The Opposite Shore
This study reconstructs the history of suburbanization in Belgium by selecting 25 case studies of suburban houses and their relative settlement form.
Suburbs are often understood as the results of individualism, yet behind such ideological smokescreen they are the product of state policies whose goal was to construct of a specific subjectivity rooted in private property.
Since its emergence as a nation state in the 1830s, Belgium has witnessed a steep process of industrialisation that prompted its government to promote, at the end of the century, a series of initiatives to control the working class. While the extension of the national railway system connected rural territories with major industrial centers, new laws promoted homeownership through tax exemption and cheap loans, triggering a suburban development centered on petit-bourgeois values.
In the aftermath of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, the state backed social housing by directly subsidising cooperative societies of homeowners, giving rise to experimental settlements inspired by the English garden suburb model. However, such models were soon seen as a political risk, and the government reinstated its traditional housing policy based on granting financial support to individual owners.
After World War I the social pact between labour movement, capital and state did not result in the conventional welfare state recipe of large-scale social housing, but instead continued to fuel the promotion of homeownership among the lower classes.
Suburbanisation was further exacerbated with the advent of Neoliberalism. Since the 1980s, the Belgian state began relinquishing its control over spatial planning to the regional governments of Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels; this policy change resulted in hypertrophic and uncoordinated planning activity at the local scale. To counter this situation, structural planning at a regional scale was introduced at the end of the 1990s, aiming to protect undeveloped space from further urban sprawl. This policy granted more planning autonomy to municipalities, thus remaining deliberately weak vis-à-vis building speculation.
The research highlights the way in which architectural typology and urban morphology have been deeply informed by the forces of political economy. Ultimately, the goal of such an inquiry is to show how behind the rhetoric of the ‘everyday’ lies an apparatus of social control whose purpose was to actualise the political and anthropological profile of homo economicus.
The Opposite Shore
Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara with Mariapaola Michelotto, Celeste Tellarini, Theodor Reinhardt, Anna Panourgia, Antonio Paolillo, Yi Ming Wu, Perla Gísladóttir, and Rachel Rouzaud
Participation to the 17th Venice Biennale 2021 has been supported by Kunsten en Cultureel Erfgoed, Departement Cultuur, Jeugd en Media Vlaanderen