In May 2016 – in collaboration with BYRRRH & Skate, Congres, Entrakt, Superlab* – OSMOS bid on the temporary use of a 22,000sqm former pharmaceutical plant almost in the centre of Brussels for five (or more) years. The bid was a success and we began immediately in bringing together the team and eventually the pioneer partners. As this is not only a complex site but a complex constellation of partners, we aim to run a co-creation process such as the one developed for the Brussels Barracks, in Manziana and at the Parco Agricolo. Our objective is for the building not only to be filled and active but for a strong relationship and interdependence to be built between all the future users and usages. We anticipate functions to include:
- cultural events: music / talks / workshops
- making: small manufacturing based on artisanal and high-tech processes
- work spaces: for creative industries
- community functions: places for the local community to come together, to act, learn and relax.
The Studio is located in an area undergoing great change over the coming decade. This is an opportunity to create something different, a place that may have a much larger long-term impact within the building and its surroundings. Over the five or more years, we aim to create conditions that may not be possible anywhere else under more formal circumstances.
The Studio sits at a pivotal place between the highly mixed neighbourhood of Cureghem and the future development of Biestebroeck. Cureghem is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Belgium with a very high unemployment rate. It has a highly mixed and young population. It is also a place that over the years has become the home of internationally renowned artists, and could possibly become the cultural hotspot of Brussels. Biestebroeck is one of Brussels’ new development zones, earmarked for mixed use development. However while developers must provide mixed use, it is very unclear if the buildings will provide added value for the existing residents surrounding the site or if the buildings will become gated private spaces that bring even a bigger division between rich and poor.
We want to connect to local residents, brave entrepreneurs, doubting politicians, uncertain building developers wanting to try something new, public services officials and the community of Brussels that will eventually see the Studio as a respected destination. All of these people are stakeholders in this project. Therefore if this becomes a success, all of them will benefit. If the project appears successful without them, they may resent it and event do what they can to sabotage it. If it becomes a success with them, they will likely treat it with pride, defend it and be an important user.
Buildings are often occupied by users that have very little to do with each other and therefore there is little value added by them being in the same space.They may share things like a garden, a café or even a conference space. But in the end there may be very little value that is gained from being each other’s neighbours.
What if we see a building like the industrial building that it was, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? In this way, we can focus on specific problems, knowing that we are building on a bigger story. New types of mixed functions are being explored in Brussels and the Studio could showcase how it could be done. We need to believe in such a bigger story to make this happen.
The Studio sits on the edge of two neighbourhoods – old (Cureghem) and new (Biestebroeck). Sudden and radical change could bring about a big division in the neighbourhood that could result in segregation or even a ghetto. Urban developers are facing the challenge of building without affecting the local community while maximising return on their investment. Generally, urban development brings about greater amounts of disruption to a community than bringing it together.
How can the Studio help reduce the friction between the old and the new? How can the Studio assist the development of Biestebroeck and show what kind of spaces are needed for the existing residents of Cureghem? What if there was a way to create a constructive dialogue between the local community, their future members and the developers?
We believe development can also have a positive impact on the local community if done effectively? We believe that the advanced development of a neighbourhood will require a focus on showing the economical potential for local and outside entrepreneurs, and creating a cultural crossing between local and outside culture. We believe that existing communities deserve respect and should be dealt with in a delicate way, only then is true development possible. The Studio could become a bridge between the old and the new.
OSMOS plays an odd role in this story. In typical conditions, a bridging partner like OSMOS would struggle to find their calling or a financial stake in the story unless all partners were committed to a strong partnership. In this case the Studio partners have mixed interest in the project and in many cases it is the first time that we have worked together in such a context – this makes our role even more important. In short, we’re learning a lot from the process and we’ve considered this an opportunity to explore how to embed the a ‘bridge building’ role within a project that caries such complexity.