Atelier Deep Geothermia

Atelier Deep Geothermia is a collaboration between the Team Flemish Government Architect, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) and the Flemish Spatial Planning Department (Ruimte Vlaanderen). It is an intensive ‘research-by-design’ trajectory running parallel to ‘Geothermia 2020’, a project funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). In the slipstream of an earlier Flemish Bouwmeester design research on ‘Energy Landscapes’, this study focuses on the east of Flanders and examines the interaction between deep geothermal energy and built landscape. The specific question is how the possible energy transition of this specific region can form a basis for a broader development towards a renewed and more sustainable living environment.

The study is specifically set up to be ‘open source’, establishing a base in terms of how to interpret and understand the question. One specific challenge was to shift the discussion from a problem-based discourse to one based on the definition of potential. We traced the possible shifts across domains, which requires a mixing of ‘languages’ and overlapping ways of perceiving potential.

The study starts by framing the research question and how it becomes specific in Flanders, with its characteristically dispersed urban settlements. The main design opportunity in Flanders is closely related to this relative dispersion, which still offers a lot of margin for high-quality densification, but also gives a unique potential to develop geothermal plants not as stand-alone devices but rather as an incrementally growing network. Together they can generate an output-input infrastructure that can become truly resilient by facilitating sharing across energy sources.

Following this introductory section, two chapters deal with a specific subset of topics: first, the technical components of a deep geothermal plant and its spatial implications, and second the development dimensions of the built environment and how they are informed by a sustainable energy transition and future qualities. These two chapters are only beginning to define the topic: by giving these chapters a ‘glossary’ logic, they become open-ended, available for further development beyond the limited time frame of this study.

The fourth chapter both produced and tested the knowledge of the three previous chapters. It contains two test cases, researching two specific areas, and makes it possible to pinpoint the interdependencies between the different shifts that can together transform the region. These cases show both the power and fragility of the geothermal potential: the heritage of the heavily infrastructured landscape of Flanders offers many opportunities, but these are not up for grabs. Realizing them will require a radical shift in governance, one that is able to manage interdependencies on a variety of scales, merging the incremental qualities of current policies with a return of a scale of management closer to the plan d’ensemble of the former coal mines that once boosted this region. 

The study, in Dutch, is available  here.

  • Location

    Kempen, Belgium

  • Client

    Team Vlaams Bouwmeester, Ruimte Vlaanderen, VITO

  • Project


  • Invited competition


  • 51N4E project team

    Freek Persyn, Johan Anrys, Jolein Bergers, Charlotte Schmidt, Sotiria Kornaropoulou, Agnes Heller, Sebastian Weindauer, Xiao Liu, Thomas Guilleux, Theophile Flecheux, Thibaud Gauin, Cyndelle Renneson, Lieselore Vandecandelaere

  • 51N4E involvement

    Full Process

  • Consultants

    Michiel Dehaene, Jasper Hugtenburg

  • Programme

    Infrastructure, urban design