PD-r/ADO, Engendering Flanders Landscape – urban living
When in The Housing Question Engels was striving for a definitive solution to the housing question, he was explicitly referring to utopian models which proposed the dissolution of the antithesis between town and country. The housing question, which is even more pressing today, cannot be solved by palliative solutions. If we do not go beyond the understanding of the territory as divided between the city and the countryside, or of domestic space as divided between shelter and production, of proprietor logics versus commons, we can expect the housing question to continue presenting challenges of accessibility and affordability for the decades to come. The studio Homes for Flanders further develops a research path initiated during the current academic year (2017-18) and centered on the problem of housing and domestic space, with a specific focus on both Flanders and Brussels.
The research is part and the second step of a longer trajectory (ADO project) that will run for two more years and will culminate in a publication and exhibition. While the starting point of the research is the need for a large amount of new living units resulting from the changing demographic and socio-economic conditions of this part of Europe (it is foreseen that 300.000 housing units need to be built by 2030 in Flanders), the specific focus of this year’s studio is property and the idea that new forms of ownership should be based on the notion of the ‘common’, thus bypassing the traditional dialectic relationship between public and private.
While this notion has been extensively studied by different disciplines, acquiring new impetus in the recent years, its application to the field of architecture is mostly limited and confined to the study of the urban common, the organization and management of territorial resources and of their consequent spatial implications. Applications to the field of housing are mostly limited and concerned exclusively with the development of alternative models of urban dwellings such as ‘co-housing’ and ‘co-living’. The studio will explore the possibility of deploying the logics of alternative forms of ownership in urban, suburban and rural territories not simply to develop new forms of communality among inhabitants, but also as the step to trigger new forms of production, local subsistence and ultimately the architectural forms of a new domestic space.
Accessibility to housing is a major issue in contemporary Europe. Although architects have traditionally been confronted with the housing question, their answers have often been confined within strictly disciplinary boundaries: new construction techniques (e.g. prefabrication), new typologies of living (e.g. the minimum dwelling), the provision of complimentary collective facilities (e.g. childcares, communal laundries etc.). Limited to their disciplinary lens, they have failed to consider the housing proprietor logics and ownership model as a fundamental part of the design process, relying on predefined real-estate buying/renting patterns. Furthermore, research on housing has often focused on dense urbanized areas, and proposals for alternative housing models have mainly targeted urban centers.
The studio will address today’s housing question by challenging the traditional separation that since the advent of the industrial city has characterized the definition of domestic space, namely the divide between the space of living and the space of production. The project proposes to explore new forms of housing in which the house is not only shelter, but is reconnected to production. The studio does not see the problem of accessibility to housing and housing affordability through the traditional welfare logics —in the forms of financial support or public housing schemes—, but as a tool that is at the same time able to tackle a wider range of social problems and issues that indirectly related to housing such as subsistence, forms of (domestic) welfare, and contribute to the improvement of the conditions of socially and economically depressed or decaying areas.
This project expands beyond the traditional limits of housing affordability, by looking at Flanders and Brussels as the ideal ground to rethink new forms of housing based on the possibility of the ‘common’, declined in a new multiplicity of ownership models. The project aims at developing, in conjunction with regional and local stakeholders pilot-projects in which alternative housing ownership models would support the combination between functions of living and working, new forms of welfare and ultimately a new architecture of domestic space. In this respect, projects will aim at devising innovative housing schemes, from their ownership models to their functional definition, culminating in a possibly renew manual for domestic space.
The issue of property is here crucial for two interrelated reasons: the first is that any form of production —whether material or immaterial— is traditionally based on cooperation; the second is that the idea of privacy and private space has appeared in the field of housing to ideologically reinforce the separation between the place of living and the place of working, exactly at the time in which the house became the place for the performance of free reproductive labor. In this sense, the project suggests investing on new forms of common as the pre-condition to counter the way in which domestic space has been so far conceived. The sharing of common resource and of the living environment is at the base of social cooperation and the organization of life, therefore different forms of dwelling where the space of living and the space of production coexist are not only possible but are at the basis of any attempt to reshape the housing question.
The studio takes place in campus Brussels and campus Ghent (open to about 8-10 students in each location). Several moments of encounter and interaction will be organized between the two groups through the year. Students from each of the two campus are free to migrate for their dissertation to the other campus.
While the studio in campus Brussels will focus on the city of Brussels, the studio in Ghent will focus on a selected portion of the larger Flemish territory that will be decided in conjunction with local stakeholders (with the Flemish planning administration). The different projects and proposals that each studio participants will develop will also form part of an overall territorial strategy that will be shared as a collective larger project by the entire studio.
Students on Erasmus during the winter semester are encouraged to participate and to work with a similar approach in the city where they will be spending their winter semester. Their work is an enrichment of the work of the studio and will offer different insights to the issues at stake. During the winter semester, skype sessions will be organized with these students to discuss the development of their work.
The studio is a platform of discussion, experimentation, production and reflection in the field of architectural design. For this reason, the studio places a large importance in drawings, models making and in the necessary possibility of bridging the theoretical space of the classroom with the practical space of design and projects, revealing these as complementary and irreducible aspects of a single approach.
The studio is structured in different phases and through a multiplicity of activities. During the summer 2018, each student will receive a reader and an extensive bibliography containing relevant texts on housing, on domestic space and on Brussels to be read during the summer break (phase 1). These materials constitute the theoretical ground for the development of the thesis project.
During the winter semester (phase 2), the studio will gather for an intensive workshop (5-9 November 2018) and during a series of short meetings leading towards the start of the summer semester. Skype sessions will be organized with students on Erasmus exchange program. The November workshop will be dedicated to the study of reference projects and their careful representation through models and drawings. The workshop will take place in Ghent and will take advantage of the MMLab facilities. Each case-study, aiming at understanding the relationship between property and architecture in terms of materials, typologies, technologies etc. will form part of a larger atlas and will be the starting point for each student’s individual path of investigation. The workshop serves both to get acquainted with those representation techniques that each student is expected to master for the development of his/her own dissertation project, and to understand the architectural facets of property.
The studio places great importance on using drawings and models as design and research tools and both engagement and willingness to learn new techniques are expected by each participant.
Before the start of the summer semester (dates to be jointly agreed upon), a 4-days study trip to Berlin (Germany) will be organized. The focus of the study-trip will be on alternative housing projects built during the different historical phases of the development of the city. During the trip we will try to meet with some of the architects that will talk about their professional experiences in housing and self-initiated projects (such as baugruppe).
During the spring semester (phase 3), the studio will meet on a weekly base. Weekly tutorials will be interwoven with pin-up sessions, field-work, internal seminars, lectures by invited guests and reviews with studio tutors and external guests. Since the studio runs parallel in campus Ghent and Brussels, certain activities will be jointly organized among the two groups, taking place alternatively in one of the two cities. On these occasions students are expected to travel and take part in these moments of meeting, exchange and debate.
The work of the dissertation studio will result in an architectural thesis project made of three main components. The research part and the design proposal will be contained in a book. The essay that each student is expected to write and that will constitute the first part of the book will focus on a topic freely chosen by each participant within the general studio framework and inspired or triggered by the case-study that each student will look at starting from the November workshop.
The design proposal will be presented through a limited number of carefully developed set of drawings, models and images. Much attention will be posed on the representation of the project idea and in exploring specific representation techniques that are expected to be mastered by the end of the Master dissertation. Similarly to the many images of mock-up interior spaces that were repeatedly used to promote a certain political idea of domesticity during the 20th century in Flanders, we will put attention to the production of images (through collages and/or models) in the attempt to collectively build up a re-new domestic space collective imagination.
The third component is the presentation itself of the research and of the project proposal, that will form a singular narration. During the year, there will be several occasions in which each student will present his/her own work in front of a jury, defend his/her own ideas and argue for his/her own position. The presentation is considered a fundamental medium to communicate design ideas in a synthetic and intelligible way to peers and the wider public.