“Microcosms” is a collective work which is based on different tools, references and definitions. Our approach seeks to consider the role of the imagination in the conception of cities. It understands that there are no false initial responses when faced with a new perception of the real.
The first part of our work consisted of creating new urban patterns that seek to disrupt a Belgian landscape usually characterised by its linearity and flatness. We decided to call these methods “microcosms”.
A “microcosm” functions as a world in miniature. It contains five autonomous worlds that perfectly represent the territory as a whole: The Oasis (water treatment basin), Destination Moon (military base), the Immaculate Desert (limestone quarry), A Thousand Plateaus (extractive industries) and the Black Island (spoil tip). The countryside has been shaped by humans for economic and military ends so today, it has a strong and singular identity. Off-putting as much as captivating, these “microcosms” are the keepers of novel imaginary frontiers and serve to allow a recontextualisation of the Belgian landscape.
In order to highlight the architectural and urban potential of these landscapes, we have based our reflection on the philosophical/aesthetic concept of the ‘Sublime’. In general speech, the adjective “sublime” is usually associated with an image of perfection and beauty. But we have chosen to utilise another definition of the word. Edmund Burke was an 18th century philosopher who attempted to invert common thinking of what was considered beautiful. This, therefore, characterises our strategy: to project the beautiful but stay close enough to verge on the terrible. In the same sense, our four architectural proposals contain the sensation of both escapism and isolation.
The Oasis, a water treatment facility, shows a human figure in waiting which we have chosen to represent a therapeutic approach to the mind and body. This “architecture-sculpture”, which can be seen from afar, suggests the intimate space of an outpatient clinic or day hospital.
A Thousand Plateaus, the industrial site extracting Dolomite at Namêche; is to be converted into a huge natural park that will accommodate a central funeral home, a cemetery with columbarium, as well as a chapel that provides entrance to the park. The whole complex is to be inserted and anchored in the limestone that surrounds it.
Destination Moon, today the Leopold fort in Diest, is an abandoned military site which we have decided to reshape into a casino. We have chosen to build this project between the two brick walls surrounding the main trench, which could be undone in time. This with the objective of maintaining its unique identity and timelessness.
Destination Moon, now the Battice fort, is situated in a beautiful place, on a headland without borders. On this site, near to Germany and the Netherlands, public benefit and secret reserve intermingle to reveal, layer by layer, a huge ribbed monolith.
It is by combining these four programmes that this landscape starts to take shape both from a poetic and a scientific perspective.
What prompted the project?
This work was born out of a desire, through both theoretical and practical research, to rewrite the story of the city of Liege.
Microcosmes was a group project which relied on a range of different tools, references and definitions. We have the deep conviction that architecture is plural, as much in its discipline as its realization. If this “consistency” was a necessary feature of our work, it was a guiding thread throughout our progress, by merging a number of different fields in order to break out of the framework of classical architecture.
There is no false intuition, there is only a new perception of reality.
How do you define imagination?
“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless”, according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Imagination is the power to dream while awake. It is a fiction with realitiy itself as its primary source of inspiration. Imagination is the power of depicting images, it is a construction of the spirit. To imagine is to lift up the reality of a tone. From the idea is born an image, from the image is born an atmosphere, and from the atmosphere is born an imagery.
Thus, through rational elements becoming irrational, imagination is at the same time a form of past memory, and a form of power. The power of instinct, the power to presume, to guess, to invent, as a memory of the future.
What informed the choice of the Belgian landscape as site?
How was this investigated and researched?
The location of Liège in Belgium was given to us as a study area by our workshop EVAN (Between City, Architecture and Nature) that we pursued at the ENSACF school. This latter invites us to bring together different scales, which allows us to challenge the territorial as well as the architectural scales in detail.
The first objective was therefore to establish an urban strategy which challenged once more that which existed, in order to trigger the development of the city and its metropolis. The meandering course of the valley of the Meuse has seen a succession of industries and other activities at the origins of the anthropisation of its territory. Strong industrial activity has had the effect of spreading a network of campaigns manufactured at the origin of the current rhizomic urban fabric. From Liège’s landscape emerges a complex stratification of elements and events, either visible or invisible, that interact with each other. It was as soon as the unconscious detached itself from this landscape and seized these places, as if it were a driver for the project. This is how our territorial strategy took shape.
What defined the use of the five autonomous worlds? how do these operate in relation to each other?
Following our in-situ survey, we were able to identify a new urban cause which, in our opinion, made it possible to break away from the Belgian “flat country”. These five worlds as specific strong and unique figures, illustrate a place outside of the reality that it nevertheless remains closely allied to. As repulsive as they are fascinating, these unconscious landscapes present us with new imagery and allow us a rereading of the Belgian landscape.
To allow microcosms to radiate and execute this planetary system, we made use of the various networks that make up the metropolis. These sites benefit from existing infrastructures which are connected to the city of Liège and sometimes even beyond its boundaries.
Hence, we are no longer simply interested in a planetary system, metaphor of the point, but rather to a constellar system, metaphor of the line.
Their association makes it possible to put into practice four distinct scales of studies: firstly that of the Liégeois Metropolis (that of the Oasis), secondly that of Wallonia (for the funerary center in a thousand plateaux), thirdly that of Belgium (for the casino in Objectif Lune), and finally a European scale (for the central archives and belvederes in second military fort).
What role does the language of representation hold in relation to the project itself?
“Representation, before being a tool for communication, is a tool for design”. Jean-Pierre DURAND
In the process of creation, it is essential that substance and form come together. In other words, the role of representation in the project is as important as the project itself. It’s an interactive work.
Representation exposes the project and its imagery across a wide range of codified figures: map, text, plan, section, axonometry, model, sketch, image, silkscreen, poem … An exhaustive representation that renders personal imagination collective and comprehensible.
To think about representation and its language is to think of the project. Make an absent reality present. It’s a way of presenting and raising awareness of the project. Representation is a method of design and a method of communication. It’s a coherent whole.
How is the project mediated through the selection of drawings?
All of our drawings retranscribe this constellar universe put in place around microcosms. Graphic design itself plays the game between dreamlike and prosaic elements, while at the same time maintaining a very strong relationship between reality and imagination. A relationship will be created without one becoming the commentary of the other. On the contrary a tension is woven, they come to rub and interact, for a unique difference: that of the story of our project.
Thus, between the graphic element and exact science, between reality and imagination, between observation and criticism, the representation allows here a new look that voluntarily accentuates the features of these neglected landscapes of the city of Liège in order to sublimate them.
What is for you the architects most important tool?
There is no good or bad tool, every architect must find the tool to best express his thoughts. An important tool for our design is our spirit. A critical approach to elaborate around an imaginary thought.