Charlotte Randall (she/her)
Maintenance has taken on new resonance as a theoretical framework, an ethos, a methodology, and a political cause.
Shannon Mattern, Maintenance and Care (2018)
Building construction and operation produces 38% of global carbon emissions, and much of this is from the release of embodied carbon during demolition. To avoid the carbon costs of demolition, a culture of make-do is needed; encompassing retrofit, repair, and strategic additive interventions.
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss describes the bricoleur as a pragmatist who makes do with whatever is at hand to reach their goal. This thesis translates this concept into an architecture and programme which uses existing structures and local materials and rejects unnecessary demolition and waste.
This results in an informal assemblage of programmes, materials, spaces and things which come together to create a vibrant and multifaceted
cultural centre in the heart of Molenbeek, Brussels.
Shannon Mattern in her essay Maintenance and Care and Steven Jackson in Rethinking Repair argue that our current epistemic reality is that of breakdown, as a direct result of the capitalist tendency to value newness and growth. This results in a macroeconomic narrative that disregards, hides or suppresses acts of maintenance and repair. In few cities is this more evident on an urban scale than Brussels. This project reacts to this context by creating a multifunctional cultural centre with a programme and architecture centred around reuse and resource sharing through the repair and transformation of a former bronze works.
Molenbeek is a municipality in Brussels which has been historically underserved by the government. It has a high unemployment rate and a young, disenfranchised population. By providing democratic places to meet and share knowledge and resources, these social issues may begin be addressed.
The site of La Fonderie in Molenbeek was chosen as it is an important part of Molenbeek’s history. This proposal seeks to retain and celebrate as much of the remaining fabric as possible.
The site is reorganised around a clear main axis, to encourage increased footfall, with a central courtyard and smaller pausing points.
The project proposes a library, a library of things that keeps a stock of appliances, tools and equipment which can be borrowed, workshops, sports facilities, a mobility hub and a central café and amphitheatre which also functions as a gathering place.
The library of things brings in objects from partner projects or from the local neighbourhood. These can then be repaired in the workshops using tools from the library of things, and then let out again. There is also a repair workshop, where people can bring their items in for repair by other members of the community as a skills exchange.
The library is designed as a space for events and knowledge sharing, with a large open space on the ground floor and quieter places for study on the upper floors.
Tectonically, the architecture reflects the thesis of bricolage by collaging together the buildings, materials and things found on the site, resulting in contrasting axes which often intersect. New elements use local sustainable materials including hempcrete, beech from the Sonian forest and rammed earth from urban excavations.
The climate crisis has made it increasingly obvious that architects must learn to minimise demolition and new builds in favour of adaptive techniques. Historic buildings are a vital part of the response to the climate crisis, both because of the material importance of reusing existing structures and the social importance of preserving cultural memories.
However, ethics of repair are not just economic or environmental. Feminist new materialism breaks down the traditional barriers between human actors and non-humans objects to imbue objects with agency. This pluralist perspective draws on the rhizomatic thought of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. The need for maintenance traverses scales; the proposal considers the role of objects as well as building and urban form.
The proposal encourages sustainable reuse, repair and regeneration both architecturally and within the local economy, resisting the macroeconomic narrative of newness and growth which inevitably results in social and architectural breakdown.