Streetscape Territories is the name given to an international collective research practice (KU Leuven, Department of Architecture) that focuses on the transformation of the urban fabric through architectural intervention, considering the making of diverse and tolerant streetscapes the main objective to achieve socially, economically and environmentally sustainable environments for its inhabitants.
The research deals with the way architectural interventions, open spaces, the property structure and its inherent accessibility and permeability, configure streetscapes as manifestations of social and productive encounter and how their inhabitants can give meaning to them by appropriation.
The research focuses on models of proximity within a street, neighborhood or region and starts from the assumption that urban space, from the domestic scale till the scale of the city, can be understood as a discontinuous collective space (de Solà-Morales, 1992), containing different levels of shared use that are defined by multiple physical, cultural or territorial boundaries (Scheerlinck, 2013): how do people and buildings relate to each other and how does it contribute to the local identity of the built and social environment. Overall continuity, or strict public consensus in the way urban space is used or claimed, is of less importance: urban space is the result of constant negotiation and systems of appropriation or mis-appropriation.
Instead of having a programmatic or formal approach, the research projects focus rather on the spatial qualities or potentials of architecture in the urban landscape, taking into account the socio-cultural impact of an intervention. The level of programmatic specification is questioned, going against the growing tendency to secure urban projects through programme, leaving no space for multiple interpretation or use.
The intermediate scale, that is the scale between the architectural intervention and the urbanistic plan, defines the research domain. Within this research approach, collective spaces that operate at this intermediate scale, are characterized by an “between/among” space condition are read, mapped or designed: systems of streets, squares, gardens, parks, but also patios, porches, enclaves, covered or portico spaces, courtyards and all other interstitial areas are subject of research.
Specific attention is given to Urban Infrastructure and Streetscapes: urban transformation is directly related to the planning, design and use of a series of urban infrastructures: from streets to highways, from pedestrian, bicycle, bus or train lines and their connecting transport hubs to rivers, canals or harbor facilities: they play an essential role in the transformation of the urban fabric. Recent societal changes, demanding higher mobility and interaction, influence the used planning and design strategies to transform or extend urbanized areas by planning or renewing these infrastructures. However, its relationship to the surrounding urban fabric, more specifically the collective spaces it constitutes at the level of the streetscape, is not always an initial or integral part of providing these infrastructures. In many cases, the urban fabric is wrapped around or fragmented by these infrastructural projects, causing scale contrasts and struggle to integrate within, generating processes of misappropriation or misuse. During the last decades, research on planning and design models related to the building or integrating of urban infrastructures has been developed and tested via specialised disciplinary approaches (Hillier, 1996; Shannon & De Meulder, 2008; Secchi & Vigano, 2013; Graham and McFarlane, 2015).
However, additional in-depth research is needed to achieve critical insights on the relationship of infrastructures and their close environments, starting from their constituent streetscapes that define the perception and use by the inhabitants.
The research projects include systematic and comparative analysis of existing neighborhoods, streetscapes, public spaces, urban landscapes or complex buildings in different locations, based on research by design. They work with multiple approaches from different disciplinary fields and considers research and design simultaneous and integrated processes of developing urban projects. The projects have each a strong in-situ dimension and seek to help to develop real-life projects with local stakeholders. Besides projects in more developed contexts like New York, Ghent or Brussels, the project also focuses on developing contexts, leading to a multiple understanding of its main concepts and methods to this developing condition (Addis Abeba, Havana, Guyaquil, Onitsha, Karachi…).
The reading and use of collective spaces, as an important part of inhabiting the urban landscape, is greatly changed due to environmental, economic and social developments: changing climate, financial crisis and balancing employment rates, political regimes causing changes in ethnic or religious dominance and new flows of migration change the meaning of urban space and by that, its proper use and appropriation. Users change their behaviors, attitudes and claims of squares, gardens, streets and parks, respondent to the incisive and profound changes of their daily reality and opportunities.
Collective space- today more than ever projected by academics, practitioners and stakeholders as multiple, flexible and open- is contradictory to the apparent increasing need and desire to secure boundaries and claim spaces explicitly, in an individual as well as in a collective way. While the need to rethink and build new types of collective spaces grows (Avermaete, 2007), more effort seems to be put into separating, delimiting and specializing urban space from the scale of the domicile to the scale of a neighborhood or the city. The Streetscape Territories research project seeks to study this balance of parallel mechanisms of space production in different contexts and test the outcomes through real life projects, considering the local neighbors stakeholders as main actors and beneficiaries.
As part of this project, various on-site workshops and seminars are organised with groups of international researchers, students, young professionals and local actors, to test the theoretical framework about depth configurations, accessibility, permeability and territorial boundaries on site.
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Streetscape Territories is a collective practice and consists of a group of students of graduate and postgraduate levels, as well as professionals and academics in an international level. Current collaborators or contributers are:
Kris Scheerlinck, Hannes Van Damme, Ferran Massip, Gitte Schreurs, Jan Van Hoof, Pedro Dachs, Mikel Gurrutxaga, Natalia Hidalgo, Román Sarrió, Vincent Chukwuemeka, Asiya Sadiq, Sis Pillen, Maarten Gheysen, Patricia Tamayo, Cecillia Chiappini, Yannick Sluyts, Pille Koppe, Luna Catteeuw, Arnout De Schryver, Matteo Paracchini, Omar Ahmad, Simen Lambrecht, Siddarth Thyagaran and Rasya Kumar.
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