In the past few decades, many local and global transformations have taken place: increasing specialization and segregation of urban space, together with new models of productivity and related mobility, define the way cities change in a physical, social, or cultural way. The transformation of traditional production chains into post-Fordist economies, the increasing importance of the service and leisure industry, and demand for fast consumption, together with an extreme reliance on Internet and related technologies, has changed the way space is produced and inhabited. Exponential growth of the non-traditional, informal city (e.g. Mumbai, Mexico City, El Cairo, and Dar Es Salaam), next to the shrinking and neoliberal re-branding of more traditional cities (e.g. the Hafencity Hamburg project, the Beijing Olympic transformation), defines new models of space production. Jean Beaudrillard suggests that in contemporary society, the representation of reality often substitutes reality, a philosophy that helps to frame many of these recent changes when dealing with space. Similarly, Françoise Choay confirms the radical change of scale that occurs at an increasing speed, providing architects and planners an additional reason to update their reading and intervention techniques.
One of those recent changes in architecture and urban design discourses is defined by the increasing demand to plan, design and inhabit low dense landscapes: suburbia is a reality and seems to be daily increasingly consolidated by planners, politicians and inhabitants all over the world.
Though the concept of the ‘compact city’ is now largely acclaimed by architects, urban and spatial planners as a desirable strategy, a suburban lifestyle in a low dense environment is still regarded as ideal by most citizens. The (questionable) proximity to nature, the desire to build a successful life in a single-family house, the higher social status of “not having to share” in low dense neighborhoods has lead towards an increasing growth of suburban formulas as a global phenomena. The fact is that suburbia is there, has become a dominant lifestyle and makes up the main asset of a vast part of the population to whom planners’ preoccupations with compactness have little appeal.
However, this suburban reality is facing some severe problems at different scales: from growing mobility problems, a fragmented natural environment, an ageing population and related social isolation, lack of basic facilities (education, health care, leisure…), till increasing CO2 emissions.
This design studio will focus on rethinking low dense landscapes and try to come up with new reading and intervention techniques, as well as to look for alternatives to foster social cohesion within, to increase coherence with the (still available) natural resources, to reduce mobility problems and propose architectural interventions, based on critical collective strategies to share and divide properties in a sustainable way.
During one semester, this (integrated) design studio – part of the International Master of Science in Architecture and set up as a (parallel) pilot project of the ALFA III, ADU_2020 program – will focus on a specific suburban area at the Flemish Coast:
De Haan-Wenduine-Vlissegem (see map below).