Between Metropolis and Community


Refugee numbers don’t lie. An ever-increasing number of refugees need shelter. This spatial problem is temporarily solved in all sorts of ways, while this situation is often not at all temporary. The vast majority of these people live in camps. On the one hand this has to do with a necessity, on the other hand this also means that these places have qualities. The fight between permanent and temporary remains mentally very difficult, being welcome somewhere helps here. Yet camps are being wiped out by governments, people are being sent further into the world… Why was it that in the past camps could form a base for a new life and no longer today?

Hospitality is the key to success: when governments work together with the newcomers, they work out plans for the future growth and they see these people as future inhabitants of their country. With this research, I want to sound the alarm; there is room for improvement. We have to do better. According to United Nations predictions, within a few decades hundreds of millions of climate refugees will flood Western countries. Every city will feel this influence.

The project calls for welcome centres where registration in a new country is supported by a route of hope as a new ritual in the life of a human being.

The WTC 3 in Brussels faces the country’s busiest station, the North Station. By opening the base, it is no longer a barrier but rather a bridge between the metropolis and the neighborhood, the gateway to the city.  As a newcomer you descend into the building where there is room for individuals or groups. The more you descend, the stronger the group connection becomes, just as it is behind a normal city façade. The bureaucratic waiting room thus becomes a place where the neighborhood meets their new neighbors.


What prompted the project?

My project started from my master thesis entitled ‘The architecture of indignation’, which was started by a succession of indignations about the refugee crisis. Since this involves a very large displacement of people, it is a very spatial case and, as a spatial designer, I felt able to think along about this topic.

What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?

For me, the most important question remains: what is the perfect way to welcome people into a society? I think that my project does not fully answer that question, maybe not even half of it. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ready-made answer. I do hope, however, that governments and designers will continue to look for this answer since, according to statistics from the UNHCR, more and more people will be fleeing. Arriving in a new society thus becomes a new ritual in the lives of many people worldwide.

What are for you successful case studies both at an architectural and governmental level?

The unfinished archipelago of the architectural firm Land+Civilisation Compositions is, as far as I’m concerned, a case study that uses architecture to provide a spatial solution to the politics of a border and people coming from both sides. On the one hand, this project is located on a river between the US and Mexico, a small zone no man’s land. Secondly, it is a round structure, so it has no front, both sides are approached in the same way. Finally, there are spaces that are not only purely technical (sleeping, washing, caring, etc.) but also extra functions that point to talents that are present in each person.

Other successful case studies: Border Garden – Office KGDVS, Concrete tent – Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency, A Jerusalem Shipping Container Becomes a Portal For Empathy – New Lab

What informed Brussels as site? How and to what extent do you envision Brussel as a pilot for other cities and countries?

On the one hand, Brussels has had a refugee camp in the heart of the city and there are still many refugees in the North Quarter at this time. So there is a problem that fed the project. On the other hand, Brussels is also the capital of Europe. The project mainly aims at a positive connotation of receiving new people, whereas this is currently rather negative. It is there that the project wants to present itself as a pilot project for other cities and countries in Europe.

What were the most important parameters and factors when developing the design?

The project is located in an existing building. The WTC IV tower and base in the North Quarter. This tower from the 70’s was the framework for my project. As part of the studio on adaptive re-use, I committed myself to reusing the structure for a large part. This also because of the strong grid structure of the North Quarter, which is preserved in this way.

What informed the type of graphic languages you chose to implement for the drawings?

In all the drawings there is always an underlying message of hope. The project is a route of hope. The building symbolizes a big step in the life of the newcomers, the official registration in a new country. The sequence of hope, of a tension in a positive way, is derived from the historical examples from my master thesis. For example, the many Europeans who dared to travel to America with the red star line.  This was also a long and exhausting trip, but the setting always gave a hopeful picture of what the next step in the trip would be. Something I tried to translate in my project and therefore also in the drawings.

How does the drawing exist as medium to communicate the project to third parties?

Because there is still a taboo atmosphere surrounding the reception of newcomers, the drawings and models, but especially the reference images, are of great importance in convincing people of the importance of this subject. For example, the floor plans focus more on showing positive scenarios for the neighbourhood that make contact with the newcomers in this way, the collage images have a lot of colour and light and thus communicate a positive vibe, and the models have a lot of colour and large open spaces to bring the same vibe to the surface. They create an image that is too positive, but that is the intention of this project, because it is a topic that in reality feels rather dark.

Are you interested in developing the project further? If so, how?

Not the actual project, but the master thesis. This could be seen as a manual for designing buildings or other structures that support this difficult subject. I think that this is more valuable in the current situation.