Early on during my studies as an architectural engineer, I became fascinated by the active role architecture could play in the shaping of our complex world. I therefore decided to focus on urban design during my master studies and first working experience.
To me, urban design should strive to be:
a physical representation of today's society
a flexible structure that forms part of a resilient city
grounded in a thorough reading of the (a)physical context
shaped within our public space
a coproduction of multiple stakeholders
an interplay between spontaneous and organized initiatives
After an exchange year in Arkansas, USA, where I discovered the difference that another kind of urban tissue can make on people’s way of life, I started my studies at the KULeuven in order to become an architect. During my time as a student, I was active in a youth organization that focused on cultural exchange and active citizenship as these topics have always been of great interest to me.
After several exchanges I got the opportunity to go to Ghana to conduct fieldwork for my master thesis. My cum laude master degree was concluded by a project on the resettlement towns there. With this research-and-design thesis I got to deepen my knowledge on participation processes and the dynamics behind large-scale public projects.
Since then I have started working at A33, where I gained experience working on all phases of built projects ranging from the initial sketch design to the acceptance procedure of a completed building. The projects I worked on so far include residential and public buildings, a masterplan and the layout of (semi-) public spaces. I also developed a booklet containing an overview of technical details and wall compositions.
The Volta River Project, a project by the ghanaian government to dam the Volta river for the generation of electricity, led to the creation of the world's largest man-made lake. The formation of this lake caused 80.000 people to be resettled.
A lot had already been said and written about this resettlement program and the policies that have been developed over time, but the starting point of research had not yet been the day-to-day life of these forced migrants and how their experiences differed or aligned with the intentions of the experts who developed and led the project.
This research-by-design project aimed at making a graphical comparison between the existing theoretical discourse and the reality in which these people live. It focused on the natural, built and cultural elements that shaped their surroundings, making the interplay between the top-down interventions and the inhabitant's appropriation of their environment apparent.
The thesis finished with a toolbox containing best practices and new and improved ideas to increase the liveability of the areas around the lake and was inspired by the times when the measures undertaken by the experts and those of the inhabitants strengthened each other. The toolbox was further developed for the area of the southern Afram plains which suffered a lot under recent desertification, in order to make sure the measures didn't stay too generic or abstract but became easy-to-implement, small-scale 'projects'.
Woesten Inside Out
While the livelihood of most villagers used to depend mostly on agriculture, nowadays the majority of inhabitants are commuters who work in the big city only to return late at night. This has put a strain on the social ties between families and friends that used to be so defining for these villages.
The social changes combined with the upcoming construction of a bypass around the village which would cut them off from passing traffic and the subsequent trade, were the prerequisites on the urban intervention we were about to design.
We started our project by interviewing a number of inhabitants to get to know their view on the past, present and future of their town while also organizing a walk with them through the village and countryside to understand their relationships with the build and natural environment.
Our project tries to highlight the beauty of their countryside while at the same time making the economic and social fabric of the village more resilient. As a specific example we designed a campsite for 'WWI' visitors combined with an ecological farm and eatery that would not focus on the main road but instead turn the other way to explore the vast hinterland.
On a site bordering a busy road that connect the outskirts of brussels to the citycentre, we designed a covered market, shops, offices and a variety of housing typologies all adapted to the specificities of the surroundings.
At the front of the site where there is a lot of traffic and commerce, we decided to pull back the building block and create a space for merchants and pedestrians. On the other side of the project's grounds lies a residential neigbourhood.There the building block is made up of rowhouses around a local square and houses with room for a shop or liberal profession.
Townhouse on a corner lot
We were asked to design a one-family home and a workspace for someone with a creative profession on the last empty lot in the corner of a building block. The design aimed at finishing the building block while at the same time highlighting the qualities of that specific place.
An art studio is placed right underneath the roof, oriented to the north, making it the ideal space for a painter while the living room has a big window facing south and the garden. All the bedrooms and the carport are located on the ground floor to ensure openness and a sense of privacy to the living area which is located on the first floor. The staircase is placed in the middle of the house to subtly divide the cooking area and living room while at the same time effectively cutting out the need for hallways connecting the different rooms together.
We wanted to show this valley as a real valleypark that serves the city next to it. We did this by defining the edges of the valley and sharpening certain topography changes. These changes result in three edges: a clear edge, an active edge and a platform path next to the river. The edges frame the park by working on the visibility, accessibility and availability of the green valleypark.
The clear edge forms a wall which becomes more and more permeable as it extends into the valley, becoming a real line through the landscape. The active edge forms a connection between the city and the valleypark. By using stairs we create places for different activities but also a passing-through and balcony. The last boundary is the platform path which connects all existing sports facilities on both sides of the river and becomes a pathway along the river .
Topography changes have been used before to define the valley and increase its accessibility. By using the same technique and making the topography changes more radical we remind people that the landscape is man-made and allow them a lookout over the park regardless of whether they are driving next to it or walking in it.