PhD researches
Development of an intersection between housing tissue and water urbanism
A case study on Bogotá

The Sabana de Bogotá faces the challenges to deal with substandard and problematic urbanization, on the one hand, and outdated and insufficient water resources management conflict, on the other hand. Climate change is predicted to only increase the contradiction between the two antagonistic forces. By focusing on three cross-sections across the Sabana, the research explores landscape based design strategies that generates context-responsive solutions to simultaneously address water management and housing issues. The format of the thesis is an atlas which allows a cross-scalar reading and interpretation of the territory and combines interpretative and projective mapping in plan and in section.

Water Urbanisms
Water Urbanisms East
Productive Urbanism
Water Conflicts in the Interplay of Production Landscapes and Settlements: Chi-Nan Plain, Taiwan

The rural economies of Taiwan have been experiencing a change from agriculture to high-technology industry, while the rural population has been stable and aging. The research focuses on the challenges regarding the transformation of the rural lifestyle in the Chai-Nan Plain and on the interplay between water, production landscapes and urabnization. The (r)urban design of Taiwan is considered from three perspectives: (i) rural water management; (ii) vulnerable landscapes of production; (iii) fragmentation of peri-urban settlements. Based on two case studies the research discusses two water-consumptive productive landscapes and explores how urban design and water management in these territories can be adapted to benefit the environment.

Urban Design Perspectives based on River Rehabilitation in Urban Areas

In Chile everything is about landscape. The territorial pattern in the country is largely affected by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, flooding and landslides. Understanding these phenomena is required in order to look for innovative solutions to live and build in this dynamic context with a disadvantaged socio-spatial and economic condition. This PhD research focuses on rivers' natural systems in Chile which describe a fragile cell of this territorial pattern. In particular, analyses how river restoration-rehabilitation techniques and methods can be transferred from natural settings to constructed environments. In contrast to conventional civil engineering, this strategy explores how hydraulic challenges can be tackled through instead of against nature. From an environmental viewpoint, river restoration know how is shifted from a restoring tool to a spatial analysis and design tool. Thus, by combining this ecological restoration criteria, landscape evaluation and socio-spatial patterns, a research by design and interdisciplinary methodology problematize and face the urban growth in this impossible landscape.

In-between landscapes in the Paute River watershed

Monica Rivera (PhD Applicant)

2014 - ongoing

Supervisors: Bruno De Meulder, Viviana d`Auria

The thesis analyses the disperse patterns of occupation that characterize the inter-Andean highlands of southern Ecuador, exposing their nature as ‘partly rural- partly urban’ or in-between landscapes. Special attention is given to reveal the modes of people’s social-spatial practices of land occupation, and their agency in the rendering of the existing spatial configurations.

Based on a case study, the Paute River Watershed (PRW), the thesis defines and characterizes a type of territory frequently dismissed as chaotic because its indistinct morphology, and which does not fit the conventional categories of territorial classification.

The study constitutes an urgent invitation for local planning agencies, urban designers and practitioners to question the widespread standard application of conventional planning wisdoms and to critically examine their impact in this kind of territories,

where they are fundamentally denying the historically deeply rooted nature of the territory.

By means of interpretative mapping, narratives and ‘chronographies’ (graphic narratives that combine historical and spatial information), the study analyzes and qualifies the diversity of socio-spatial configurations and interactions accommodated and facilitated in the disperse patterns. The results expose the multiple interactions between spatial, social and cultural factors across time, which considered in combination with Andean landscape characteristics, allows to unravel qualities of in-between territories like openness, diversity and flexibility.

PhD researches
Investigating landscape structures in Iranian New Town development

Exploring the impact of New Town development in Iran with a bias towards landscape urbanism, intended here as a tool to unravel the interrelation of intensive urbanization model to the specificities of site and context. While most studies have neglected urban form and landscape structures when focusing on the history of New Towns, this research uses the interplay of urbanization and ecological processes to capture the urban transformation during the last decades of rapid urban development in Iran. In the case of Isfahan city, the research focuses on the intersection of improving natural resource management and New Town developments, an issue that is of strategic importance for sustainable development of the region.

Reconciling spaces of insurgence and modernism
Urban fissures in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

This research proposes a historical investigation of the urban processes involved in the construction and development of Belo Horizonte, a city built from scratch at the tail end of the nineteenth century, where an intense confrontation between man-made meshes and significant topographical features has been a constant. Rapidly outgrowing the 20th Century plan to become a large metropolis, Belo Horizonte is today the 6th largest city in the country and the 34 municipalities that constitute the metropolitan region hosts today a total population of almost 5 million people. In order to describe this territory, the spatial conditions that have fostered Belo Horizonte’s fragmented urbanisation are considered, focusing on the relationship between natural and artificial topographies, residential enclaves and leisure complexes. The transformation of land far from the concentrated core witnesses the emergence of urban ‘patches’ distributed in a landscape of addition and subtraction in which extraction is entwined with the creation of new urban fragments and water reservoirs are often used as urban catalysts for state-planned satellite towns and high-end condominiums. In this research, the metaphor of urban fissures is adopted to describe the mismatch in the encounter of two distinct urban systems and the conflicting encounter of discordant materialities within a context of socio-spatial segregation.

Human Settlements in Development
(re) Calibrating Human Settlements
Projects, Events and Texts
PhD researches
Apartment Urbanism
The logic of developing a modern city in South Korea

Apartment development has been a main tool for building a modern city in South Korea since 1962. This research is looking for an institutional and planning logic of urban development by mass housing projects and examines the background of rapid modernisation process by historical urban research and design analysis. Five cases of apartment developments from 1960 to 2000 are analysed on the basis of their proxemity with various developmental issues such as modern propaganda, development standardisation, a private-based development, new town development, and redevelopment under neoliberalism. This research helps understand developmentalism in the Asian context and understand urban transformation through the development of mass housing projects.

PhD researches
Who Cares?
Places making welfare: reclaiming bodies, setting conflicts, building democracy

In principle the welfare state is the result of a negotiation between (male) labour and capital with the main purpose of redistributing richness and making the reproduction-production balance possible. During the golden age, based on the premise of a fully employed society, it promised the eradication of poverty and of disaffiliation, more for the stability of the economic system than for a sense of justice. As a modern technology of governmentality in a Foucauldian sense, the welfare state played a fundamental role had in the orchestration of the urbanization process. In Brussels the realization of high-rise social housing estates happened in parallel with the nebular configuration of the fringes, expressing an anti-urban attitude and making the organization of a mass consumption society possible. At present, while the welfare state is increasingly being dismantled, the current economic situation prompts criticism but also a number of experiments addressing alternative economic logics and socio-spatial configurations. The Community Land Trust developed in Brussels (CLTB) is one of these experiments, questioning the challenges and the values at the core of a new urbanity.

Insurgent Cultures and Inclusive Urbanisms
Precursors, Interpretations and Projections in Central São Paulo

Central São Paulo is increasingly accumulating vacancy. As investment moves to new centralities, the residual spaces that are left behind become the site and subject of a diverse range of cultural and social occupations. This project seeks to catalyze the agency of insurgent cultural practices for the development of more inclusive urbanism discourses and practices. It is developed with the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation and carried out in close collaboration with social movements, cultural collectives, human rights associations and governmental institutions.

Contested Urbanisms in Guadalajara, Mexico

The crisis of neoliberal urbanization in Mexico has geographically shifted the arena of (re)development from the peripheries towards the main urban cores. This turn is characterized by mismatching urban visions that give rise to social movements, who in their discontent, advocate for alternative urban realities; different from the city envisaged by the real estate market. The doctoral research addresses this phenomenon, seeking to provide a critical understanding of current socio-spatial contestations generated by on-going (re)development processes in Guadalajara, Mexico. It explores the possibilities of recalibrating existing bottom-up agencies through the co-production of design scenarios, in favor of inclusive forms of urban redevelopment and alternative ways of re-densifying Guadalajara’s inner city.

Checkered Urbanism
Open space to create synergies in fragmented cities

This research suggests reconsidering the value of open space in the city through the way it is incorporated in the collective and individual everyday life. The research will take place in Amman, the capital of Jordan where its unique shock-wave growth pattern has shaped its morphology composed of a dual structure of built and open. The research proposes an exploration of the open parts of the city as an important component of Amman’s urbanization both physically and socially, rather than a dispersed set of empty plots. The research will use literature and archival reviews, mapping, and photography as well as design to understand how this duality is produced in the city, how it is incorporated in the city’s everyday patterns, and figure out the potentials of such spaces through design.

Representation, Manifestation and Public Contestation
Postcolonial Public Space in Dhaka

In Dhaka’s dense urban situation and with inadequate number of open public spaces, existing postcolonial public spaces are extensively used from the daily life to the great moments that twisted the historical evolution. The research unravels the role of postcolonial public spaces of Dhaka as stages for and in the twists of history of the Bengali nation and its political struggle. The research elaborates that various indigenous, colonial and postcolonial layers give substance to the social and cultural (re) production of the public space. In turn, this influences the processes of in and exclusion, creation and re-appropriation of particular public space from extraordinary to ordinary everyday life in the city. To respond to the challenges of increasingly complex urban scenario, the research also formulates a plausible and credible approach to understand public spaces with its aesthetics, political and cultural symbolism.

PhD researches
Waste makes the territory.
Cyclic urbanism contextualizing and spatializing Antwerp and Central-Limburg urban metabolisms.

Julie Marin (PhD applicant)

2014 - ongoing

Supervisor: Bruno De Meulder

Responding to increasing natural resource scarcity, Flanders is transitioning towards circular economy. Besides punctual innovations, such as remining former landfills, local repair cafés and no-waste supermarkets, cities and regions are investigating sustainable urban and territorial metabolisms driving spatial (re)development. The Central Limburg region considers circular economy transition as a lever for circular territorial development. On the other end of the Albert Canal, the City of Antwerp investigates how sustainable material flows can drive Antwerp’s metropolitan spatial structures.

This FWO-funded research by design in Antwerp and Central-Limburg uses urban landscape design’s context based capacities articulating the circular economy’s potential spatial dimensions. A systemic design approach enables designing across multiple scales, from architecture to regional development. As such, this research adds a reinterpretation of the territory’s resourcefulness to current circular economies thinking. This research aims to demonstrate design research’s capacity supporting transition from a linear to a socio-ecological circular economy. Co-produced future imaginaries for circular territorial redevelopment mediate ongoing conversations between different transition actors, while constructing knowledge on how the circular economy can spatially restructure urbanized areas.

Developing process-oriented urban design approaches of space as a metabolism, this research links optimising resource flows to other pressing social and ecological urban design agendas.

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Polycentric residential landscapes in the Flemish nebula, Belgium

How do we improve the dispersed dwelling conditions that characterise vast parts of Belgium? The expectation is that the problems of this territory, such as flooding, congestion and open land consumption, will only increase.Two of the main causes are the patterns of amenities and the similarly spread out housing typologies: these patterns land in the wrong places (flooding) or are too discrepant (congestion) or too privatised (open land consumption). This research aims to improve the dwelling milieus by designing collective housing projects and designing projects that increase beneficial interdependency in amenities. In order to achieve this, a part of the research uncovers the contemporary constellations of fine-grained centrality patterns and their history. Another part of the research develops and designs projects in collaboration with local and sectorial stakeholders, for example: strategies to renovate and revitalise former commercial streets next to the main railway stations of Liedekerke and Denderleeuw.

A worn out landscape?

European territories are under metamorphosis due to economic and cultural transformations. Consequently, increasing production continues to transform, use, and waste the land. Therefore, different forms of wastelands, or what Berger defined as “drosscape,” have appeared, and are becoming a specific category in the western territories. By different mapping explorations of two case studies, Veneto Region and Charleroi Region, and a research by design approach, this exploration investigates the concept of wasteland. It provides a way to view the problems from a different viewpoint by shifting the negative perspective of wastelands towards focusing on the territorial character of recycling.

Forest Urbanism in the Nebulous City

Over time the forest used to serve the dukes for hunting and currency; the poorest people for berry picking and scrub wood; the entrepreneurs for production and economic return; the tuberculosis-prone children for fresh and clean air; the 20st Century bourgeoisie for pleasure and leisure. The forest is also a crucial ecological operator in the territory’s metabolism as it allows infiltration and filtering of water, counteracts erosion, remediates polluted soil etcetera. The nebulous city is suffering from multiple crises – outdated housing, social conflicts, congestion, biodiversity reduction, flooding, erosion… - that are partially related to the highly dispersed condition, yet we know that it is within this rich built patrimony that the nebulous city must reinvent itself. Through Research-by-Design as a main research methodology, this PhD research explores the fundamental richness and meanings of the forest to interact with living in the nebulous city in order to contribute to the transition towards a more sustainable model of dispersion.

PhD researches

As the life length of Palestinian refugee camps are eternally stretched, they inevitably require environmental improvements. A variety of development and improvement programs aim to answer to this needs. A better understanding of the camp environment is however necessary in order improve the relevance, significance and efficiency of the various camp improvement programs. This is the aim of this research. Public space is selected as strategic entry point to understand and critically evaluate the current state of the camps, both as material constructs and as forums of a variety of social practices, and finally as spaces of representation that resonate the discourses and hence the meanings attached to the camps. Two case studies of Palestinian refugee camps will be elaborated: Jablaya Refugee Camp as the largest camp in Gaza, that in the meantime even functions as the urban center of Jablaya and the surrounding towns, and Deir El Balah, the smallest refugee camp in Gaza that is currently undergoing a comprehensive improvement project directed by UNRWA.

Understanding the city as home-made
Mapping inter-generational dwelling practices in Guayaquil, Ecuador

Stemming from the concern for the growing inequality in Latin American cities in which social inequality is strongly linked with access to housing for young urban dwellers and the lack thereof, this doctoral study inquires into contemporary urban dwelling landscapes of Ecuador’s largest city Guayaquil. Guayaquil is one of these sites appreciated for its progressive urban development yet the city is presently marked by a mismatch between top-down and bottom-up exercises of city-making. Much in contrast with the gradual consolidation of the urban realm from below, in which settlements are gradually built up by different generations over various decades, top-down housing delivery inscribed in neo-liberal reforms gives rise to an array of large-scale residential programmes as ready-made living spaces in remote urban peripheries that have drastically reshaped the city-territory. As an inverted exercise of urbanism, the research is framed as inductive and starts from a critical reading of dwelling environments that expose how space is both creatively used and contested by young urban dwellers. Through in-depth case studies the dissertation reflects upon new emerging urbanisms and housing inequality trends pondering to what extent the duality in the urban landscape can be turned into a question of qualitative densification and inclusive pluralism.