Civic design contributes to diverse and durable neighbourhoods by relating social to spatial structures

Why wait when we can start now?

Why wait when we can start now?

The Flanders region can be characterized by an abundance of road infrastructure. Recently, the government issued a call for 'demineralization' projects. We accompany a citizens’ initiative in Leuven in the transformation of their street from an environment characterized by concrete to a biodiverse landscape with water-permeable surfaces. During car-free Sunday, we gathered with the neighbours on the street and pre-configured this new reality.

Can meanwhile use be an act of resistance affecting the further course of urban redevelopment? More specifically, can it influence and inform the choices of citizens, policymakers, architects and developers in such projects?

Dieter Leyssen,
'Meanwhile Use as an Act of Resistance', 2018

From 2017 to 2019, we set up a partnership for the temporary activation of the Brussels World Trade Centre. For two years, it was a test site for new types of uses in the former monofunctional office district. It introduced the possibility of new types of education, local NGOs and offices, small-scale makers, legal advisers, etc. While fragile, these initiatives presented a different and more mixed-use future for the district.

From North District, Next Step?, 2018

What are the spatial and social resources to tap into?

What are the spatial and social resources to tap into?

As part of the territorial study LaboXX we looked at the renewal of Antwerp’s twentieth-century belt. We focused on the relation between this transformation and the financial products for real-estate development. We engaged with bankers to understand possibilities and margins for change. Through a series of workshops and the production of scenarios, we connected them to other stakeholders – policymakers, citizens, entrepreneurs, knowledge centres and investors – and came up with new strategies for financing, organizing and designing projects in existing urban contexts.

from Labo XX, Opting for the twentieth-century belt, 2015

A civic-design proposal starts from the existing social dynamics of certain neighbourhoods. In Vilvoorde we contributed to the community-oriented meanwhile-use project called ‘Asiat's summer’. A former military site was turned into a seedbed for social and cultural initiatives. With minimal interventions, we restructured the open spaces and a series of old warehouses to enable this appropriation. Its evident existing qualities, complemented with some insertions and pieces of furniture, allowed for a summer full of events, encounters and festivals.

The agglomeration of Fribourg is located on the central Swiss Plateau, only a 30-minute train ride from Lausanne and Geneva. In order to prepare itself for future growth, several large projects are being undertaken, such as the relocation of the cantonal hospital, a new railway station and the university. Yet because of its location the city needs not only to consider its own future, but also to incorporate possible dynamics from its metropolitan neighbours.

The master plan we developed encompassed the creation of the new hospital and new working and residential districts along the motorway. The city doubted whether these developments would require a covering of the highway. Our proposal advised against and proposed to invest in a gradual programming of the territory instead. Together with the urban design for the new hospital, a series of urban figures were proposed that could organize short- and long-term uses on the site, such as a productive landscape corridor, accessible public nodes, and strips of mixed-use programme.

Civic design is a combination of architecture, urban design and human geography, emerging as a discipline dedicated to the territorialisation of the structure of social relationships underlying in every city, and not only as the practice of fulfilling aesthetic and beauty criteria. Therefore, civic design articulates the relationship between urban dwellers and the space they occupy, their mobility and the morphology of the built environment they inhabit, in order to achieve functional and pleasing public spaces. Thus, civic design is a more holistic concept than urban design, since it takes into consideration both physical and social components as crucial for city life.

Inzulza-Contardo and Cruz-Gambardella, 2014

How to capture and strengthen the values produced along the way?

How to capture and strengthen the values produced along the way?

Instead of proposing a blueprint for the coming development for dry-docks site in Antwerp, we proposed a structured learning process that made it possible to undertake projects in the short term. New practices, projects and alliances are mapped and considered in drawn scenarios. It is combined with a charter that sets out the shared ambitions of the different stakeholders on the longer term. By opening the site as of today, the testing of a new programme could start immediately. In this way, the dry docks gradually become a destination in the urban context, while a new identity of the site is built and the required organizational structure is set up.

The proposal for Thurgauerstrasse West started off with an exploration of the values behind the development of the site, strategically located between Zurich and the airport. The value framework included three notions. First, affordable opportunities, or the idea of making an environment simple in terms of maintenance and open for appropriation. Second, Homo faber, Homo ludens, allowing for different life cycles and adaptability in use, and thirdly, urban density, suburban quality, the concept of mini-spaces, e lower investments in the private sphere and margin to invest in the collective offer.

What new development models and ways of working together do we need?

What new development models and ways of working together do we need?

Large spaces for production and manufacturing are scarce in Brussels. Many have been transformed into residential or mixed-use districts. The Heyvaert district is home to some of the last centrally located manufacturing sites. In close partnership with the landowner of one of these sites, we developed an incremental master plan that activates the site in the short term and safeguards it from speculative development in the long term. The approach entails an incubation programme for circular economy, scope-broadening master classes, and an urban design on long-term transformation of the site.

The area's fragmented property structure required an organizational scheme in which the landowners could develop together across property lines. This led to the establishment of a “land bank”. This model takes the form of a company whose shareholders are the landowners. Its capital consists of the property assets. In the context of the Lageweg, return on investment will evolve gradually with the project development, while risk is cut back by the creation of legal certainty in the form of a partnership agreement, a master plan and a rezoning plan by the city.

Jan Verheyen
LaboXX Pilotproject De Lageweg, 2015

In the pilot project De Lageweg, we started looking for alternative processes to realize urban development. The most important difference with other urban-development projects is that we did not start with the spatial ambitions or plans of (one of) the partners, but that we first worked on establishing cooperation between all the actors in the project, the so-called coalition formation.

Isabelle Verhaert
LaboXX Pilotproject De Lageweg, 2015

Located in the heart of the European District in Brussels, Stam Europe is a public space bringing a new type of program in the area while curating conditions for dialogue between the inhabitants and the large institutions of the neighbourhood. The space will be used for critical discussions around the European District and its presence in the city of Brussels.

New ways of working together Stam Europe