Roeland Dudal on why a good city needs industry

Roeland Dudal (1977) lives in Schaerbeek and co-founded Architecture Workroom, a think-and-do tank for innovation in architecture, urban planning and other fields relating to spatial development. Following Architecture Workroom’s exhibition ‘A Good City has Industry’ at BOZAR, we asked him to elaborate on the matter.

When we say that a good city needs industry, we’re mostly met with frowns and bemused looks. On the one hand because people often haven’t given the idea much thought and on the other because they’re convinced that industry is polluting, a nuisance, and should be kept as far away as possible from the civilised world. The image of the ideal city that has been created equals a city of thinkers – a city in which creatives meet to have coffee while watching their kids play in a gorgeous park. And while these are without a doubt both wonderful and necessary evolutions, we also need makers in the city. From printing houses to bicycle repair shops and recycling centres; we need all of these activities and we have to cherish them, instead of rejecting them. When you look at the language Architecture Workroom adopts, you’ll notice a certain urgency behind the matter. For one, the impact of mobility, traffic jams and pollution caused by commuters carries a heavy cost to our cities’ economy, not to mention that of the country as a whole.

The simple fact of creating industrial activity and employment can change the city considerably – in a positive way.

Fact is, cities are traditionally the first place to which newcomers flock in search of employment. The staggering unemployment rates in the neighbourhoods newcomers populate are a breeding ground for discontent, giving way to disenfranchised views. And, if anything, 2016 has shown us how detrimental this can be. By putting architectural designs and research on display in museums and cultural venues, Architecture Workroom wants to show that these issues can be as promising as they are challenging. The simple fact of creating industrial activity and employment can change the city considerably – in a positive way. Turning problems into opportunities by shaping them differently is something we keep doing with Architecture Workroom, while trying to convince the people in charge that designers should be consulted more often and on many more levels when it comes to urban decision making. We strongly believe that the cultural field is underused – it’s a field in which everyone is brought together, from citizen to policy maker, from economist to exporter, it’s a field that allows us to stray away from the beaten path and use design, architectural projects and case studies to radically change and shape the city. The goal is to re-imagine the city and to create innovative collaborations. It’s easy, and even understandable, for people to depart from a ‘business as usual’ mind-set, because most urban actors are stuck in their own environments that are all too often closed off from the larger context of things. Exhibitions, lectures and other cultural projects allow people to thread within a different context – one in which new and innovative ideas can be conceived. Which is exactly what happened with the exhibition ‘A good city has industry’ held at Bozar earlier this year. A productive city, one which makes room for manufacturing, is the perfect environment and the perfect chance to create a place for all layers of the population, thinkers as well as doers, white as well as blue-collar workers. And we at Atelier Workroom believe that it is exactly in this meeting of all economic demographics that you’ll find the binding agents for an inclusive and resilient society.