OSMOS, helped Brussels University Alliance* – through support from the TURaS programme and partners Brussels Environment* and Bio Azul (ES)* – with their vision for the reconversion of a section of the Crown Barracks, a 44,000 square meter complex in the South of Brussels that was previously used by the military and then as police headquartes. The Brussels University Alliance brings together the two major universities of the Belgian capital and obtained around €12 million from European Structural Funds in order to reconvert two large buildings of the Crown Barracks that will host a variety of functions, including student accommodation, common learning and living areas, commercial space, restaurants, a business incubator, exhibition areas, spaces for urban agriculture and other functions. The ambition has been set very high. Firstly the project promises to offer excellence in building technology and explore the ‘circular economy’ at a building level. Secondly there is an ambition to run a consultative and co-creation based process involving academic specialists within both the French speaking ULB and the Flemish speaking VUB. Finally there is an ambition to develop this project independently of the regional government – contrary to development advice to the government.
There are numerous levels of complexity. Firstly the ambition to create a program based on ‘circular economy’ is challenging as there are various interpretations of what circular economy would mean at a building level. Secondly there is a challenge to embed the interests of a variety of academics from two different universities representing two language groups and often very different philosophies. Then there is the challenge to ensure that the university political level agrees with the development of the project, even if the money has been secured. Furthermore, the site cannot be accessed as it contains sensitive intelligence infrastructure which since the terrorism events in Brussels has left the site almost inaccessible for citizens. Finally there is a serious question of whether the Region of Brussels will be comfortable with the universities taking control of the land. While some of these problems are out of our hands, we have been engaged to create a single vision for both universities.
The complexity of this programme required a way to bring together knowledge on the different functions and their ramifications for the buildings. We decided to address this challenge by NOT focusing on specialised knowledge in each area, but by explicitly engaging experts and stakeholders in a reflection on the INTERACTIONS between four themes that together capture a large portion of the project’s complexity. The four themes include:
- The landscape – the larger environment around the two buildings.
- Flows – the technological problems related to the circulation of water, energy, food, waste and people around the site and beyond;
- Privacy -the specific quality that the private areas dedicated to housing will have to offer.
- Common space – the quality of the publicly accessible areas such as restaurants, exposition spaces etc.
The four themes were developed through focus groups, interviews and a synthesis of research that stakeholders from the four themes will be working. It concluded with four ‘Theme Guidelines’ which is essentially a synthesised hypothesis on each theme.
As the project brought together academics and professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds, we hosted a half day workshop where the stakeholders could work directly and intensely on a theme. This will happened only once each of the four themes was well developed through a consultation process.
Ultimately the workshop is an integrated approach. The Theme Guidelines will be used to work on the “edges” between each of the other three themes, to use a term borrowed from Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. Working on the edges provides at least two advantages. First, it forces stakeholders and experts to leave the comfort zones of their respective specialisations and contributes to a better understanding of how a specific element will behave when it is inserted into a larger system. Second, looking at the same interactions from two different perspectives yields “early warning” alerts whenever different specialisations provide conflicting solutions for the same type of interaction. For instance, it is not uncommon that engineers view the interaction between technological infrastructures and commons space differently than the business or residential community. This method is a way to articulate such potential conflicts at a very early stage in the planning process.
Detailed programme of the workshop on Thursday 26 May 2016
- 14.00-14h30. Kick-off to the workshop and presentation of the initital briefs regarding the four themes (plenary)
- 14.30-15h00. Reviewing the thematic briefs (in 4 groups)
- 15h00-16h00. Discussing the “edges” with other themes: identifying potential complementarities and tensions
- 16h00-16h30. Redefining thematic briefs
- 16h30-17h00. Synthesis for inputs into programme of the ERDF phase
The workshop aims to bring a more “systemic” reading of the project site, less conflictual between the partners and more sustainable in the long run in terms of management and use. Both universities aim to have a stronger link to the long-term development of the site, both the residential buildings and others in the future, so the outcomes of this step will help to both create a planning method for the stakeholders and also take a broader interest of how two buildings can relate to the whole site. The result will inform the tender process for the development of the two buildings and the rest of the site