwijk. Wonen TABK (1975). 22 Osborne, N. Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change. 34, 406–407 (2016). 23 Beauregard, R. A. Between Modernity and Postmodernity: The Ambiguous Position of US Planning. Environ. Plan. Soc. Space 7, 381–395 (1989). 24 Gans, H. J. Planning for People, Not Buildings. Environ. Plan. Econ. Space 1, 33–46 (1969). 25 Harvey, D. The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. (Blackwell, 1989). 26 Martens, A. Ten years of expropriations and evictions in the Brussels North Quarter (1965-1975): what are the legacies today? Bruss. Stud. 1–15 (2009).

ago, this government announcement had to prepare the Belgian population for one of the most ambitious urban developments on the continent. Driven by a determined modernist optimism, building on the spirits of the World Fair in ‘58, the prime minister of Belgium, Paul Vanden Boeynants, presented his latest collaboration with realestate giant Charles ‘Charly’ De Pauw; the ‘Manhattan Plan’. With ‘great urgency’ and for ‘the common good’, a radical tabula rasa development of Brussels’ North Quarter was justified in the Belgian Official Gazette of 1967. In total, 53,000 square metres with 11,000 residents, or more than 3,000 families, were expropriated, their homes destroyed26 to build ‘the navel of Europe’21. The plan consisted

201


202

of 58 office towers with a height between 40 and 160 metres, all built on 13-metre high plinths that would be connected by bridges to serve as an artificial pedestrian level, giving way to two highways — one connecting Amsterdam to the Mediterranean and the other connecting Istanbul with the Atlantic to London and the United States – that would cross on the ground level27. As sharply described in Giddens’ Runaway World (1999), the optimism and risk calculations that were key to underpinning modernism to ‘colonise’ the future as the otherwise ‘great unknown’, the major urban developments and the promises they held could only be summarised as ‘things haven’t turned out that way’28 (p. 44). In Brussels, the econometric risk calculation culture that had been imported from France — a mode of thinking that became embedded in institutes like the Société Belge d’Economie et Mathématiques Appliquées (SOBEMAP), which backed the socio-economic ‘common good’ that the Manhattan Plan promised — also suffered a major hit. The risk calculations that were supposed to be ‘a way of regulating the future, of normalising it and bringing it under our dominion’28 (p. 44) and the assumptions it made were abruptly confronted with the 1973 oil crisis. Its aftermath scarred the city. The €534 million in tax money that had been invested in the project with a belief in its trickle-down effect only resulted in 22% of the planned buildings, 43% of the foreseen residents and around 30% of the promised job positions in 201129. Although this recent history only lives on in a few of its inhabitants, its heritage is still strongly echoing in the present. Not only is its financial crater still being paid off by the residents of the three municipalities that were involved: Brussels, Sint-Joost-Ten-Node and Schaerbeek. The history is still carved in its urban landscape as every visitor to Brussels’ administrative centre outside of the North Quarter — as well as those of a dozen other buildings — still have to take a staircase to the foreseen elevated pedestrian level of the North Quarter. Reframing uncertainty A second phase of dealing with uncertainty was introduced as a reaction to the aftermath of what has been labelled Bruxellisation. Next to other brutal developments in Belgium’s capital, such as the NorthSouth railway connection and the European Quarter, the Manhattan Plan in the North Quarter is described as ‘the capitalist destruction of the city with a compromising role of the public sector’30 (p. 303). The


20 SCIENTISTS, LAB RATS & UNCERTAINTY IN THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY 27 Eede, M. vanden & Martens, A. De Noordwijk: slopen en wonen. (EPO, 1994). 28 Giddens, A. Runaway world: how globalisation is reshaping our lives. (Profile Books, 1999). 29 Martens, A. Vier decennia later: De balans van een megaproject (1967-2010). Stand van zaken 44 jaar na de afkondiging van de drie Bijzondere Plannen van Aanleg (BPA’s) van het Manhattanplan. Een schoolvoorbeeld ter illustratie van de stellingen van Bent Flyvbjerg en Michael Burawoy. (2011). 30 Lagrou, E. Brussels: a superimposition of social, cultural and spatial layers. (London: Spon, 2003). 31 Doucet, I. Making a city with words: Understanding Brussels through its urban heroes and villains. City Cult. Soc. 3, 105–116 (2012). Mural. Crocodile Book by Pierre Gérard, 1979 – 1991. Collected & researched by Joris Sleebus. History of Brussels crocodile book ... And the gallant crocodile crushed the dreadful Saint Michael. A thousand years later, the mayor of Brussels celebrated his millennium on the Grand-Place with crocodile people, Brussels residents not admitted.

trauma it left the city with, and the ‘villains’ it created31, formed the basis for a new mode of thinking and for planning the future. These

203


204

events severely disrupted the stability that was essential to secure the stretched turnover time of the Fordist economies and its linear causality assumptions that propelled this mode of urban planning. As a result, as the temporal stability essential to Fordism evaporated, the shortening of investment time frames served as an answer to the uncertainties within the various economic sectors25. If uncertainty generally exists in between the actual and the possible, and the economy exists in between supply and an incalculable and fluctuating demand32, a new just-in-time model of investment, production and supply aims to narrow this gap25. Hence, uncertainty is reduced to a minimum so that it can be embedded within, and embraced by, this new economic system. In Brussels, this new rationale was reflected in urban planning practices that strongly confined its temporal and spatial boundaries and introduced participatory practices while assuaging its blueprintaverse population. More than anything, this new mode of urban planning is embodied in the District Contracts that began four years after the instalment of the Brussels Capital Region in 1989 and developed into the Sustainable District Contracts in 2010. The four- to six-year running redevelopments of limited perimeters with budgets of around ₏30 million were installed to patch up the socio-spatial ruptures in the city that are strongly connected to Bruxellisation. Test-tubing uncertainty Today, half a century after the introduction of the Manhattan Plan, new urban planning narratives are coming to the fore. As the stitches of the patchworked urban landscape of Brussels, as described above, are loosening, two reactions can be distinguished. First, building on the maturation of the region — that is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year — as well as addressing the rising voices for regionalising municipal responsibilities, various actions have been undertaken to respond to the challenges that transcend local budgets and interests. The Regional Sustainable Development Plan of 2018, which looks towards the horizons of both 2025 and 2040, is the most telling example of this spatial and temporal upscaling. Second, the rigidity and contested results of the Sustainable District Contracts to locally implement urban change is animating a new field of practice in which new modes of planning the city are being trialled. In the North Quarter, after fifty years of lagging development,


20 SCIENTISTS, LAB RATS & UNCERTAINTY IN THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY 32 Savini, F. Planning, uncertainty and risk: The neoliberal logics of Amsterdam urbanism. Environ. Plan. 49, 857 – 875 (2017). 33 LabNorth. About the Lab. (2017). Available at: http://labnorth.be/en/about. (Accessed: 10th December 2017)

both dynamics are being played out. First, as the canal is considered the backbone of Brussels’ Regional Sustainable Development Plan, the neighbourhood’s location along it drags it more directly into the spotlight. Second, the selection procedure of the Sustainable District Contracts made that the North Quarter, while being one of the most iconic cases of the bulldozer urbanism it wanted to be an alternative to – was never subject to a serious public rethinking and redevelopment programme. What’s more, the people-centred approach of the redevelopment programme meant that, ironically, the expropriated and still scarcely inhabited portion of the North Quarter never made it onto the list of priorities. More boldly, the underlying lack of voters from the expropriated area lies at the heart of decades of public disengagement, abandoning its responsibility to the current private developers to clean up the Manhattan mess. As a consequence, the biggest private owners of the office towers in the area, among which are Allianz Benelux, the biggest real-estate developer in Belgium Immobel and the semi-public Belfius Insurance, launched a new non-profit called ‘Up4North’ to guide the neighbourhood to a ‘[…] turning point towards a dynamic, innovative area where different worlds meet, share and connect’33. Moreover, they installed LabNorth, a consortium of creative agencies, to coordinate the experimental urban development of a new future for the neighbourhood. As with the previous modes, dealing with uncertainty through urban planning cannot be thought outside of the economic regime and the uncertainties in which it is embedded. To uncover this, the same questions central to planning come to the fore; what and whose uncertainty about the future is dominant and how will this be translated into the planning practice being introduced to deal with this uncertainty of modernity? Asking these questions, one main narrative is presented by the developers: ‘based upon the strengths of the area such as the good accessibility and the strategic location, they are all convinced that a major transformation is needed for the district’33. Deconstructing this narrative, one can conclude that as one of the busiest train stations in the country, multiple national and interna-

205


206

tional bus services as well as metros and trams have already been present for decades, it does not explain the question: Why now? Tellingly, the ‘strategic’ location, as similarly labelled by the region, is due to the vacancy rate in the area. As it rises up to 20%, while multiple other buildings are being planned and built in the area, there is evident economic uncertainty. After Fordism and flexible accumulation, this uncertainty is key to current financialisation and accompanying speculative accumulation that dominates the current urban landscape. More specifically, the decoupling of use and exchange value presents a new economic uncertainty to generate rent gaps and find actors to sell or rent and monetise this gap34. This brings us to the heart of today’s experiments, of which the temporary occupation of the World Trade Center 1 building is an example. On the one hand, the temporary use could serve as a realworld-laboratory35, 36 to reintroduce new ‘imaginaries’ in an area where lost memories of a distant past and a 9-to-5 present suck up all inspiration for the future. Next to a temporary exhibition, various creative agencies, a pop-up swimming pool as well as benches in front of the train station, the WTC24* most explicitly held the promise to serve the experimental purpose of temporary use. Students and professors engaged with the neighbourhood, iterating between a birds-eye view and testing out interventions on the ground level while rethinking an area that had long been overlooked. While the propositions and models on the 24th floor did not look much different from those presented by Groupe Structures, the confrontation with the neighbourhood’s ground-floor complexities introduced important nuances that fed regular debates and lift chats. These ‘experiments’ encompass ‘new ways of doing things on a spatially and temporally bounded scale’3 (p. 1443) that ‘couple intervention and observation’7,37 and are seen as a timely and promising antipode to modernist ‘prediction and control’5,38,39, enabling actors to ‘act despite vast uncertainties and gaps in knowledge’40 (p. 4). This argument aligns with Badiou’s41 (p. 56) statement that ‘a change in the world is real when the inexistent of the world begin to exist in the same world with maximum intensity’. In that sense, this mode of planning is promoted as one that ‘may provide some potential to challenge mainstream urbanisation [and] propose radical visions for the future’6 (p. 16). On the other hand, this new practice seems to pacify critique while rendering controllable the uncertainty rising from complex, fluid and networked realities42. Moreover,


20 SCIENTISTS, LAB RATS & UNCERTAINTY IN THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY 34 Smith, N. Toward a Theory of Gentrification A Back to the City Movement by Capital, not People. J. Am. Plann. Assoc. 45, 538–548 (1979). 35 Gieryn, T. F. City as Truth-Spot: Laboratories and Field-Sites in Urban Studies. Soc. Stud. Sci. 36, 5–38 (2006). 36 Gross, M. Give Me an Experiment and I Will Raise a Laboratory. Sci. Technol. Hum. Values 41, 613–634 (2016). 37 Karvonen, A. The City of Permanent Experiments? in Innovating Climate Governance (eds. Turnheim, B., Kivimaa, P. & Berkhout, F.) 201–215 (Cambridge University Press, 2018). 38 Evans, J. P. Resilience, ecology and adaptation in the experimental city. Trans. Inst. Br. Geogr. 36, 223–237 (2011). 39 Wohl, S. Tactical urbanism as a means of testing relational processes in space: A complex systems perspective. Plan. Theory 17, 472–493 (2018). 40 Karvonen, A., Evans, J. & van Heur, B. The politics of urban experiments: Radical change or business as usual? 104–116 (2014). doi:10.4324/9780203074602 41 Badiou, A. The rebirth of history. (Verso, 2012). 42 Edwards, G. A. S. & Bulkeley, H. Heterotopia and the urban politics of climate change experimentation.  Environ. Plan. Soc. Space 36, 350–369 (2018). 43 Webb, D. Tactical Urbanism: Delineating a Critical Praxis. Plan. Theory Pract. 19, 58–73 (2018).

urban experiments seem to mutate and merge commonly experienced uncertainties with the risks of today’s speculative accumulation in three ways, as explained in the following section. Scientists & lab rats First of all, the boundedness of urban experiments could work as an induced amnesia for the horrors of the Manhattan Plan, a refashioning of trickle-down economics after 2007 and 2008 as well as blinders for its role as a ‘scout’ or ‘bait’ to reduce the uncertainty for a new round of speculative investment43. This role of LabNorth and the various experiments in the area is not hard to imagine as tenants are leaving and developers are preparing to reiterate a new boom after a strong bust. More precisely, it is distracting attention from the history of the area, the tax money that was invested in it and the once promised common good that is still bound to the ground on which the ‘private’ redevelopment of the area is taking place. Finally, the experiments are generating a wave of uncontextualized newspaper articles and Instagram flicks that are key to getting overseas investors on board. Second, although these experiments are often praised for their change orientation and place-based knowledge by outside actors, they are barely taken seriously from within. In the North Quarter, and more specifically in the World Trade Center, this is most visible in the blurred but factually different position of the temporary users. Although the board in the lift lists every temporary user as part of the

207


208

lab, a contractual difference between them is dividing them into two major categories. The first category holds a service contract, allowing them to use the space for free in return for developing knowledge or, more specifically, a vision for the neighbourhood. The second category consists of most of the temporary users with a use contract who all pay €35/m2 in return for engaging with the neighbourhood. This clearly splits the temporary users into the scientists on the one hand and the lab rats on the other — with both the students and professors of WTC24, despite their knowledge production activities, being part of the latter. Third, in line with this blurry experimental set-up, are the following questions: What are the hypotheses? What experiments can take place? Who will perform the monitoring? What factors are being looked at? When is an experiment defined as successful? How are lessons translated after and beyond the laboratory? What weight do these lessons have on the future of an urban project? Without being transparent about which mechanisms are under the hood of experimental urban development, they become empty signifiers that are bound to fall prey to capitalist capture. Rather than testing hypotheses, these experiments would then minimise their role as testing hypotheses and serve as demonstrators. Put differently by May and Perry, ‘they are about context-revision, not sensitivity. They demonstrate adaptability and flexibility in the face of aspiration under conditions of heightened uncertainty. The particular elements brought together within a city demonstrate global aspiration that signals attraction and flexibility for capital accumulation’16 (p. 37). Although its deductive embracing of actual worlds seems to answer the woes of inductive modernism and the urban traumas of Brussels and its North Quarter, it also falls prey to post-political critique as it forecloses debate44 and discredits antagonism, in service of consensus45. As pointed out by May and Perry ‘we find apparent legitimacy for the adoption of a universal method that readily permits scientism to saturate the realm of political responsibility but also indicates a willingness for the city to be a place of continual adaptation to the demands of neoliberal capitalism’16 (p. 38). Although the experimental city narrative is actively aligning itself with the radica­l, the formalised laboratory setting for urban experiments indeed holds the power of defining ‘the very parameters of what is considered ‘possible’ in the existing constellation’46 (p. 199) and begs for critical inquiry into the possibility to overcome it.


20 SCIENTISTS, LAB RATS & UNCERTAINTY IN THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY 44 Dikeç, M. & Swyngedouw, E. Theorizing the Politicizing City: Theorizing The Politicizing City. Int. J. Urban Reg. Res. 41, 1–18 (2017). 45 Mouffe, C. On the political. (Routledge, 2005). 46 Cicek, S. The ticklish subject: the absent centre of political ontology. (Verso, 2008). 47 Oosterlynck, S. & González, S. ‘Don’t Waste a Crisis’: Opening up the City Yet Again for Neoliberal Experimentation: Debates and Developments. Int. J. Urban Reg. Res. 37, 1075–1082 (2013). 48 Lefebvre, H. The production of space. (Blackwell, 2011). 49 Swyngedouw, E. The Post-Political City. in Urban Politics Now: Re-Imagining Democracy in the Neo-Liberal City. 58 – 76 (NAI010 Publishers, 2007). * The author wants to thank his supervisors Bas Van Heur (COSMOPOLIS, Brussels Center for Urban Studies)  and Michael Ryckewaert (STeR*), his mentors Albert Martens (Prof. Emeritus KU Leuven), Joris Sleebus,  Marie Coûteaux and Steyn Van Assche (BRAL) and also Kristiaan Borret (BMA), Géry Leloutre (ULB),  Pierre Lemaire (Perspective.brussels), Sven Lenaerts (LabNorth) and all my other interviewees, plus my  sparring-partners Wouter De Raeve (The New Local), Koen Berghmans (Woningen123Logements),  Stijn Maes and Tom Schoonjans and finally the editors for their contribution to this research and  constructive comments on this text.

Building on the previous arguments, a strong case could be made to claim that experiments — and more specifically those taking place in the North Quarter, which the temporary use of the 24th of the World Trade Center by KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture is part of — are a laboratory for ‘urban governance rationalities’ in the stretch of the financial crisis that ‘opened up the city as a laboratory for neoliberal experiments’47 (p. 1076). In other words, if experimentalism is a strategy for urban transformation, it is an affirmative one that runs the risk of ‘bolstering business-as-usual outside the experimental bubble, tinkering at the edges of a broken system’16 (p. 41). Although experiments indeed offer a promising new way of bridging process and environmental uncertainty via science, its contemporary economic capturing does refashion the means of urban production but seems to leave capital accumulation as its fundamental end untouched. Only by politicising the power relations between its scientists and lab rats can the merits of urban experimentation be evacuated. Decolonising the future Altogether, I have aimed to embed urban experimentation through temporary use — and the case of the World Trade Center 1 building, within a layered history of urban planning as ‘controlling uncertainty’. By denaturalising uncertainty about the future as a social construct, its economic capturing is laid bare. As a result of this latent capture, acting upon these economic uncertainties through urban planning is legitimised as ‘common good’ while ‘fixing’ economic crisis tendencies, reproducing dominant power structures through the production of

209


space48 and ‘colonising’ the future as a territory28. Hence, this conclusion encourages one to question whose uncertainty is addressed in urban planning in order to break open the foreclosed gap between ‘the actual’ and ‘the possible’41 and decolonise the core political practice of ‘foregrounding and naming different urban futures’49 (p. 71). * 210


Peter Swinnen & PilotBXL

Futuring The Legacy From Meurop to WTC and back BIO

Peter Swinnen is an architect and Sint-Lucas School of Architecture Brussels Alumni (since 1995)

What follows is a brief correspondence between Pilot BXL - a workgroup conisting of (former) students thinking along in the search for a more specific Brussels Campus - and Peter Swinnen, initiator of the aforementioned idea and workgroup, and policy whisperer of WTC24. With this Pilot BXL tries to retrace some of its own steps, in order to find out the real setup of WTC24. Not in search for the one and only truth, but rather to understand the larger context in which they have acted over the past year and a half.

April 13th, 2019 Forest, Brussels Dear Peter, Some fourteen months later, we would like to come back to your initia­l question (in the email attached), which turned out to be the beginning of a very interesting and unpredictable journey for us. A hesitant but enthusiastic beginning, many interesting conversations, some models for the Meurop building, a series of lectures and an eventful debate evening later - we think this is a good time to try to

211


212

clarify a few things, questioning them again at the same time. The occasion is a publication on WTC24 : the temporary occupation (three semesters) of the 24th floor of the WTC-I building by (part of) Sint-Lucas Brussels. In addition to a collection of reflections on our stay and the insights and frictions that may or may not be fascinating, the publication is also a means (for us) to involve the experiment in some of the ambitions for Sint- Lucas Brussels that have been hanging in the air for a while. The trip to the WTC seems to fit in a greater search for a more precise and specific identity for the Meurop, as a building but mostly as an institution. A search and storyline in which you were always involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in front of and behind the scenes... A clarification and a bit of historiography from your perspective seems necessary and valuable to us. For these and other reasons, we would very much like to invite you to participate in the book, in whatever form; what do you think?1 All the best, Jochen, Rosa, Helen, Anton, Kaat Van: Peter Swinnen Aan: Helen Van de Vloet; Rosa Fens; Anton Parys Onderwerp: PILOT BXL vrijdag 9 februari 2018 17:48

Helen, Rosa, Anton, This weekend I am going to paint classroom A22 in the Meurop, with the intention to start a studio there shortly (not an educational design studio, but a kind of office, so to speak). That studio wants to start working on the future of the Meurop, the two adjacent buildings and the vacant lot in the Rogierstraat. Nel, Patrick Moyersoen, Arnaud Hendricks and Wim Goossens are all participating, explicitly or implicitly. The ambition is to make the identity of Sint-Lucas Brussels clearer, one way of doing that is making its infrastructure in the city clearer. In parallel, work will be continued on the curriculum as well as on the further development of a Brussels network (potential clients). The presentation we gave in February 2017 is a previous version of this (practices in residence, free radicals & colleges). We still believe that this can make sense and can refresh and sharpen the educational model. We can imagine that Meurop and its surroundings will become a kind of home base and that in the future (WTCwise) parts of the school will be ‘itinérant’. For the coming months, we are looking for students who can strengthen/challenge us. Anything in terms of engagement is possible. I know that you are work-


21 FUTURING THE LEGACY 1 This email was originally written in Dutch and translated to english for this publication 2 This email was originally written in Dutch and translated to english for this publication

ing on your graduation projects but perhaps it could be nice to spend a short moment elsewhere from time to time. I would also like to launch this call to a broader group of students, but perhaps we should talk about this first. Roeland had already promised to delegate some of his elective students, which is already a start. Are you here on the 24th floor on Monday?2 have a nice weekend, Peter

April 14, 2019 La Roche Qui Pleure Grainval/Saint-Léonard The book you mention seems to be both a hazardous and urgent matter. Particularly when you acknowledge that the whole ‘WTC24 process’ has not been an innocent one. I do feel it is something worthwhile discussing things seriously; weighing and counterweighing the pros and cons. It seems to be a necessary exercise in productive failure, even productive conflict. An exercise that, strangely enough, has not been fully attempted (so far). Will the book fill this void? And which tireless role will you take on? Implicit or explicit? Editor or producer? Questioning actively or recording passively? etc. Of course, there are many nuances to be made. Still, when everything is ‘nuanced’, does anything actually happen? Perhaps a clear position could momentarily lighten the task ahead. Although something real happened these past two years, a deadly honest synthesis has always been avoided. The latter for reasons I cannot comprehend, but maybe that is completely irrelevant. So, coming back your question of its origin: I would suggest a correspondence, an exchange in the (almost logical) extension of the organic discussions we held over the past 24 months, on and off, conscious and unconscious. The book itself should be then understood as a provocation, not an end in itself, just as a school (and architecture school) should be a healthy provocation. This being said: WTC24 never managed to provoke anything. It simply participated, or worse:

213


214

it pretended to participate. As such, I don’t find this failure problematic, being an intrinsic part of the empiric environment that is education. Although an important chapter remains missing, it might have been an aim that was meant to miss. So, let’s try discussing the ins and outs of WTC24, what an architecture school could be about, what openings are to be found, and what paths have proven to be untenable or naive dead-ends. Let’s discuss futuring the legacy of this somewhat odd but crucial school of architecture. I leave you with the suggestion that WTC24 has many beginnings. It started – officially - in 2017, yet perhaps already in 2013. Or was it 1980? Its (physical) end on the other hand is far less ambiguous. Last week, I took this snapshot during an unintended drive-by (a road detour). The construction crane that finally will take apart the crime scene. Stealthily making space for what? P.

May 9th, 2019 FOREST, BRUSSELS


21 FUTURING THE LEGACY

Dear Peter, We are happy to accept your invitation to set up a correspondence. About this book itself, but mainly on what preceded it, and what could follow. Somehow a physical residue of our stay in WTC 24 seems necessary for various reasons; not to let the possible ‘lessons learned’ of the experience disappear, trying to make something that could be used for discussions later on, and yes, also as a provocation inviting those involved to take position, to say something at last. Like you, a number of protagonists were contacted to contribute to this publication, in addition to an open call that was sent out to include unexpected but refreshing thoughts. But besides this collection of reflections, the book is - as we mentioned already - also a means of involving the experiment in a number of ambitions that have long been on the table for Sint-Lucas Brussels. A means for us trying to figure out if, and if so how this adventure was part of a larger plan or idea. Futuring the legacy seems a good starting point, reframing some memorable occasions of the past two or three years : the Palmiers debate / the move to WTC24 / the discussions on Meurop. Your suggestion is very interesting, because we - meaning almost everyone involved here - had and have no clue about the actual beginning and the (historical) connections. Who contacted whom and what was an architecture school doing in this strange constellation in the first place? WTC24 can be assessed in many different ways. It did take an awful lot of time before we (students but also teachers) could grasp even a little bit of the context in which we found ourselves, let alone take position in whether or not to participate, but it seems inaccurate to us to let this determine the whole evaluation. What it did provoke at least is an enhanced agency (following the definition used by spatial agency), a sudden capacity to act within the environment of our school. The distance from Meurop (our campus building) which the temporary walk-out provided, was a very direct reason to look back; reflecting on our own school whilst looking through the window,

215


216

imagining on a generic empty floor what Sint-Lucas Brussels could be about. This enhanced agency and new commitment was then extended when you invited us to join the conversation on a stronger and more precise identity for Sint-Lucas Brussels. If the experiment has been a failure, can we assume there was a hypothesis preceding it? Or if it was indeed an aim that was intended to miss to begin with, might it be worthwhile investigating whether the gunmen knew what they were shooting at - and if so what that was? Just over a year ago we took this picture from the 24th floor, in search of Sint-Lucas Brussels‌ Looking forward to continuing the conversation. Jochen, Rosa, Helen, Anton, Kaat


21 FUTURING THE LEGACY

June 15th 2019 Clos des Quatre Vents, Tervueren Dear Rosa, Jochen, Helen, Kaat, Anton, (Dear PILOTBXL) I learned that the publication’s deadline is all of a sudden ‘now’… So, no real chance for a correspondence. A pity. Assessing the WTC24 story needs a decent amount of time. Not just a couple of weeks gathering x ‘embodied experience’ depositions. Anyway, we will shift gears. I will ‘simply’ try to answer your initial question on how all this came about. At least a personal account of things. My first brush with the School (I prefer to call it a school, not a faculty or something all too academic) was in the Fall of 2013. I remember having a couple of extremely animated dinner discussions with Jan De Vylder, back then Program Director of the School, who dreamt of a (re-)installing a (Brussels) School of Architecture. At the time I was appointed Vlaams Bouwmeester and one of my content topics was strengthening the liaison with architecture schools, hence the nature of the discussion with Jan. We prematurely concluded to install a 2014 Summer School to launch the ‘new institute’, working on the CITROËN garage (which back then was not yet planned to become KANAL). Evidently, the Summer School never happened and we left the joint intuition untouched. Until 2016. I got hired by the School with a contract suggesting, amongst other things, that I was to reflect on the School’s near- future, and more specifically, the Brussels branch. Jan was still around and it literally took us seconds to set up a next meeting. He invited Marc Godts and Patrick Moyersoe­n. I asked Nel Janssens to join. Soon after the improvised team was strengthened by Wim Goossens, Gideon Boie, Pieterjan Ginckels, Arnaud Hendrickx, etc. A very serious 12 month exercise in re-imagining the Brussels Campus was to follow. An exercise in re-imagining the educational, societal, and spatial impact of the School; in and for Brussels. Our overall ambition was to enhance the relationship between architectural practice, education and the societal/political relevance of the discipline. The title of our joint work - ‘PILOTBXL futuring the

217


218

legacy’ – aimed at actively learning from the School’s recent history as well as its engagement with Brussels. Interestingly enough between 1980 and 1990 the School had produced a rather cunning working model, called the Sint-Lucas Werkgemeenschap. This small society, lead by architect Lode Janssens (future head of the Department) and urbanist-sociologist Evert Lagrou did exactly what we were dreaming about: joining education and practice-based research through realtime projects for real-time (political) players. The institute acted as a spatial advisory body for numerous Ministers, Secretaries of State, Commissions, … Using architecture as a tool for societal imagination, not an end in itself. The Werkgemeenschap worked on topics such as social housing, high rise, cultural infrastructure, the compact city, the metropolitan plan for Brussels, … The whole operation produced a self-sufficient ‘office’ within the school, intensively working with 4th year students. During Summer time the students were ‘rewarded’ and joined the ILAUD Summer School. ILAUD was a post-Team X initiative, lead by Giancarlo De Carlo and Peter Smithson (on and off), grouping a wide variety of engaged architectural schools1. I myself had the chance to join ILAUD in 1994, however I missed out on the opportunity to work at the Werkgemeenschap, since it stopped in 1990, the very year I started studying architecture. I always have regretted this privation. It perhaps explains my ongoing interest in mixing political practice, education, and practice-based research. With such legacy in mind, yet without naively glorifying it, we took it upon us to define a potential concept for the Brussels School. The pitch should be easy to grasp, and straightforward to communicate. On November 3rd 2016 we held a first workshop. I prepared a presentation called ‘STOP & REBOOT’, benchmarking ‘free’ and ‘artistic’ schools like Black Mountain College, Ulm Design School and La Escuelita in Buenos Aires. The presentation equally suggested three potential concepts: ‘Practices in Residence’, ‘Free Radicals’, and ‘Free Colleges’. The latter hinted at Collège de France during the 1960’s, with people such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault orating and developing their thoughts in front of a live audience. Importantly: those educational sessions were free of charge and open to the public. The ‘Free Radicals’ chapter referred to an implicit Sint-Lucas tradition of radical architectural freethinkers, such as Lode Janssens, Luc Deleu, Willy Van der Meeren, René Heyvaert, Xaveer De Geyter, … People the School had either forgotten about, or had failed to link to


21 FUTURING THE LEGACY 1 ILAUD network: Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura Barcelona/Valles, Hoger Sint-Lukasinstituut  Brussels, Hoger Architectuurinstituut Saint-Lucas Gent, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Tekniska Hogskolan  Lund, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oslo School of Architecture, Università degli Studi di Urbino,  Arhitektonski Fakultet Sveucilista u Zagrebu, University of California Berkeley, Instituto Universitario di  Architettura Venezia, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, University of California Los Angeles,  University of Toronto, Unité Pedagogique d’Architecture Grenoble, Facoltà di Architettura Firenze, Facoltà  di Architettura Genova, Institut superieur d’Architecture Saint-Luc Brussels, Ecole d’ Architecture Marseille,  Ecole d’ Architecture Strasbourg, Royale Institute of Technology Stockholm, Université de Montréal, Università  degli Studi di Siena, Technische Universiteit Delft, Edinburgh College of Art, Ecole d’ Architecture Genève,  Ecole d’ architecture Paris La Villette, Technical University of Nova Scotia Halifax, Ecole d’ Architecture de  Bretagne Rennes, School of Architecture, La Coruna, Chalmers University of Technology Göteborg, University  of Pennsylvania 2 The spatial concept was defined by Wim Goossens and Arnaud Hendrickx, installing at ground level a sea of  Broodhaerts-like palms arranged around Luc Deleu’s Mobile Medium University model 3 Barbara Campbell-Lange (AA, Bartlett), André Loeckx (KUL), Bart Verschaffel (Ugent),  Xaveer De Geyter (XDGA) and Lionel Devlieger (ROTOR) 4 An important momentum was reached apparently, however, what was to follow could be described as an  ‘administrative assassination machine’. Over a period of 12 months the School installed a salvo of tiresome  blurry meetings, diluting the original concept incessantly and finally killing off the project prematurely.

the School’s unruly DNA. The third concept, ‘Practices in Residence’, was loosely based on the Sint- Lucas Werkgemeenschap, echoing endeavours of e.g. the New York Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies (lead by Peter Eisenman, 1967-84) or the UCLA Urban Innovations Group (lead by Charles Moore, 1971-87). Finally, the ‘STOP & REBOOT’ presentation hinted at a serious refurbishing of the MEUROP building, stressing that an architecture school cannot be part of a city if it resembles a bankrupt department store… Following the initial work session, we interviewed some 30 people from the School (staff), and invited ourselves twice to meet the University’s Rector (Prof. dr. Rik Torfs). These sessions were voluntary shortcuts in University protocol in order to guarantee the necessary funds for the MEUROP project. Rumour has it that we nearly managed to get the budget (after our second visit), though the 2017 Rector elections ruined things quickly, since Torfs didn’t manage to sustain his mandate. And with the new Rector we had to start all over… February 23rd 2017 we installed the infamous ‘Palmiers Debate’2 at MEUROP, disclosing for the first time to a broad audience the potential of our preparatory work, and inviting external intelligence3 to critically assess the endeavours. The internal reactions – of both students and staff - were either admiring or fundamentally dismissive. Nothing in between.4 In parallel, a week before the Palmiers Debate an unforeseen

219


220

chance arose. On the evening of February 16th, a public discussion took place in one of the empty WTC Towers in the Brussels North Quarter. The round table on the 23rd floor was organized by the University of Hasselt, more specifically the design atelier ran by Freek Persyn and Dieter Leyssen (Interior Architecture Department). The panel was to close off the university’s week long residence working on the North Quarter. Equally present around the table was Sven Lenaerts from the Fondation Roi Baudouin/Up 4 North. His presence was extremely relevant since he held the rather astonishing mandate - granted by the six real estate developers owning all North Quarter buildings – to help ‘beautifying’ the non-existing public sphere of the area. A couple of days after this round table Sven Lenaerts contacted me, wanting to learn more about the governance suggestions I had uttered during the discussion. A first informal meeting was planned on April 3rd at EXKI (…) next to the WTC. During the exchange, I suggested (off the top of my head) that the School might be a good and objective partner for his venture in the North Quarter. Moreover, based on the Palmiers Debate, we were potentially looking for a temporary place so that the MEUROP building could be efficiently emptied and refurbished. And finally, such a unique chance of ‘dancing with the devil’ could allow the School to position itself much clearer within the ongoing Brussels debate. A ‘reculer pour mieux sauter’. The weeks that followed, I started talking to the School’s board of Directors, eventually crystalizing in a first site visit by Dean Boutsen and Vice-Dean Bourgeois on July 5th. The weighed enthusiasm that followed sparked further negotiations and – cut short - the ‘new premises’ were inaugurated by mid-September 2017. WTC24 as an 18 month live experiment allowing the School to occupy a highly problematic project in a ditto urban neighbourhood. A STOP & REBOO­T of sorts, but for sure not the one we envisioned and expressed at the Palmiers Debate. The one I (still) do hope for. Yours, Peter


21 FUTURING THE LEGACY

June 17th, 2019 Forest, Brussels Dear Peter, It is interesting to read that the idea of WTC24 resonates both with the old ambitions of (a few engaged people within) the institute and some of your personal fascinations. For us, rethinking the school within the very real framework of PilotBX­L, felt like a compelling opportunity. At the time of your initial invitation to join the discussions on the future of the school, half of us were still students. It made us read WTC as a necessary change of perspective, distancing ourselves from the Meurop, from SintLuca­s, from the (architecture) education. A distance that has gradually led to a (necessary) critical attitude that made us more engaged with the university all together. Over the course of a few weeks, the Pilot BXL meetings in classroom A22 - with teachers (most of them mentioned in your letter), students (then more than now) and sometimes guests - put into practice the ideas formulated at the Palmiers evening, setting out some clear objectives. The first would be to make a scale model, as a tool for communication and a tactical provocation to start talking real transformation. The second, for us at least, was to involve more peop­le in the conversation, both internally and externally. The Who Will Do It series - inviting architectural practitioners to share their view on architecture education (in Brussels) - elevated the internal debate to a higher level by making it public. The (contradictory) distancing from school became very tangible when organizing the series on WTC24 with a direct view on the Meurop building across the railways, in the presence of a scale model (1:33) of the rethought campus. Jan De Vylder’s refusal to have his conversation with Aslì Ciçek on WTC24 led to a determined withdrawal to Meurop, the model travelling back with us. With the (for now) final and for us most important debate we

221


222

invited all students and teachers to be our guests of honor. It was the first time that a larger number of students got to hear about the existing ambitions of making a school in Brussels and the many different personal and institutional fascinations and frictions associated with it. The evening was eventful to say the least, bringing old frustrations and new enthusiasm to the foreground. The model we made to substantiate the conversation, felt like an insurmountable obstruction to some - feeling left out because they were not assigned a place on one of the floors yet. We have learned how difficult it is to talk on a real substantive content, to forget individual concerns for the sake of the debate. But let’s remember the evening for the tangible shared confidence in the potential of the Brussels campus. We would have liked to have continued our commitment with a mandate supported by the board, but learned that this will not happen soon. We could still hope for it. But perhaps it seems wiser to let the distance grow for a while and take a little detour in order to return to it in the (near) future and be able to draw fully on the inspiration and experience that we have gained as Pilot BXL over the past 18 months. For that, we would like to thank you. All the best, Rosa, Jochen, Helen, Anton and Kaat.


Bjorn Houttekier an interview with Marie-Anaïs Bluteau & Sven Lenaerts

Looking for Smallness in Bigness BIO

Bjorn Houttekier is an architect at DKA and architecture design studio teacher

At the initiative of Befimmo (a real-estate investment trust) and AG Real Estate, nine real-estate players entered into a partnership at the end of 2016 to form the non-profit Up4North. Their goal was to revitalise the North Quarter, which had systematically emptied after decades of long-term leases and monofunctional office use. Spin-offs of Up4North were established to guide that reuse process. One of these, LabNorth (a collaboration between Up4North, design agency Vraiment Vraiment, architecture agency 51N4E and architectural think tank AWB), set out the lines for the short and the long term. Marie-Anaïs Bluteau from Vraiment Vraiment and Sven Lenaerts, driving forces behind Up4North, joined us for an interview. We discussed the merits of the North Quarter, the promises of urban experimentation and the added value of Sint-Lucas at WTC24. Ms Bluteau, Mr Lenaerts, before looking at the role that Sint-Lucas played at WTC24 — and, by extension, in the planned revitalisation of the North Quarter — it seems wise to briefly explain the preliminary phase. Where did the idea originate to stimulate the North Quarter toward a new direction, away from its infamous bureaucratic face, static functions and corporate architectural language?   The reason is two-fold. Firstly, the municipalities have lacked a vision for years. The North Quarter, which overlaps parts of Brussels, Sint-Joost-ten-Node and Schaerbeek, is the black hole that unites them. The failure of these three municipali-

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

223


224

ties to provide a boost to the North Quarter for a much-needed conversion was frustrating. That gap was filled in 2016 with the founding of Up4North, an initiative of nine real-estate players who own buildings in the North Quarter. Their reason for establishing Up4North was not so much about receiving compensation for the failing offices as it was to force recognition of the changing situation on the rental market. You mean the disappearance of tenants?   Indeed. There has been considerable movement around the North Station in recent years. Administrative offices moved to new buildings outside of the North Quarter, clearly indicating that the old business model in which a tenant occupies an office tower over a long period no longer worked.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

One could argue that Up4North was born more out of a panic than from a clear, coherent vision. Was fear the main driver or was there a true consensus to set up a new model for the North Quarter?   Clearly the nine partners have considerable interests in the North Quarter, and the signal from the market could not be ignored; that something had to be done was undeniable. Yet nobody forced them to set up this more or less experimental entity to figure out in which direction the North Quarter could evolve. Also, it was clear when founding Up4North that it did not entail just a short-term mission, but that there was a mandate to develop a future-oriented vision.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

What should that vision consist of? And to what extent has it been guided by the founding members? In other words, did you have the autonomy to undertake a self-selected research trajectory?   Certainly. It goes without saying that the aim of the research trajectory is to monetise the existing buildings, but this is being done by setting up more or less deviating and even experimental initiatives. Although Up4North was not given carte blanche, it did receive a considerable amount of freedom. The possibility, for example, of entering into a coalition with Vraiment

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS


22 LOOKING FOR SMALLNESS IN BIGNESS

Vraiment, 51N4E and AWB under the name of LabNorth, is exemplary. The demand was to colour both inside and outside the lines to see what redrawing of the North Quarter would emerge. So, the entire operation is not just an easy form of branding or whitewashing in which a sputtering car gets a glossy label?   Certainly not. If you check the communication, you’ll scarcely read anything about the current research process or the involvement of the initiators. Anyway, the process has become too fragmentary and in-depth for use as a sort of commercial gloss. There is collaboration on every level and among a wide range of key players. Consider it a dance between local residents, politicians, property owners and commuters on the one hand, and commercial, urban and social interests on the other. The ultimate goal is to redefine the North Quarter as a fully-fledged destination. In contrast to Reyers, which is promoted as a media hub, or Schuman, which is undeniably European, the goal is for the North Quarter to develop a new, ambiguous character. Instead of being stamped as a mono-functional district, there is a will to characterise the North Quarter first and foremost as an experimental area.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

How did Sint-Lucas wind up in the WTC Tower? Was a certain procedure followed or was the school invited by LabNorth?   First of all, it is important to clarify that LabNorth acts as a think tank or a vision-forming entity. A step towards the temporary occupation of, for example, the WTC complex took place via PlatformNorth: a spin-off that launched a call for candidates who wanted to temporarily rent offices or a workspace on the WTC floors provided. The call drew approximately seventy applications that were assessed on the basis of five criteria. The vision of the interested parties was particularly important to us: what did they want to do at that location, how did they view the collaboration with the other tenants, how would they deal with ecology, mobility or other acute urban themes? In the end, only a few candidates were dropped, as the drive to make something out

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

225


of this adventure was acute in nearly all the applications. Finally, the selected tenants were brought together so that everyone could choose on which floor and in which room he or she wanted to work, in what we referred to as the ‘matchmaking process’. 226

So, Sint-Lucas also met the conditions which were set by PlatformNorth?   Well, Sint-Lucas actually appeared on the radar before the call from PlatformNorth, because some partners of 51N4E were also active as teachers on KU Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture. As such, the school did not submit an official application. But to us, it was quite clear at an early stage that SintLucas could play a major role in our story. An important keyword in our approach is ‘incubation’. This means giving participants the opportunity to achieve a stated ambition in a relatively short period of time. And to do so in a context which was both new and welcoming as well as uncomfortable and contrary. The floor that Sint-Lucas chose, for example, had been completely stripped. A given that met the needs of the students — namely, extra floor space to be used at will — while lacking the specificity of a school building. It was precisely that sort of atypical framework that was meant to awaken new insights or spark collaborations among the participants.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

But rent had to paid by the participants? For example, didn’t the WTC on the basis of an anti-squat system in which users were given free housing in exchange for social control and the maintenance of the building?   That kind of formula was simply not feasible. Primarily for technical and legal reasons, as it was impossible to permit habitation in WTC. In addition, the fixed building charges still had to be paid. This necessary balancing act meant that the PlatformNorth-users were effectively paying rent, just at a preferential rate. We considered this to be a kind of ‘experimental interest’, awarded due to the participants’ role both in the towers and in the North Quarter as a whole.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS


22 LOOKING FOR SMALLNESS IN BIGNESS

Can you explain that role? And, more specifically, the status assigned to Sint-Lucas? Were preliminary discussions held with the school or ambitions expressed about how Sint-Lucas would operate in the WTC towers or in the neighbourhood?   Our ambition was very clear: to disrupt the monotony of the North Quarter, both temporally and on the level of programming. That is to say that we wanted to break the typical day-and-night rhythm of the office towers with activity that would take place early in the morning, late in the evening or even in the night. By accommodating self-employed people, small interest groups, collaborative creative agencies, or — in the case of SintLucas — a university, a mix was installed that achieved this desired diversity. But the visibility of these new tenants was equally as important as the mix of users and the changing use of the buildings. Of course, visualisation is something Sint-Lucas does very actively, as it is part of its proper DNA: Not only did you have students and teachers walking in and out at all hours of the day, but there was also this kind of ‘artful annexation’ of the North Quarter.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

You mean the interventions by Sint-Lucas students in the public space?   Indeed. That was something we really had in mind when we started PlatformNorth: showing or visualising the new uses. The great thing about student interventions is their casual nature and the way people get drawn in almost unknowingly. The public space and, in some cases, vacant buildings, were used and activated, triggering a sudden dialogue with passers-by. That atmosphere of experimentation and inquisitive presence certainly was a strong argument for the presence of KU Leuven’s Faculty of Architecture at WTC24.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

Although, in this case, you could also speak of a kind of easily obtained ‘hipness’ for the neighbourhood. BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

  Here, also, one must acknowledge that the scale

227


228

of the actions did not allow for a major commercial story. Rather the opposite, actually. Because the interventions were disruptive or sometimes even provoked laughter, they were almost commercially undesirable. Our aim was to create an atmosphere in which the events happening inside the building would manifest on the outside. This was done especially to disrupt the status quo of the public space near the buildings. At the bases of the North Quarter towers, everything comes to a standstill. Until only recently, smoking civil servants just stood there ignoring the casual passersby and vice versa. We wanted to break that frozen proximity, by choosing users and actions that could undermine that sleep-inducing, role-playing game. You can consider Sint-Lucas to be a prime example of the kind of ‘attractor’ or ‘activator’ we were looking for. And did Sint-Lucas succeed in that goal?   Definitely. It will probably come as no surprise that, while drafting a vision for the future, having a school in the North Quarter is high on the list of priorities. There have already been contacts with Sint-Lucas for a follow-up process. For us, the presence of the Faculty of Architecture at WTC24 was a successful move precisely because of the multiple roles it took on, as we discussed earlier. We think that Sint-Lucas is also looking back with satisfaction on the past year and a half. In essence, it became a win-win situation: Sint-Lucas found the breathing room it was looking for; we found the ‘attractor’ that was particularly valuable in a project like this: a player who embodies and generates activities, employs a dynamic work rhythm and thinks with us about our research process.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

Of course, the ‘search for breathing room’ does not really sound like an ambitious goal. The school probably had other motivations. Can you clarify them?   It is not as if from the start there was this kind of wish-list of ambitious plans. Of course, there was the intention to set up collaborations with the architecture firms on the other floors, and of course the architecture biennial coincided with

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS


22 LOOKING FOR SMALLNESS IN BIGNESS

Sint-Lucas’ residency. Still, it is difficult to estimate, at least for us, whether these attempts were successful. There was, however, a stance on both sides that proved complementary and mutually reinforcing: Sint-Lucas presenting itself in terms of a ‘university as a laboratory’ and LabNorth, which was looking for participants who saw themselves as ‘co-producers of the city’. Regardless of other, more pragmatic, reasons such as ‘extra space’, that particular combination — of a laboratory that serves the city both actively and passively — made for a very successful experiment. You have already stated that Sint Lucas will be involved in the continuation of the process and that the involvement of a school will surely be on the wish list for shaping the new North Quarter. Conversely, there is the recent news that WTC is to be renamed ZIN: an office tower for the Flemish Government, supplemented with housing and a covered, public space. In light of the Canal Zone’s evolution toward exclusive living and working, the question also arises for the North Quarter as to whether or not this entire research process will lead to a well-researched but, once again, gentrified urban quarter. To put it bluntly: was Sint-Lucas unconsciously providing Brussels with bling-bling brokerage?   The latter is certainly a far-too restrictive reading of the situation. Between stand-still and bling-bling there is a third path, that of Up4North, which strives for a sincere transformation of the quarter. Nevertheless, neither Up4North nor LabNorth can guarantee a North Quarter as it should ideally look: meaning with an accessible ground floor open to the public, equipped with all kinds of small-scale facilities and, beyond that, well-designed mixed-use towers that combine living, working and leisure. All the while ensuring these things are in a price range that is affordable for the common resident of Brussels. Clearly, a compromise will have to be found. One in which developers make concessions, but above all, where the municipalities take the lead: they are the ones who can regulate excesses or impose certain standards, such as for the presence of social housing or local retail.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

229


Are you holding the right cards to guide that compromise?   The aforementioned incubation process is a powerful way to bring various actors to the neighbourhood and show them what their impact can be, also economically. A monofunctional building generates a monofunctional neighbourhood, which makes the reverse equally true and, therefore, worth pursuing. In the near future, LabNorth and Atelier Perspective will initiate a dialogue with developers and municipalities. Through a so-called matchmaking process, interested tenants can assign themselves to certain buildings or even particular floors. Both of these techniques, incubation and matchmaking (which were also used in the installation of Sint-Lucas) have clearly proven their added value for use in the future.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

230

Are there additional specific spatial recommendations for the developers and municipalities?   Our main recommendation is to open the bases of the office towers to the public, and to keep it that way as much as possible. It is crucial for urban life to unfold below the towers and for the entities that enter the buildings to be small-scale, diverse and local. It’s not that we disapprove of Starbucks or McDonald’s, but we do strive to integrate the local coffee shop that brings in people from the neighbourhood and attempt to interact with the towers’ more private ecosystem.

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS

And what about the architecture of the North Quarter? It’s noteworthy to see how much energy is expended into achieving mixed-use in the office towers. However, despite all the efforts, they remain rather boring glass boxes. Is there a current discussion about how to tackle this or how the hardware could be softened? In other words, do you also engage in architectural lobbying to enliven the monotonous look of the North Quarter?   A very interesting question and, naturally, to be expected from an architect. But to be honest, the conversion of building envelopes is currently not part of our research. In the ZIN project, the façade of the existing WTC complex will be removed

BLUTEAU & LENAERTS


22 LOOKING FOR SMALLNESS IN BIGNESS

and replaced by a contemporary shell. But, as you previously mentioned, we also see a lot of glass reappearing. There’s something to be said for the fact that the North Quarter’s character is partly determined by its architecture, but perhaps this is an exercise for the students of Sint-Lucas who lived in WTC24 for a year and a half. How do they see the North Quarter evolving? Even higher towers? Roof gardens everywhere? Brick façades? Let us meet again in fiveor ten-years’ time to see what has been established. All in all, we hope to keep Sint-Lucas on board for a while so that we can push that slow-moving cart together toward an interesting, dynamic and true neighbourhood.

231


Sven Sterken

232

A TROJAN HORSE FOR THE MANHATTAN PLAN: THE BRUSSELS WORLD TRADE CENTER BIO

Sven Sterken is a doctor in architecture and teacher of architectural history and history of urban planning

In the aftermath of the 1958 World Fair, Brussel­s city authorities oriented their urban renewal policy along two lines. On the one hand, a large-scale slum-clearing policy following the 1953 Slum Clearing Act, which gave municipal authorities the right to expropriate to the advantage of public housing boards; on the other hand, the transformation of the former city boulevards into an urban motorway, stimulated by the 1955 Road Fund. Although beneficial in financial terms, this policy made the city authorities largely dependent on the bureaucratic pace and ideological flavour of the various ministries. At the same time, Brussels became besieged by private developers whose real-estate operations were rapidly transforming the city. Hence the idea to put to use the dynamism of the private sector in modernising the capital.1 This appeal to the private sector by the local authorities must be understood within the context of a more general shift in planning cul-


23 A TROJAN HORSE FOR THE MANHATTAN PLAN 1 This is an abridged version of a paper that was presented at the 2018 conference of the European  Architectural History Network, National Library of Tallin, 13-16 June, as part of the session ‘Building for  Prosperity: Private Developers and the Welfare State’. Sources and further references can be obtained from  the author upon simple request.

ture in Belgium after WWII, embodied by the 1962 Town and Country Planning Act. Article 25 of this act stipulated that anyone in possession of 51% of a certain plan area had the option of expropriating the other proprietors if his project was ‘in the public interest’. This new take on urban planning was enthusiastically promoted by Paul Vanden Boeynants, the alderman for Commerce and City Properties in the mid-50s. A flamboyant entrepreneur who made his fortune in the meat packing business, ‘VDB’ (as he is known in the Belgian collective memory) endeavoured to transform Brussels into a modern and cosmopolitan metropolis. It was not upon the public authorities to realise this dream; however, in his view, public administrations needed to use their power and assets to create favourable conditions for private real-estate developers. This new context created a need for well-organised designers who knew the ins and outs of the bureaucracy. Perhaps the most emblematic of such firms was Groupe Structures, the biggest architecture firm in the country in 1969, with over 100 collaborators. Providing a wide range of in-house expertise (architecture, urban planning and infrastructure), it became the preferred design firm of both real-estate developers and municipal authorities. The ambiguity of this position became clear in the development of the area around the old Central Post Office in the heart of Brussels. Here, Structures designed not only the area plan but also formed part of the consortium of architects that designed the Centre Monnaie — a project also worth mentioning here as it entailed the first appearance on the capital’s real-estate scene of Charly De Pauw. Lauded by some as a truly ‘urban’ building for its mixed programme and decried by others for its dull architectural expression, the Centre Monnaie nonetheless seemed to prove that public authorities and private developers could indeed successfully work together on creating a modern and ‘liveable’ city and serve each other’s interests. Strengthened by this experience, Brussels City Council embarked on a renewal of the area around the North Station. Covering about

233


234

53 hectares just north of the city centre, it had declined rapidly during the Interbellum period. In 1960, Groupe Structures received the commission to draw up a redevelopment scheme in collaboration with an inter-municipal commission. After a thorough study of the urban fabric and the sociological composition of the area, they concluded, unsurprisingly, that it was beyond repair and ought to be replaced by something new — an operation that also required other programmes than just residences and local commerce, however. Therefore, Groupe Structures’ 1962 draft scheme proposed a mixed development of ten office towers of varying heights (16, 20, 25 floors; in blue on the plan), residences in both high- and low-rise buildings, green spaces and off-road parking. Although ill-resolved in many respects, the plan’s merit lay in its live-work blend and its attempt to reconcile the 19th-century urban block with the free-standing modernist office tower. Although received enthusiastically by the local authorities, the Ministry of Public Works vetoed the proposal for it had planned a major intersection between the Ostend-Liège (East-West) and Antwerp-Paris (North-South) motorways at precisely the same site. The question now became: how to reconcile the vast surfaces required for this infrastructure, with the intention to maintain as much open space as possible and still make the scheme profitable? To this effect, the project area was extended to the entire expanse of the North Quarter and restructured along the two intersecting future motorways: the prolonged Boulevard Jacqmain and a new 80-metre-wide axis perpendicular to the North Station. Their intersection was monumentalised by four pairs of rectangular blocks; each 102 metres high, each pair sitting on a plinth covering the entire urban block — a principle repeated throughout the composition. The extremities of Boulevard Jacqmain were marked, in turn, by a pair of 135-metre-high towers at the intersection with Boulevard Leopold II, and a 162-metre-tall tower at its end. In between these extremities, the architects foresaw a forest of over 70 buildings with an average height of 65 metres. Far more ambitious than the first one, the second scheme provided for 750,000 square metres of leasable space, parking for 16,500 vehicles and was supposed to create 60,.000 to 75,000 jobs. Housing was now of secondary concern however: 405,000 square metres of housing for 12,000 inhabitants were located at the periphery of the business zone. Another striking aspect of the plan was the strict separation of traffic


23 A TROJAN HORSE FOR THE MANHATTAN PLAN

flows: with the ground surface reserved for motorised traffic, a new pedestrian level was created thirteen metres above it. The conviction that this could become a vivid, carefree ‘public space’ equipped with shops, restaurants, public gardens, etc., was a widespread one at the time, popularised by, amongst others, Colin Buchanan’s Traffic in Towns, an international bestseller in 1964. Perhaps for its resonance with such international discourse, the central principles of the second master plan were quickly endorsed by the authorities and given legal force by Royal Decree on 17/02/1967. It was also well received by the press, where it became dubbed the ‘Manhattan Plan’ in Le Soir, 1966 (‘Un Manhattan prometteur’). At first, the Manhattan Plan did indeed seem to make a good start with the swift completion of the ‘Manhattan Center’, a vast complex of 165,000 square metres that embodied the recipe for the future North Quarter: an amalgam of local and foreign and/or public and private investors; a mixed programme (hotel, offices, luxury apartments, restaurants, shopping mall); rapid construction (thanks to massive prefabrication) and the promise of a new cosmopolitan way of life. However, the Manhattan Center was only the upbeat to an even more ambitious project, namely the Brussels World Trade Center. Capitalising on the idea that a businessman’s most precious asset was time, the WTC concept evolved around three keywords: information, communication and concentration. Hence the idea of doing away with all obstructions to international trade such as physical distance, conflicting legislation, slow administration, lack of data and translation issues by grouping all these services in one place. To this effect, the various WTCs around the globe would be interconnected by satellite and would provide users with access to a common data-network: Interfile. Thus, at the WTC, any step in the trade process would be no further than a door away. With the imminent completion of the WTC towers in New York and Tokyo, the question quickly arose why there was no such centre in Belgium yet — especially given the international status of its capital and the fact that the country was, to a very large degree, dependent on exports. Having had to step down as prime minister in June and taking up again his local mandate as Alderman for Public Works, Paul Vanden Boeynants saw it as the perfect opportunity to realise his own

235


236

‘Grand Projet’ for the capital and boost its significance as an economic hub — beyond its destiny as an administrative and political centre. In only a matter of months, VDB managed to persuade the Brussels City Council to support the multi-billion project and concluded a deal with Charly De Pauw. As it happened, De Pauw seemed to have been brooding on a similar idea, planning to build a one-stop facility for trade within the EU on the plot right next to the newly completed Berlaymont Buildin­g (the seat of the European Commission). According to legend, it was only on the flight back home from a business trip to New York in July 1968 that one of Groupe Structures’ senior associates, Raymond Sténier, managed to persuade De Pauw that the logical location for the WTC was right in the heart of the new North Quarter. Sténier understood that an investment of this scale and ambition was the ideal Trojan Horse he needed to smuggle into the North Quarter in order to trigger its development. De Pauw agreed but negotiated a good deal: the city council let the terrain (22,000 square metres) on a 99-year lease at a very advantageous rate and also agreed to bear the cost of the expropriations and the infrastructure for road, sewage, water supply and so forth. De Pauw, for his part, agreed to build at least 150,000 square metres of office space by 1981. Countering the (very few) sceptics questioning this important ‘sacrifice’ on the part of the public authorities, Vanden Boeynants stressed the inevitability of the project. In Présence de Bruxelles, one could read for example: « (…) Les hommes qui ont pris la responsabilité de concevoir, proposer, décider, bâtir, exploiter le WTC ne pensent pas tant à leur génération qu’à celle à venir. » This ‘moral’ aspect might explain why even the serious papers eagerly repeated these assertions, thus reinforcing the idea that not pursuing this project would simply be irresponsible. Further support for the undertaking was enhanced through the newly founded WTC Association, whose members’ list read as a ‘who’s who’ in the Belgian world of finance, politics, business and nobility. As if to underscore its national importance, an artist’s rendering of the complex was even put on display at the Belgian Pavilion during the Osaka World Fair in 1970. Designed by the consortium of Polak, Stapels, A&U (Emery) and Groupe Structures, the Brussels WTC consisted of eight towers; each 102 metres tall — quite symbolically the same total height as the former Twin Towers in New York, each 400 metres tall. Also symbolic


23 A TROJAN HORSE FOR THE MANHATTAN PLAN

of De Pauw’s scorching ambition, each tower featured a helipad, assuring a direct connection to the airport in only a matter of minutes. On the ground level, one could drive directly into a covered car park and take the escalator or lift to the many reception and information desks, showrooms, conference rooms in the base of the towers, totalling over 100,000 square metres of publicly accessible facilities. On its roof, this plinth featured a network of pedestrianised areas with ‘gardens’, benches, kiosks and so forth, interconnecting the various towers via skyways. The architecture of the latter was straightforward: curtain wall façades enclosed a repetition of twenty-eight airconditioned office floors of the open-plan type. At the ground breaking ceremony in June 1971, the project was praised as a textbook example of cooperation between the public and private sector. Yet, this could not hide that the rest of the North Quarter was only developing at a very slow pace and that the chaoti­c expulsions of the inhabitants resonated increasingly negatively in the press. Moreover, with the economic crisis of the early ‘70s, demand for high-end office space dried up, causing major players on the Brussels property market to go out of business. In an attempt to safeguard the WTC, various local authorities and ministries pressed their administrations to relocate to the towers. As a result, rather than a beehive of international trade, upon its opening, the first tower housed a plethora of public administrations. Without there being a real demand for them, the second and third tower were subsequently built with the aid of foreign investors and were also duly occupied by public administrations. By the end of the ‘70s, the development of the North Quarter had come to a standstill; fenced off for security reasons, it offered a saddening sight for many years to come. It would be wrong, however to only blame the investors — and De Pauw in the first place — for all that went wrong here. For example, the local administrators allowed a proliferation of office space across the city rather than channelling property investment to the North Quarter; further, in the leftist climate after May 1968, property speculation and private enterprise — once heralded as leverages for urban renewal and prosperity — became increasingly framed in terms of class struggle and social injustice. This also influenced the views on urban development, increasingly seen from the perspective of the

237


238

resident and no longer from that of the motorised commuter. The principle of the urban motorways thus became severely contested and was abolished altogether by the Road Department of the Ministry of Public Works in the late ‘70s. Thus, in only a couple of years, the Manhattan Plan lost its economic, political and public support, as well as its infrastructural backbone. A critical assessment of the Manhattan Plan and the WTC needs to go beyond the historical context, however, and take into account the issue of agency: who decides what, and why, in the ‘coalition of interests’ that supports such projects? Limiting ourselves to the architects, we have seen how Groupe Structures intervened here in manifold ways: it convinced the authorities to transform the North Quarter into a CBD; it materialised this idea in attractive renderings and a legally binding document; it played an active role in attracting investors and also acted as the go-between for the manifold administrations involved in the scheme. All this was to no avail, however, allegedly for reasons inherent to the very concept of the plan itself. An extreme example of blueprint planning, its programmatic density was unreasonable while the pedestrian deck could never ever have become an animated public space. The disproportionate number of jobs to residences would also only have reinforced the commuting to and from the city (by car, that is) and thus reinforced the exodus from the centre. However, none of these issues were debated in the Brussels City Council prior to its nearly unanimous approval of the scheme. This makes one wonder: were the council members really capable of understanding what they were supposed to evaluate, let alone how it would ever materialise…? Perhaps we are dealing here with a typical example of what John Kenneth Galbraith described in his 1967 book The New Industrial State. In modern society, it is no longer heroic individuals or enlightened leaders but anonymous groups of technocrats who direct the economy and thus the course of society at large. Relying on expertise, planning and manipulation of the public opinion, these technocrats create ‘a climate of social belief that is favourable to its result’. This summarises exactly what happened here: by stating the irreparability of the initial urban fabric, systematically inflating the complexity and the scale of the Manhattan Plan and, finally, also coordinating its implementation, Groupe Structures made itself indispensable up to the point of telling the public authorities what to do. Thus, the saga of


23 A TROJAN HORSE FOR THE MANHATTAN PLAN

the North Quarter illustrates what happens when a large, skilled and well-connected group of experts becomes the ghost-writer for overly ambitious local decision-makers. 239


Dag Boutsen

The North Station is in between BIO

The North Station connects people travelling between the capital city and the smaller towns. The North Station connects trains with trams and buses. The North Station connects a fast food centre with a cycle service point. The North Station is, or was, a building. Not any more. No connection, only separation — a brutal, inhospitable transition, emptiness and advancing decay. The North Station is lost between neighbourhoods so different from one another that one can no longer speak of a city. The royal axis between a palace in a park and a palace at a park, the lower portion of the Rogierstraat with mattresses on the steep sidewalk display, the slowly westernised ‘Oriental’ Brabantstraat, the crime-ridden Aarschotstraat and then, on the other side, the Noordwijk or North Quarter. In Dutch, wijk translates to quarter or neighbourhood. Neighbourhood? Distant-hood! Which side is Brussels actually on? Where do I go? The main difference between the east and west side of the station is the wind. And the water. The wind is foiled by the twists and turns of the 19th-century urban fabric. Did the architectural firm Groupe Structures ever think about that? And isn’t the river Zenne there somewhere? Or is there only the canal? Cosy squares, clean water, lively neighbourhoods, pleasant shops, visible productivity, local industry, a mixed popu-

Dag Boutsen is an architect and dean of KU Leuven Faculty of Architecture

lation, learning environments, soft mobility, smart reuse, pleasant stays, a circular economy and slow food: that’s what students and teachers have been working on ensconced on the 24th floor on top of the WTC1 Tower. That is what they have been dreaming of for one-and-a-half years. And still today. On a high island without wind. Secluded, yet not totally remote. Looking out onto desolation while simultaneously looking toward another future. The strength of that temporary, nomadic school grew out of the absurd interweaving of the worlds that coalesced somewhere high in the atmosphere. This power even occasionally resulted in a brutal critique of ‘established’ values and stakeholders. Now it’s WTMeurop’s turn.

241


COLOPHON

OPENING IMAGE Wannes Deyaert CLOSING IMAGE Helen Van de Vloet EDITORIAL BOARD Gideon Boie Dag Boutsen Gudrun De Maeyer Rosa Fens Bjorn Houttekier Jochen Schamelhout REVISION, FINAL EDITING ENGLISH TEXT Presence Translate & Interact Jade Smet LAYOUT Ferre Marnef PRINT Drukkerij Van der Poorten PRODUCTION KU Leuven Faculteit Architectuur, campus Sint-Lucas

ISBN 9789492780034 D/2019/13.576/1 V.U. Dag Boutsen, Hoogstraat 51, 9000 Gent


244

WTC Tower Teachings  

'WTC Tower Teachings' is a pile of texts on the one and a half years of WTC24, the temporary setting of the KU Leuven Faculty of Architectur...

WTC Tower Teachings  

'WTC Tower Teachings' is a pile of texts on the one and a half years of WTC24, the temporary setting of the KU Leuven Faculty of Architectur...

Advertisement