Describe yourself, your background and what you do today.
During my architecture studies in Ghent and Rotterdam, urban futures and city sprawls really caught my attention. This is where the discipline of urban design can meaningfully contribute and help answer bigger societal challenges and changes. After years of working for the Berlage Institute, the Rotterdam-based international cultural laboratory in architecture, I co-founded Architecture Workroom Brussels in 2010 – a non-profit think-and-do-tank in architecture and urban development. We work on innovative urban visions, policies and tangible urban transformations. Our conviction is that we can’t reach the ambitious goals in terms of climate, biodiversity or social inclusion if we don’t drastically transform our living environment. To do so, we initiate and coordinate transformation projects and programmes in partnership with architects, planners, policymakers, civil society and experts. We also curate local and international exhibitions and biennales, to nourish both the professional and broader general public debate.
How has Brussels shaped you as an individual as well as your professional activities?
Brussels is not a completed city which can be consumed easily, but rather an ongoing project with many profound challenges and remnants of the past attempting to transform the city drastically. In that sense, Brussels incites me both as an inhabitant and a professional to think and test its potential futures. I was triggered by this specific quality when the Berlage Institute developed and exhibited A Vision for Brussels, an alternative urban project between 2004 and 2007 envisioning Brussels as the “Capital of Europe”. Brussels is hence also a fruitful homebase for Architecture Workroom Brussels: living in Brussels means living in the midst of the challenges of the future, whilst also being able to see and experience the assets of said future.
List three things you like the most about Brussels.
- Brussels is a small metropolis offering different neighbourhoods, landscapes and atmospheres in very short distances.
- You can travel to all the regions in Belgium, or even Rotterdam, Paris or London and come back on the same day.
- Brussels is a social and urban laboratory, with all the challenges and opportunities it entails. A city in permanent (re)construction.
List three deciding factors that converted you to bicycle use.
- I have always used bicycles and see it as the first, quick means of transport: the electric cargo bike in the city, the foldable bike (in combination with the train) to go to meetings in neighbouring cities, and the race bike for pleasure.
- How else could I bring two kids to nursery and school in two different places in the city, or to the many activities they’re starting to undertake, if it were not by cargo bike?
- Together with shared and public transport, walking and cycling are the most obvious and efficient urban means of transport. We should actively demand and take the space that should be reserved for those sustainable options in the first place. To go against the dominant misconception that roads exist for private cars: that’s only been the case during the last 50 to 70 years, an erratic yet very short period, all things considered.
What are your three favourite bike routes in Brussels?
- Cycling from the heart of the city to the Pajottenland and Dender valley, through neighborhoods such as Berchem-Saint-Agathe/Sint-Agatha-Berchem, Groot-Bijgaarden or Dilbeek. Not only will you grasp the full size of the Brussels metropolitan area, but you’ll also understand the landscape of its valleys and small slopes on which the city and the surrounding countryside sit.
- From Belgica or Pannenhuis to the canal along both the existing and old railroads, along Parckfarm and Tour&Taxis, and then to North Station and WTC1, where our office is located. The first part seems like a testing ground for a separate cycling network and landscape; one that could reorganise the city around the bicycle, with safe routes, new parks and urban developments. The second is a part of the city that was constructed during the era when cars were the symbol of a promising future, so it’s obvious that biking here is not facilitated at all, as you need to bravely claim your space on the road and draw your own cycling paths.
- Along Boulevard Leopold II-laan, from the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart to the canal: a central car axis which has witnessed an increase in biking over the past decade, both by local residents and external commuters. That has lead to the road being gradually transformed to accommodate this increasing flow of cyclists. While the underground tunnel is being renovated, cyclists are allowed to use the pavements and a separate buslane, leaving one lane in each direction for automobiles. We can only hope that things do not go back to pre-renovation situation once the works are completed. The city can, and should tilt further to a bike-oriented living environment.