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PA R K C I T Y

DOGMA


PA R K C I T Y Living along the Edge of the Hoge Kempen National Park

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DOGMA


This publication shows the results of a research project conducted by Dogma on the Limburg region, and specifically on the territory between the cities of Lanaken and Maasmechelen along the eastern edge of the Hoge Kempen National Park. The study, commissioned by the Departement Ruimte Vlaanderen, was centred on the possibility to imagine the potential future transformation of typologies for living. This research originates from our long-standing engagement with the architecture and politics of domestic space. In recent years we have attempted to rethink domestic space (in light of its historical and present vicissitudes) through diverse projects, teaching and writing. Many of the hypotheses that are presented here are part of this ongoing research. We would like to thank Liesl Vanautgaerden, Viviane Claes, Inge Bangels at the Departement Ruimte Vlaanderen for giving us a chance to develop this project and all participants in the workshops and presentations for discussing with us the project's hypotheses and conclusions. 4

DOGMA Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara with Andrea Migotto, Elena Calafati, Ezio Melchiorre, Tommaso Mola Meregalli, Matteo Novarino, Antonio Paolillo Graphic Design Nene Tsuboi Copy Editor Sarah Handelman

Park City Introduction to the project

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Shrinking Strategies for demolition

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Settlement Typologies Five transformative proposals

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PARK CITY Introduction to the project

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Park City proposes a future for the area that stretches from Lanaken to Maasmechelen along the eastern edge the Hoge Kempen National Park. Once the Eldorado of coal extraction, then a pastoral retreat, a number of factors have now led to the stagnation of this suburban region. The national park, however, is a great resource and fulcrum for reinterpreting this territory, and we believe that the area has the potential to radically transform itself from a dormant suburb into a place that is desirable to both live in and work. Up until the 1990s, the suburbs offered an attractive way of life. Today this is no longer the case. For many people, especially younger generations, the city offers more opportunities for living and working. At the same time, the city’s ‘success’ has reached a point of saturation. Now dense with inhabitants, it is increasingly difficult to find generous spaces for living (with families) or working in the city, especially when it comes to entrepreneurial forms of production that are not confined within the limits of the ‘freelance’ or ‘service economy’. With this in mind, the following pages illustrate a possible alternative for urban dwellers – a scenario that reimagines the suburban context of the Lanaken-Maasmechelen territory by considering two key issues: the introduction of both public space and new forms of domestic living beyond the single-family house. The proposal goes beyond architecture and urban design, taking into account all the factors that produce the city – such as politics, economy and culture. We believe, however, that architecture can give a tangible form to these factors by not only showing what transformations are necessary, but also by revealing their spatial impact. Our proposal consists of three distinct, and to some extent, consequential steps. The first step is a short-term scenario, which proposes punctual interventions primarily focused on public facilities. One of the most remarkable aspects of this territory is its lack of civic space besides commerce and town centres. By civic space we mean space that is beyond commerce, housing and circulation. Rather than scattering these interventions across the territory, we have positioned them to form a coherent urban structure – a territorial urban park – that highlights the meaningful relationship between the existing settlements, the forest, canal and river. This step is not only feasible in a short time, but also lends a sense of civic orientation without drastically changing the existing condition. The second step proposes a planned partial demolition of existing houses in order to shrink the footprint of built space and to enhance open land for agricultural use. Most of the houses in this territory are detached family homes that are resistant to any alternative use, and many are either underused or vacant. Moreover, a number have been built outside concentrated settlements as self-

standing structures along roads. Given the current demographic of this territory, which itself faces increasing depopulation, it is easy to imagine that in the next ten years a majority of these houses could become redundant. This is both a problem and a unique opportunity to put forward a scenario in which municipalities can financially support homeowners who decide to demolish their over-dimensioned and underused home to invest in more sustainable and collective forms of dwelling. The third step resists the current situation – that of an increasingly depopulated suburb – and instead proposes that, given the evolution of the ways in which we live and work, suburban sites may become attractive once again. Yet this assumption is plausible only through a radical transformation of the economic and spatial rationales that have produced the suburban way of living in the last century. This step addresses the possibility of re-populating the suburbs, focusing on the retrofitting of existing settlements. This retrofitting would take place by subdividing existing plots of singlefamily homes to allow different uses of the home as a space for living, working and caring – thus allowing single-family dwellings to be united as more collective entities. In order to understand the potential of this territory, it is important to first situate our proposal within Belgium’s long history of urbanisation. By understanding the deep causes of the current urban crisis in Limburg, Flanders and Europe, we can propose a credible and transformative project of an exemplary territory. We believe that a constructive discussion about the future of this territory can take place only if we are clear and honest about the causes of today’s sprawl condition, and if we realise – and accept – that these causes were intentional, and thus political. Such an understanding will allow us to conceive of a feasible transformation that can, in the long-run, drastically alter the present condition of this territory.

QUESTIONING THE DETACHED SINGLE-FAMILY HOME AND ITS SOCIAL GENEALOGY Flanders has a high number of homeowners and single-family houses. 70 per cent of households own their house and almost 80 per cent of the housing stock is made up of single-family houses. This situation is rather unique in Europe and casts a long shadow back over the history of Belgium as an independent nation-state and its politics in support of home ownership. Since the late nineteenth century, Belgium’s housing condition has been characterised by the hegemony of the singlefamily home as a way of life – a condition created by the long-

standing ‘anti-city’ policy promoted by the Belgian government.1 After its rise as an independent nation-state, Belgium went through a rampant process of industrialisation, which triggered a number of social conflicts. Fearing a high concentration of urban-dwelling workers, the Liberal-Catholic government pursued a policy of dispersing the labour force throughout the rural territory by promoting homeownership and affordable railway transport. Far from the celebrated phenomenon of ‘Wilde Wohnen’, urban sprawl in Belgium was a carefully orchestrated political project with a threefold objective: the ruralisation of industrial workers, the promotion of homeownership and the reinforcement of family values. The state’s promotion of homeownership was an especially successful tactic that enabled the social, political and, above all, ideological integration of the working class into the capitalist system.2 This was achieved by creating an institutional framework that allowed workers to obtain an adequate financial base through local savings and loan associations.3 The ease of obtaining funding for homeownership was reflected by the availability of domestic typologies, which combined affordability and the possibility of a family dwelling freed from the hectic rhythms of metropolitan concentrations. If one of the major tendencies in housing since the nineteenth century was the splitting of living and working functions – the house on the one hand and the workplace on the other – then within the Belgian housing condition the separation between the workplace and the home became even more radical: work was limited to cities, and living to the countryside. Suburban living was promoted not just as a housing solution, but as a way of life – the once-struggling family was suddenly unburdened from the toil and promiscuity of wagelabouring activities. The state reinforced this ideology by promoting and financing a whole spectrum of non-profit social organisations such as trade unions, farmers’ association and women’s organisations whose overarching goal was to educate dwellers in the virtues of family living.4 The activities of these organisations focused on every aspect of domestic living, including architecture. There was an urgency to emphasise certain aspects of a domestic space such as the representative role of the living room, replete with outstanding fireplace, and the generous provision of bedrooms in order to individuate and define the role of each family member. In addition, both government institutions and social organisations were keen to emphasise the private garden (an important complement to the single-family house), ‘sweetening’ their particular idea of domestic life by connecting ‘home’ to ‘land’. Yet gardens were also important as instruments of housekeeping – they provided space for domestic chores, such as washing and drying laundry, and for the cultivation of the kitchen’s herb and vegetable patches. Above all the garden

played an important role as a form of recreation, discouraging life in denser urban centres. In the imagination of the home, the garden is a symbol of conforming to the local community (a non-manicured garden is a symbol of anti-social attitude), and today this remains one of its strongest roles – as testified by the elaborate topiaries of many Flemish homes.5 Following the Second World War and the advent of the Welfare State, the government continued to promote home ownership and the further decentralisation of urban living, making the entire rural territory of Belgium a de facto place for living. While in countries like The Netherlands and Sweden, planning activities were centralised and administrated by national institutions, in Belgium the government supported housing and the planning of amenities by subsidizing local authorities and private owners, thus devolving the re-urbanisation of the country to a myriad of actors.6 As it has been noted, the middle-class colonisation of the countryside took place in a piecemeal manner without the framework of a spatial planning policy, but this process of urbanisation was the result of a governmental initiative rather than laissez-faire politics. Housing policy was thus an extension of the fordist mode of production into the realm of domestic life. In spite of its vernacular and pastoral appearance, Belgian houses were the product of a well organised industrial process whose main goal was to make the house itself an item of consumption to instigate wealth production. Thus since the 1960s, the middle class has built or purchased single-family houses much as they would consumer goods, a trend that consequently set the pace for the whole building industry (which up until today has been strong, and which is also entirely focused on the detached house as the only conceivable ‘home’ for everyone). In the last few decades the progressive decline of the welfare state has only reinforced what was previously done. The success of living in the countryside peaked in the 1980s and 1990s when a new wave of detached homes flooded the already saturated ‘countryside’. This time the motivation was the possibility of owning a second-home. Moreover many people from neighbouring countries such as Germany and the Netherlands relocated to rural areas in Flanders in order to own a larger home in a taxpayerfriendly country. This phenomenon, which occurred especially in territories close to the national border, gave rise to the ‘villa parks’ – large villas with large gardens, detached from any existing rural centres. The inhabitants of these ‘villa-parks’ are either those who work in cities or those who are retired and want to enjoy the rest of their life in a tranquil setting. In both cases the inhabitants have little interest in the area in which live, and their children want to leave these places as soon as possible.


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An important aspect of the Belgian single-family home is its resistance to change. This has led researchers like Wouter Bervoest and Hilde Heynen to define the problem of housing in Flanders in terms of ‘obduracy’.7 What the political and economic process succinctly described above has left on the ground is very difficult to modify or alter. Not only are domestic habits extremely enduring and hard to change since they give a sense of orientation especially within uncertain times, but also, the house itself speaks to a system in which a specific spatial condition is linked with deep-seated social and juridical frameworks. It is hard, for example, to imagine that those who are accustomed to living in a detached home would allow the further subdivision of their property or the sharing of their garden, but the future of baby-boomer-built suburban housing in Belgium raises many questions especially when considered in light of recent social and economic changes. In Europe there is a visible trend that sees the reduction of household size to an average of 2.5 persons per house, and there is a growing mismatch between the number of suburban houses and the newer generations’ desire to live in cities. After secondary school, many people in their late-20s leave their parents’ suburban houses. Another urgent issue is the elderly population, which finds itself increasingly isolated and lacking adequate care. While the countryside offers some respite from the hectic life of cities, the increasing depopulation and lack of social services make their lives lonely and devoid of social interaction. This condition is not only negative for the elderly, but also for the social wellbeing of the suburban territory. Indeed, today the large suburban home with its spacious garden is the antithesis of what seems to be the most desirable form of accommodation – namely a small house in the city – a condition that is even physically reflected in the area and programme of these houses; a gap exists between their generous floor plans and the number of people who live in in them. Moreover, many of the older suburban homes have a dated layout comprising many rooms, small corridors and steep stairs. They also feature an overdesigned architecture – an externally rustic facade and inside, an abundance of differentiated spaces, each requiring a specific kind of furniture. This condition leaves little freedom to adapt especially when there is a need to include a workspace inside the house. Last but not least, in many municipalities rigid zoning codes – most introduced only after the chaotic spread of detached homes has already taken place – prevent the possibility to retrofit existing properties and to thus transform the single-family house into a multi-family dwelling. All these factors – relevant users, location, size, programme, aesthetics and flexibility of plan – have challenged the typology of the detached single-family home as the ideal house. The result of this

condition is a decrease in its economic value. We can go so far as to predict that in less than 20 years, in light of changing demographics, the entire stock of suburban homes will become obsolete. Yet it is precisely this threat that can push for radical reform. Over the last decade Flanders has looked at alternatives to the single-family house, which address the possibility of densification and further subdivision of the existing allotments.8 Although the juridical procedure for internal subdivision of the detached home can be complicated (it must meet several requirements at once), since 2009 the new Decree on Residential and Home Care has allowed the introduction of accessory dwelling units to existing family houses. Yet possibilities such as this are still limited if we take into account the magnitude of the problem. Before discussing our road map for transformation, we should consider another important factor and lever in the radical change of the suburban territory: new forms of living in relation to changing modes of work.

CHALLENGING DOMESTIC SPACE When discussing any housing condition it is necessary to consider work. Unlike previous forms of domestic space, modern housing was invented by splitting ‘living’ and ‘working’ into two separate domains. We tend to underestimate the origin and the impact of this separation in the maintenance of the household.9 While until the nineteenth century both living and working took place within house, with the rise of industrialisation the workspace became a separate entity. This was not just a physical and spatial separation, but also – and especially – a social and juridical one. It implied that only work done in the workplace (the factory or the office) was going to be paid, while activities such as caring, raising kids, cooking, washing, taking care of the household would be unpaid activities of the family, and thus considered a ‘labour of love’. The exploitation of domestic labour has been a constant of domestic space since ancient times, but with the rise of industrial capitalism, the house was engineered to become capital’s ‘secret abode’ – a resource which capital takes largely for free. Only when professionalised – ie, through the use of maids – does it become paid work, but only a minority of households can afford professional domestic labour, so this kind of work falls entirely on the shoulders of the family and traditionally those of women.10 The house as we know it, as a private place where we cultivate our sense of intimacy, has been a powerful way to naturalise domestic labour, rendering it an intimate activity done only for the sake of the family and not for society at large. Within this context the house Jeff Wall, A view from an apartment, 2004–2005


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became the pastoral refuge whose sense of intimacy and familial care were only enhanced against the backdrop of the immoral world, and the cult of domesticity as the idyll of family life was therefore born out of these social and political conditions. Family, private property and the detached home therefore became the trinity out of which suburban sprawl emerged. The separation between household and workplace was possible as long as wage labour was performed within defined temporal and spatial boundaries – the factory and the office were places in which work was defined by the 9–5 schedule. The house was the necessary complement of that schedule – it was the place where workers were not supposed to work. Today this condition has drastically changed. With the rise of the internet and the spread of ‘immaterial’ production, working activities have exceeded traditional spatial and temporal limits: work happens everywhere and at any time, and often within the domestic home.11 This condition is problematic because work tends to invade any aspect of life, but it becomes even more problematic when, for those who do not have a dedicated ‘office’, there is no sufficient room for more flexibly organising work-related activities. For example, it is difficult (if not impossible) to host a workplace like a small office, a retail space or a workshop within a detached home. Circulation and the pronounced functional identity of domestic rooms (ie, living rooms vs bedrooms) is often an obstacle to working activities. This condition is made even more problematic by zoning codes and the juridical distinctions that make it impossible to use one’s home as a workplace. And yet the only rising forms of production in these times of economic stagnation are small companies – 2-5 people – that would otherwise fit well within the domestic space if the latter could only offer some flexibility. The advantages of working at home are usually to spare commuting time and to have a more flexible schedule. The disadvantages are working alone and a lack of social interaction. Communal living can increase the advantages and reduce the disadvantages of working at home by allowing people who do different work to share the same space. This situation is particularly convenient for artisans whose work requires bigger spaces and costly tools. In a shared workspace both square metres and working tools can be shared and thus have a minimal impact on the budget of one individual company or person. Another advantage to working at home, or very close to it, is that it allows for the combination of domestic chores – in a generous communal area, for example, different families or workers can also organise a space for communal childcare. For all of these arrangements, suburban territories are both problematic and potentially beneficial. They are problematic because

contemporary forms of work require a high degree of cooperation and social interaction, and these are the precise qualities that suburbia has traditionally been thought to lack. They have potential, however, because suburban places are today cheaper than city property and above all they are more generous in terms of space. What prevents a new scenario from blossoming is the lack of both services and flexibility beyond family living. Within this condition a more communal way of living would challenge both the lack of flexibility of the single family home and the introversion of domestic labour. Communal living implies a more rational use of space and resources and exposes domestic labour as work that is necessary and that can be shared among the household members. Spaces such as kitchens, living rooms and gardens can be shared by different families. As mentioned before, today the average family is composed of two or three members, which means there is more possibility for families to share a greater number of domestic facilities with the consequent reduction of domestic labour and energy consumption.

THREE STEPS FOR TRANSFORMATION Our proposal attempts to answer all of these issues by providing a roadmap for transformation at both the urban and domestic scale. Regarding the urban space, we believe it is important to provide small civic facilities such as civic centres and a public path in order to offer a civic space beyond the domestic realm. This provision of public space should be orchestrated to reinforce the sense of orientation within the settlements. In this sense, a very important element is the Hoge Kempen National Park. The park defines a public edge to the conurbation that stretches from Laneken to Maasmechlen. Yet due to its fragmentation and lack of legibility, this edge is often invisible to the settlements and thus incapable of defining a clear civic presence towards the urbanised territory. We propose reinforcing and emphasising the edge of the national park with a path that makes the edge itself a public space. This path is defined by a sequence of civic centres that, like sentinels, guard the park and allow different communities to use their premises. The centres host different programmes such as small conference halls, exhibition spaces or spaces for artistic production, and each centre can host a different mix of programmes so that they complement each other. We see these civic centres as the necessary first step to encourage communities to come together and organise themselves as a collective subject rather than as a mass of individuals. And so the path along the national park can become the catalyst for other linear paths that define and reinforce the territorial features of the

Laneken/Maasmechelen conurbation – the main road, the canal, the river. A series of minimal interventions such as bus stops, benches, playgrounds and platforms are the stepping-stones that highlight the paths as public ‘shorelines’. Rather than simply functioning as the sum of autonomous settlements, the Laneken/Maasmechlen conurbation can become a more structured territory whose main reference points are public facilities that challenge the privacy of suburban life. Following this step we can imagine a more ambitious and transformative scenario that consists of the gradual and statesupported subtraction of under- or unused homes. The incentivised government backing would take a similar form to green car schemes whereby car owners receive vouchers or tax breaks for buying a low-emission vehicle. A third step would then consist of retrofitting existing settlements through densification. This retrofitting is put forward through a series of housing types that question the standard of the detached single-family home by providing spaces that can easily adapt to different activities and forms of association. As we explain later, these types imply a different model of ownership, which is no longer tuned to a parcel of spaces but rather to a system of facilities. What we wish to show is not a specific and fixed architecture but a range of possibilities for the near future. Because the proposal can only be conceived as a gradual transformation – one that involves a myriad of actors, from the state, to local municipalities to citizens – it is important to highlight all possible directions, as opposed to one defined way forward. But without clear examples of what this transformation might entail it is difficult to even know what possibilities exist. The following pages therefore offer a glimpse of different living and working conditions we imagine for the near future.

1. Bruno De Meulder, Jan Schreus, Annabei Cock, Bruno Nottemboon, ‘Patching up the Belgian Urban Landscape’, Oase 52, pp 78–113. 2. Pascal De Decker, ‘Understanding Housing Sprawl: the Case of Flanders, Belgium, 2010’, Environment and Planning vol 43, no 7, pp 1634–54. 3. See: Erik Buyst, An Economic History of Residential Building in Belgium Between 1890 and 1961 (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1992). 4. Sofie De Caigny, ‘Catholicism and the Domestic Sphere: Working-Class Women in Inter-War Flanders’, Home Cultures, vol 2, no 1, pp 23–34. 5. Thomas Verbeek, Anne Pisman, Hans Leinfelder, Goerge Allaert, ‘For every house a garden... A morphological assessment of residential development in Flanders’ rural areas’, Dewaelheyns V, Bomans K, Gulinck H (Antwerp: Maklu, 2011) pp 85–106. 6. See: Wouter Bervoest, Marijn van de Weijer, ‘The Future of the Post-War SingleFamily House: The Case of Flanders’, Federico Zanfi, Guia Caramellino, eds. PostWar Middle-Class Housing (Brussels: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010) pp 23-35. 7. Wouter Bervoest, Hilde Heynen, ‘The Obduracy of the Detached Single Family House in Flanders’, International Journal of Housing Policy, vol 13, no 4, pp 358–80. 8. Ibid. 373, 375. See also, Mario Antoninetti, ‘The Difficult History of Ancillary Units: The Obstacles and Potential Opportunities to Increase Heterogeneity of Neighbourhoods and Flexibility of household in the United States’, Journal of Housing for the Elderly vol 22, no 4, pp 348–75. 9. For an incisive critique on traditional domestic space as a private space separated from the workspace see Dolores Haydan, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods and Cities (Cambridge, Ma: The MIT Press, 1982). 10. About the exploitation of domestic labour see: Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero, Housework, Reproduction, and Femminist Struggle (New York, NY: PM Press, 2012). 11. Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Immaterial labor’, Paolo Virno, Michael Hardt (eds.), Radical Thought in Italy: a Potential Politics (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press, 1996) pp 133–50.


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2,3 km

Eindhoven

Lanklaar

Oeleinde

Duisburg

Düsseldorf

Antwerp

Brussels

Tuinwijk

Köln

Maastricht Aachen

Maasmechelen

Liege

Stein

Meers

Boscheinde

Position of the Hoge Kempen National Park

Northwestern Metropolitan Area

Elsloo

16 Opgrimbie 3h

Duisburg

Rotterdam 2 h / 3 h

Zutendal

/2

h

Rotterdam

Antwerp

Düsseldorf

Gent

Gewaai

Uikhoven

nd

ho

ve

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1

h

2h Ei

Eindhoven

Catsop

Netherlands

Nijmegen

Tilburg

Boorsem

Amsterdam 2 h / 3.5 h

Bessemer

Rekem

Geulle Moorveld

.5

/4

h

h

1h

/3

he

h

5

sm

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ec

1 ls

Neerharen

K

25 ht ric

La

st

20

Frankfurt 3 h / 5 h

aa

k

M

en

h

G

h /2

h 1

40

h

m

/3

h .5 i1

Germany Lanaken

A

N

ac

he

am

n

ur

ro le ar Ch

h

Liege

Meerssen

.5 /1 e eg

Gellik

Smeermaas

Li

Belgium

40

m

Namur

Bounde

.5 /3

Paris 4 h / 4 h Mons

Aachen

NL

m

n na

/2 m

h 5 0. H

as

se

lt

Bonn

ke

m 0

h /1

Maastricht

/4

5

m

M

öl

n

aa

1.

se us Br

Hasselt

h

le

/2

n

h

A

Köln Brussel

Brommelen

D

nt

ui

w

sb

er

p

ur

1

g

h

1

h

/2

Wuppertal

Leuven

Luxemburg 2.5 h / 5 h

‘University towns’ network

Transport network Time-distance projection by car / public transport Area of intervention: the national park as urban edge


4,6 km

1770

1776

1873

1904

1969

2016

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Historical evolution of the Hoge Kempen National Park – officially opened in 2006, the park is largely composed of coniferous trees planted in order to meet the timber demands of coal mines. Following the closing of the mines the woods have been transformed into ‘natural’ forests. The evolution of the Hoge Kempen shows how the forest grew in a fragmented way without a clear border, and even today the edge between the park and its surroundings is almost invisible

View of the conurbation stretching from Massmeechelen to Lanaken bordering Hoge Kempen National Park


2,3 km

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Tram station Tram stop Civic centre River kiosk Canal pier Activity areas within the Park Urban areas Liner park along the Maas Transversal connection Liner pedestrian and bikeway along the Park New tram line Linear pedestrian and bikeway along the Maas

Map of strategic interventions – the proposal extends the national park into the conurbation through a system of pedestrian and bicycle paths. The ‘stepping stones’ along the paths are civic centres and other public facilities that organise the different urban forms – such as the national park, the canal and the river – into a coherent urban composition. The civic centres are located at the edge of the park and help to define a new path that makes legible the border between the forest and the built landscape

Phasing of strategic interventions – the proposed urban structure is based on the reading of the territory as a sequence of strips, from left to right: the forest, the main road that connects Maasmechelen to Lanaken, the canal and the Meuse river. This sequence has the potential to become the backbone of an urban park that extends and defines the role of the national park. The dotted lines represent the system of paths while the red dots show the public facilities, which range from civic centres, to bus stops, to floating platforms along the canal and to benches. All share a common language so that they are easily identifiable. The aim of these ‘stepping stones’ is to orientate and make legible the present urban configuration


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The cleanings are the secondary points of entry to the Hoge Kempen National Park furnished with light facilities and benches


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Civic centre and proposed path defining the edge of the Hoge Kempen National Park – each civic centre contains a piece of public infrastructure, such as learning centres, libraries, galleries and childcare facilities


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A new tramline connects Maasmechelen to Lanaken. A series of intermediary stops defines the central spine of the new conurbation


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The piers on the canal


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Resting stands along the river


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The edge of the forest

The rural landscape as ‘void’


SHRINKING Strategies for demolition

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The possibility of demolition of old or dated buildings is one of the major taboos within our society. Construction of a building implies the establishment of a fixed and permanent structure, and it is rarely thought that a building today has an average life span of thirty years. Domestic property makes the possibility of demolition especially difficult – it tends to cultivate a sense of attachment that goes far beyond its usefulness. The countryside, for example, is full of second houses that are left empty or used only for short periods, but because they carry the owners’ memories they tend to remain a sort of family monument. And so while in the past it was normal to demolish, rebuild or retrofit existing structures, with the advent of the modern dwelling, demolition seems inconceivable. Paradoxically the modern dwelling’s fall into obsolescence is taking place at a far greater speed than its distant relatives. This is even truer when considering suburban houses – the products of a very specific way of living that is increasingly at odds with the present condition of living and working. As we have seen, suburban houses are made of spaces that are forever limited to specific functions – the garage, the living room and the bedroom. And yet in spite of this apparent permanence these houses are often built with cheap or quickly deteriorating materials that age rapidly both in terms of functionality and aesthetic. Even when residents are wealthier than average, building materials are still fragile: facades needs to be revamped every ten years, interiors every fifteen. Furthermore, the gardens require constant maintenance, an activity that might appeal to retired people with time but one that becomes a burden to those who are already stretched in their commitments. More issues lie in a lack of usable storage. Typical suburban houses encourage a vast consumption of furniture but because of their lack of available built-in storage they also become crowded with objects. Often unused rooms serve as ad-hoc attics or closets. Another problem is the location of these houses. In Flanders suburban houses have often been built incrementally, and not within

subdivisions. Instead they appear along roads as parcels of very long ribbons of land, fusing different settlements or towns together as one continuous conurbation without beginning or end. We believe that in the future these homes will be the most problematic to inhabit. For this reason we propose a plan for their controlled demolition, which would in turn shrink the footprint of the existing built space. We have identified a number of settlements stretching from Laneken to Maasmechlen – mostly ribbon settlements we believe to be the most problematic parts of this conurbation. However, their gradual removal opens up the possibility to create more compact areas for living and to reclaim the land between these settlements, transforming it from an undistinguished grey zone into workable rural land. An important aspect of this demolition is an economic one. As Keller Easterling has argued the construction industry is an infrastructure that joins forces with many different kinds of economic multipliers in the form of details, financial instruments or spatial products.1 Easterling argues for a project that uses the same economic mechanisms that produce large quantities of houses but does so in reverse – that is, the service is not that of building, but of demolition. As she explains, ‘buildings like casinos, sport stadiums and high-rise housing, however substantial, are routinely imploded not because they are old or non-functioning, but because even the most ephemeral programmatic wrinkle renders them obsolete. Recent economic failures dramatically demonstrate the degree to which buildings like single-family houses are, in some sense, as volatile and immaterial as currency.’ In this sense it is possible to think of the subtraction of built space as a ‘building’ activity with the potential to originate its own market and which can be state-supported, much like the building of homes through subsidies and financial incentives. As Easterling reminds us, in some countries like Japan where the value of land is high, there is a premium for surgical subtraction that encourages the demolition of aged buildings while recycling all their materials. 1. See: Keller Easterling, Subtraction (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014).

Jeff Wall, The destroyed room, 1978


4,9 km

1

2020

2

2030

3

36

4

2040

2050

Phasing of shrinking: 2020–50

Last stage of shrinking – settlements are self-contained and separated by reclaimed rural land (areas 1-4)


1,2 km

550 m

2020

2030

2040

2050

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Phasing of shrinking: area 1

Last stage of shrinking (area 1) with potential densification of settlements (in red)


1,2 km

550 m

2020

2030

2040

2050

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Phasing of shrinking: area 2

Last stage of shrinking (area 2) with potential densification of settlements (in red)


550 m

1,2 km

2020

2030

2040

2050

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Phasing of shrinking: area 3

Last stage of shrinking (area 3) with potential densification of settlements (in red)


550 m

1,2 km

2020

2030

2040

2050

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Phasing of shrinking: area 4

Last stage of shrinking (area 4) with potential densification of settlements (in red)


Ribbon

Dense block

Low-density block

Block

Villa park

Block

Garden city

New garden city

Town centre

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Settlement typologies

Settlement typologies selected for transformation (in blue)


SETTLEMENT TYPOLOGIES Five transformative proposals

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We do not assume the housing models put forward to be the only solutions. Instead they show a method of working with domestic space rather than offering one precise architectural solution. There are two aspects to consider in relation to the models presented. The first is to look beyond the difference between and separation of living and working spaces. The second aspect offers alternatives to the idea of domestic space as the embodiment of private property and the nuclear family. Regarding this second issue we imagine a longterm transition towards a much more open and inclusive domestic household, which in any case does not imply that the family will disappear in the future. At the same time it is important to realise that these challenges are already at work in contemporary domestic spaces. As we have explained, the differences between living and working are increasingly difficult to define. At the same time the domestic space is undergoing structural transformations in which the typical nuclear family is no longer the indisputable protagonist. Our answer to these challenges is to imagine a scenario in which the house can be used as both a living and a working space and where, regardless of family pattern, different inhabitants can share facilities that have historically been present in individual private households (gardens, kitchens, storage). This passage, from a private space to communal one, is gradual and allows inhabitants to negotiate their steps between the two poles. Moreover, the idea of communal living should not be understood as living together all the time but as a kind of gradient that allows space for families or any other form of household to retain their privacy. In order to achieve this, we propose a domestic space based on the principle of the ‘even distribution of equal rooms’. If we observe a plan of a typical detached single-family house we can immediately see how the plan is divided into distinct spaces. The sheer number of rooms and their unevenness in terms of size and distribution relates to the conventional division of domestic activities into specialised situations (bedroom, living room, studio etc) and the sense of hierarchy that the family home has always implied (the parents’ bedroom is bigger than the children’s bedroom, the living room is bigger than the bedroom, etc). This point of view has shifted with the more recent trend of the open ground-floor plan combining living room and kitchen in one space – an example that testifies to the shift away from compartmentalisation. Our proposal develops this trend into something more radical that would enhance a much more open and flexible plan (one that is even more viable given the reduction in average family size). This scenario allows for the flexible zoning of domestic space whereby the same rooms (all equal in size) can be used for different functions – for rest, for working, as a kitchen or a laboratory, as a day-care facility or living room, as a shop or as an office. In addition two or more rooms can become one space in order to meet the specific needs of the household. Our proposal for a new domestic space is tested in five case

studies that correspond to four different settlement typologies. Within our survey of the area that stretches from Masmecheelen to Lanaaken we noticed that the conurbation is made of nine distinct settlement typologies: the ‘ribbon’, the ‘dense block’, the ‘low-density block’, the ‘villa park’, the ‘garden city’, the ‘new-garden city’ and the ‘town-centre’. Of these nine typologies we believe that four – the low-density block, the villa park, the garden city and the new-garden city – are the most suitable for retrofitting and transformation.

VILLA PARK

These are settlements made of large villas built from the late 1970s to the present. Unlike other settlements, villa parks are clearly subdivided – a condition that creates an ideal scenario for more dense settlement. The villas are large and usually built in the middle of a generous lot, leaving enough space for further occupation without sacrificing too much of the space around the existing structures. Most of these properties were built as tranquil escapes from the city, but this lifestyle no longer appeals to new generations, and the villas are too big for their current inhabitants. Moreover a lack of both services and working spaces make these settlements completely devoid of any social life. However these very conditions also make the villas ideal for attracting new inhabitants, especially those willing to share the generous spaces of the existing homes and to use the large plots for work-related activities, such as manufacturing and artisanal endeavours that typically require larger spaces.

central core area but at a distance from the existing rows of houses, allowing the common area to remain a fixture and highlighting it as a location for the community to converge. The houses are made of a simple prefabricated structure that can grow incrementally. Each unit comprises four equal rooms with cruciform walls that can contain all the basic domestic services such as kitchen, bathroom, shelf or sleeping alcove. The rest of the internal space is undefined. Permanent party walls are replaced with sliding panels and removable partitions, which allow the sharing of spaces across different units. Two households, for example, can share the kitchen, the living room or the workspace. This model is inspired by the principle of the ‘assisted’ house in which the elderly or disabled inhabitants are helped by neighbours. But rather than marking the differences between these dwellers, this model proposes the flexible use of rooms that is contingent on the actual situation rather than a fixed typology.

GARDEN CITY

THE BLOCK The low-density block is made of detached family houses built along a perimeter, with a large empty, often underused, area at the core. Further densification is made possible through the construction of new houses inside this block. The houses are built on the edge of the

At Maasmechelen a garden city was built in the 1950s to house the families of the coal miners. These houses have generous gardens that increasingly go unused. We propose building new houses on the edge

of each plot to essentially exploit the principle of the aforementioned assisted home. These houses are based on the principle of the assisted home – houses built within the perimeter of a given property and inhabited by those who assist the inhabitants of the existing house. The main element of the new house is a continuous wall that absorbs all basic domestic facilities such as bathrooms, kitchen and storage. The rest of the space can therefore be partitioned in an adhoc manner according to different uses. While some rooms can be closed off from the rest of the space, other rooms can be opened and used as flexible living areas. From its position on the edge of the property, the new house opens out towards the garden. Such a position presumes that in the near future the old house can be demolished when no longer in use.

NEW GARDEN CITY

This intervention focuses on the suburban houses built in the area over the last 20 years. Compared to the villa parks and garden cities, the houses here have considerably less space, resulting in a dense subdivision. Their interiors also feature a simpler plan and many have a garage. Because of their plan and the small space between them, it is possible to imagine a scenario in which different households form larger entities comprised of two, three or even four units. This transformation begins by replacing the garage with an open pavilion that connects two houses. The pavilion becomes the new entrance to the houses and a common living room/veranda. Once the pavilion is built, we can envisage a gradual transformation of the ground-floor area towards a more collective dwelling. A central open corridor will allow access to assisted rooms for seniors plus shared facilities such as a large kitchen and dining area, storage and spa. The second floor of each house retains its privacy. The transformation process is gradual and will concentrate more inhabitants per dwelling than the current situation of 2.5 inhabitants per house.


Low-density block

Dense block

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Villa park

Garden city

New Garden city


250 m

60 m

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Phasing densification of the Villa park with living/working spaces

Densification of the Villa park, detail – large villas are subdivided into smaller units to gradually become multi-family houses. The new structure is added to the back of the existing plots and consists of a simple shed with a core in the middle that contains basic facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and alcoves


8m

54

The shed can be used in different ways – as house, as workspace or as workshop or even as a factory for light manufacturing activities. Eventually more sheds can form continuous structures that extend along the entire width of the settlement.

View of Villa park from road – the shed is hidden in the back


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Internal view of the shed

View of the shed core with the storage, kitchenette and sleeping alcove


150 m

40 m

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Phasing densification of the low-density block – the block is made of single detached homes aligning along the perimeter with a large empty core made of unused properties. New houses are added inside the block at a certain distance from existing ones, so that the empty core of the block is not occupied. The new houses therefore frame the central void, making it the ‘common’ of the block

Empty block densification – the new houses are terraced houses made of equally sized rooms with no pre-defined programmed. They are framed by a cruciform structure that can contain basic infrastructure for living such as kitchen, bathroom and alcove. The minimum unit is one room


150 m

40 m

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Phasing densification of the dense block – in this case new terraced houses are added inside the block along the property border between two opposite houses

By opening up sliding partitions contained within the cruciform wall, units can be expanded


2m

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Because the load-bearing structure is concentrated on the cruciform walls, it is possible to connect more units and organise different gradients of shared spaces and facilities. Different units can share a kitchen, a living room or a workspace. The idea of home property as defined by the unchangeable spaces is countered by a simple composition of rooms whose degree of connection evolves with dwellers' desires

Section of the new house inside the block


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Internal view of interconnected units

Internal view of one unit with closed sliding partitions


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View of the block from road with new terraced houses in the back

View of the block from road with new terraced houses in the back


240 m

30 m

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Densification of the Garden city – new houses are added to the plots of each existing house. Eventually the old house can be demolished opening up the plot empty to alternative uses

The new houses are single-storey structures. All fixed infrastructure is aligned to the wall, allowing the spaces to be adjusted. The simplicity of the structure allows for the expansion or shrinkage of the house


5m

70

Detailed plan of a new house

Internal view of the new house with all fixed-infrastructure aligned to the wall


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Densification of the Garden city – view of a new house

Densification of the Garden city – view of a new house


150 m

45 m

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Retrofitting of the New Garden City – the retrofitting links different properties to form larger units. The goal is to undermine the subdivision and unite the detached homes into larger entities. Shared services within these configurations could include clinics and day-care facilities

Small pavilions are built in the short gaps between the existing detached homes. They become the ‘lobbies’ of two houses, altering the original internal plan and programme


4m

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Once the pavilion is inserted the original logic of the ground floor changes to allow for the sharing of facilities, such as kitchen and storage. Generous assisted rooms can be added, and all the bedrooms are located at the second floor

View of the small pavilion inbetween two existing houses


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Printed in Estonia by Printon


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