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Park City

Study for urban transformation and new housing typology in Limburg (Belgium)

Flanders has a high number of homeowners and single-family houses. 70 per cent of households own their house and almost 80 per cent of the housing stock is made up of single-family houses. This situation is rather unique in Europe and casts a long shadow back over the history of Belgium as an independent nation-state and its politics in support of home ownership.
Since the late nineteenth century, Belgium’s housing condition has been characterised by the hegemony of the single- family home as a way of life – a condition created by the long-standing ‘anti-city’ policy promoted by the Belgian government.1 After its rise as an independent nation-state, Belgium went through a rampant process of industrialisation, which triggered a number of social conflicts. Fearing a high concentration of urban-dwelling workers, the Liberal-Catholic government pursued a policy of dispersing the labour force throughout the rural territory by promoting homeownership and affordable railway transport. Far from the celebrated phenomenon of ‘Wilde Wohnen’, urban sprawl in Belgium was a carefully orchestrated political project with a threefold objective: the ruralisation of industrial workers, the promotion of homeownership and the reinforcement of family values.
An important aspect of the Belgian single-family home is its resistance to change. This has led researchers like Wouter Bervoest and Hilde Heynen to define the problem of housing in Flanders in terms of ‘obduracy’.7 What the political and economic process succinctly described above has left on the ground is very difficult to modify or alter. Not only are domestic habits extremely enduring and hard to change since they give a sense of orientation especially within uncertain times, but also, the house itself speaks to a system in which a specific spatial condition is linked with deep-seated social and juridical frameworks. It is hard, for example, to imagine that those who are accustomed to living in a detached home would allow the further subdivision of their property or the sharing of their garden, but the future of baby-boomer-built suburban housing in Belgium raises many questions especially when considered in light of recent social and economic changes. In Europe there is a visible trend that sees the reduction of household size to an average of 2.5 persons per house, and there is a growing mismatch between the number of suburban houses and the newer generations’ desire to live in cities. After secondary school, many people in their late-20s leave their parents’ suburban houses. Another urgent issue is the elderly population, which finds itself increasingly isolated and lacking adequate care. While the countryside offers some respite from the hectic life of cities, the increasing depopulation and lack of social services make their lives lonely and devoid of social interaction. This condition is not only negative for the elderly, but also for the social wellbeing of the suburban territory.
With this in mind, the following pages illustrate a possible alternative for urban dwellers – a scenario that reimagines the suburban context of the Lanaken-Maasmechelen territory by considering two key issues: the introduction of both public space and new forms of domestic living beyond the single-family house. The proposal goes beyond architecture and urban design, taking into account all the factors that produce the city – such as politics, economy and culture. We believe, however, that architecture can give a tangible form to these factors by not only showing what transformations are necessary, but also by revealing their spatial impact.
Our proposal consists of three distinct, and to some extent, consequential steps. The first step is a short-term scenario, which proposes punctual interventions primarily focused on public facilities. One of the most remarkable aspects of this territory is its lack of civic space besides commerce and town centres. By civic space we mean space that is beyond commerce, housing and circulation. Rather than scattering these interventions across the territory, we have positioned them to form a coherent urban structure – a territorial urban park – that highlights the meaningful relationship between the existing settlements, the forest, canal and river. This step is not only feasible in a short time, but also lends a sense of civic orientation without drastically changing the existing condition.
The second step proposes a planned partial demolition of existing houses in order to shrink the footprint of built space and to enhance open land for agricultural use. Most of the houses in this territory are detached family homes that are resistant to any alternative use, and many are either underused or vacant. Moreover, a number have been built outside concentrated settlements as self- standing structures along roads. Given the current demographic of this territory, which itself faces increasing depopulation, it is easy to imagine that in the next ten years a majority of these houses could become redundant. This is both a problem and a unique opportunity to put forward a scenario in which municipalities can financially support homeowners who decide to demolish their over-dimensioned and underused home to invest in more sustainable and collective forms of dwelling.
The third step resists the current situation – that of an increasingly depopulated suburb – and instead proposes that, given the evolution of the ways in which we live and work, suburban sites may become attractive once again. Yet this assumption is plausible only through a radical transformation of the economic and spatial rationales that have produced the suburban way of living in the last century. This step addresses the possibility of re-populating the suburbs, focusing on the retrofitting of existing settlements. This retrofitting would take place by subdividing existing plots of single- family homes to allow different uses of the home as a space for living, working and caring – thus allowing single-family dwellings to be united as more collective entities.

North West Metropolitan Area

Park City

North West Metropolitan Area

Positions of the Hoge Kempen National Park

Park City

Positions of the Hoge Kempen National Park

‘University towns’ network

Park City

‘University towns’ network

Transport network. Time-distance projection by car / public transport

Park City

Transport network. Time-distance projection by car / public transport

Map of strategic interventions – the proposal extends the national park into the conurbation through a system of pedestrian and bicycle paths. The ‘stepping stones’ along the paths are civic center and other public facilities that organize the different urban forms – such as the national park, the canal and the river – into a coherent urban composition.

Park City

Map of strategic interventions – the proposal extends the national park into the conurbation through a system of pedestrian and bicycle paths. The ‘stepping stones’ along the paths are civic center and other public facilities that organize the different urban forms – such as the national park, the canal and the river – into a coherent urban composition.

View of the Park

Park City

View of the Park

View of the Civic Center

Park City

View of the Civic Center

View of the tramline

Park City

View of the tramline

View of the river

Park City

View of the river

Last stage of shrinking (area 1) with potential densification of settlements (in red)

Park City

Last stage of shrinking (area 1) with potential densification of settlements (in red)

Last stage of shrinking (area 2) with potential densification of settlements (in red)

Park City

Last stage of shrinking (area 2) with potential densification of settlements (in red)

Phasing densification of the Villa park with living/working spaces

Park City

Phasing densification of the Villa park with living/working spaces

Densification of the Villa park, detail – large villas are subdivided into smaller units to gradually become multi-family houses. The new structure is added to the back of the existing plots and consists of a simple shed with a core in the middle that contains basic facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and alcoves

Park City

Densification of the Villa park, detail – large villas are subdivided into smaller units to gradually become multi-family houses. The new structure is added to the back of the existing plots and consists of a simple shed with a core in the middle that contains basic facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and alcoves

The shed can be used in different ways – as house, as workspace or as workshop or even as a factory for light manufacturing activities. Eventually more sheds can form continuous structures that extend along the entire width of the settlement

Park City

The shed can be used in different ways – as house, as workspace or as workshop or even as a factory for light manufacturing activities. Eventually more sheds can form continuous structures that extend along the entire width of the settlement

View of Villa park from road – the shed is hidden in the back

Park City

View of Villa park from road – the shed is hidden in the back

Internal view of the shed

Park City

Internal view of the shed

View of the shed core with the storage, kitchenette and sleeping alcove

Park City

View of the shed core with the storage, kitchenette and sleeping alcove

Phasing densification of the low-density block – the block is made of single detached homes aligning along the perimeter with a large empty core made of unused properties. New houses are added inside the block at a certain distance from existing ones, so that the empty core of the block is not occupied. The new houses therefore frame the central void, making it the ‘common’ of the block

Park City

Phasing densification of the low-density block – the block is made of single detached homes aligning along the perimeter with a large empty core made of unused properties. New houses are added inside the block at a certain distance from existing ones, so that the empty core of the block is not occupied. The new houses therefore frame the central void, making it the ‘common’ of the block

Empty block densification – the new houses are terraced houses made of equally sized rooms with no pre-defined programmed. They are framed by a cruciform structure that can contain basic infrastructure for living such as kitchen, bathroom and alcove. The minimum unit is one room

Park City

Empty block densification – the new houses are terraced houses made of equally sized rooms with no pre-defined programmed. They are framed by a cruciform structure that can contain basic infrastructure for living such as kitchen, bathroom and alcove. The minimum unit is one room

Because the load-bearing structure is concentrated on the cruciform walls, it is possible to connect more units and organize different gradients of shared spaces and facilities. Different units can share a kitchen, a living room or a workspace. The idea of home property as defined by the unchangeable spaces is countered by a simple composition of rooms whose degree of connection evolves with dwellers' desires

Park City

Because the load-bearing structure is concentrated on the cruciform walls, it is possible to connect more units and organize different gradients of shared spaces and facilities. Different units can share a kitchen, a living room or a workspace. The idea of home property as defined by the unchangeable spaces is countered by a simple composition of rooms whose degree of connection evolves with dwellers' desires

Internal view of interconnected units

Park City

Internal view of interconnected units

Internal view of one unit with closed sliding partitions

Park City

Internal view of one unit with closed sliding partitions

View of the block from road with new terraced houses in the back

Park City

View of the block from road with new terraced houses in the back

View of the block from road with new terraced houses in the back

Park City

View of the block from road with new terraced houses in the back

Densification of the Garden city – new houses are added to the plots of each existing house. Eventually the old house can be demolished opening up the plot empty to alternative uses

Park City

Densification of the Garden city – new houses are added to the plots of each existing house. Eventually the old house can be demolished opening up the plot empty to alternative uses

The new houses are single-storey structures. All fixed infrastructure is aligned to the wall, allowing the spaces to be adjusted. The simplicity of the structure allows for the expansion or shrinkage of the house

Park City

The new houses are single-storey structures. All fixed infrastructure is aligned to the wall, allowing the spaces to be adjusted. The simplicity of the structure allows for the expansion or shrinkage of the house

Detailed plan of a new house

Park City

Detailed plan of a new house

Internal view of the new house with all fixed-infrastructure aligned to the wall

Park City

Internal view of the new house with all fixed-infrastructure aligned to the wall

Densification of the Garden city – view of a new house

Park City

Densification of the Garden city – view of a new house

Densification of the Garden city – view of a new house

Park City

Densification of the Garden city – view of a new house

Retrofitting of the New Garden City – the retrofitting links different properties to form larger units. The goal is to undermine the subdivision and unite the detached homes into larger entities. Shared services within these configurations could include clinics and day-care facilities

Park City

Retrofitting of the New Garden City – the retrofitting links different properties to form larger units. The goal is to undermine the subdivision and unite the detached homes into larger entities. Shared services within these configurations could include clinics and day-care facilities

Small pavilions are built in the short gaps between the existing detached homes. They become the ‘lobbies’ of two houses, altering the original internal plan and program

Park City

Small pavilions are built in the short gaps between the existing detached homes. They become the ‘lobbies’ of two houses, altering the original internal plan and program

Once the pavilion is inserted the original logic of the ground floor changes to allow for the sharing of facilities, such as kitchen and storage. Generous assisted rooms can be added, and all the bedrooms are located at the second floor

Park City

Once the pavilion is inserted the original logic of the ground floor changes to allow for the sharing of facilities, such as kitchen and storage. Generous assisted rooms can be added, and all the bedrooms are located at the second floor

View of the small pavilion in-between two existing houses

Park City

View of the small pavilion in-between two existing houses

Park City

Study for urban transformation and new housing typology in Limburg (Belgium)

Team

Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara, with Andrea Migotto, Elena Calafati, Ezio Melchiorre, Tommaso Mola Meregalli, Matteo Novarino, Antonio Paolillo

Client

Departement Ruimte Vlaanderen

Links

http://www.toplimburg.be/publicaties

2016