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Experience over expertise

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

During a four week studio we worked on a conceptual urban intervention in a rural village in the heart of Flanders. The village at hand was Woesten, a small-sized town that arose along the paved road linking Ieper to De Panne.

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.

 

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.

Framing the valley

During this studio we worked on one of the entrance gates towards the old city center of Leuven. At this location the green valley of the Dijle river hits the city ring in a very ambiguous, vague way. There is a junction of roads, bicycle lanes, green patches and the viaduct which prevent people from easily entering the green park and even form a visual barrier.

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.