MSA Stage 5 School of Architecture

John Pottage

I have recently completed Stage 5 at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, where my work has focused themes of collective memory in architecture, and urban sustainability.


I have worked at Camerons Strachan Yuill Architects as an Architectural Technologist since 2017, having graduated from Edinburgh Napier University with distinction in the same year. My work in practice has focused mainly on bespoke domestic architecture, with a range of experience across all work stages.


Prior to graduating, I completed two internships: Studio DuB (2016), and the Institute of Sustainable Construction (2015), and an HND in Architectural Technology (2011).

urban palimpsest

urban palimpsest

This thesis analyses the unsustainable legacy of modernist planning principles in Brussel’s Northern Quarter, and re-interprets the district as a palimpsest of layers across multiple scales: the macro urban scale, and the micro component scale. At the macro scale, a masterplan is created that aims to re-connect the Northern Quarter with its neighbouring districts via a restored historic East-West thoroughfare, and re-associates the district with its lost identity as a thriving mixed-use quarter. At the micro scale, under-used and semi-vacant modernist buildings are valued as repositories of component artefacts, to be reclaimed and re-used in the construction of new productive streetscapes and architecture that provides for the people of Brussels in 2023.

The masterplan is created by interpreting layers of past and present morphology, anchored around a new East-West thoroughfare that connects Rue Dupont in Schaerbeek, with Rue Picard in Molenbeek. This route revives a historic street that was lost with construction of a railway embankment, on the districts Eastern edge. In order to overcome this longstanding barrier, the masterplan proposes a street bridge that floats over the railway emankment and re-established a strong connection between the communities of Schaerbeek and the Northern Quarter. The urban character of the route evolves as it crosses the district to Molenbeek, with 3 urban themes derived from the palimpsest, each giving a different urban character to the architecture: stone, earth, and water.

As an antithesis to the 1960s modernist masterplan, this approach values the existing modernist buildings as banks of valuable materials that can be re-arranged to form new urban fabric. Thriving mixed-use streetscapes are curated by interpreting and editing layers of historic morphology, establishing ethical urbanism that nutures a diverse range of economic activities and housing needs.

District Palimpsest

A palimpsest study model of the district is manipulated to explore the relationship between past and present morphologies.

Site Plan in the Context of Brussels

Brussels in 2023 is a hugely diverse and economically prosperous city, with over half of its population having migrated to the city with the hope of finding employment opportunities and a higher standard of living. However, Brussels is a city of inequality, with high levels of unemployment (as high as 21.9% is some areas) and high demand for social housing, despite having the 4th highest GDP per capita of all European capital city regions. In this context, the Northern Quarter is a vastly under performing part of the city, with an economy that is dominated by service industries, with vast amounts of office floor space left vacant and un-let. The monocultural nature of the district is strangulating its ability to accommodate the growing population of Brussels, many of whom do not posses the skills to participate in service industries.

Palimpsest Plan

Site palimpsest study drawing, analysing the relationship between each layer of history and morphology

District Axonometric

Axonometric drawing of the masterplan

Existing Nolli Plan

Nolli plan, showing the existing site, in the context of neighbouring districts

Proposed Nolli Plan

Nolli plan, showing the thesis masterplan, in the context of neighbouring districts

Process of Disassembly

Drawing showing the process of disassembly and reclamation of components from the existing modernist district core

Towers That Serve the Street

Axonometric drawing showing the adaptive reuse of the modernist world trade centre towers as towers that harness and store renewable energy.

Street Bridge Section

A series of mixed-use typologies is supported within the reused steel frame structure, clad with natural stone panels reclaimed from the existing modernist core. Shopfront workshops and coworking spaces are combined with upper level studio flats, and low level stairways giving access to train platforms, all below a cascading glazed arcade roof. In establishing these conditions, the thesis intends that the street bridge both form an exciting urban pathway between districts, and become a thriving hub of activity in its own right, benefiting from its strategic location over a transport hub.

Street Bridge Model

Physical model of the street bridge, showing the reused CCN steelwork supporting different mixed-use typologies.

North Station Visualisation

Visualisation showing the street bridge intersection with the North Station main hall

Street Bridge Typology Model

Photograph of the street bridge model, showing typology 02, with principle facaded clad with red marble reclaimed from WTCIII plinth, and upper level studio flat clad with black stone from North Galaxy Towers plinth.

Street Bridge Typologies

Drawing showing floor plans and axonometric view of new mixed-use street bridge typologies.

Street Bridge Structural Reuse Detail

Exploded axonometric technical drawing, showing the structural reuse arrangements for the street bridge

District Section

The new urban thoroughfare re-establishes a strategic connection between Schaerbeek and Molenbeek, linking the thriving Rue de Brabant with the Tour and Taxis mixed-use neighbourhood. This new spine is a structural frame, from which future prosperity and community can grow and develop in the Northern Quarter

District Palimpsest Layers / 2023 (top) / 1894 (middle) / 1777 (bottom)

The Northern Quarter of Brussels rapidly emerged during the industrial revolution, and by the 1930s it was a thriving working class community, home to countless factories, workshops, and yards. Gradually, the district was isolated from its neighbouring communities by major infrastructural works on its periphery, and city planners began to question the district’s longterm future. By 1967 53 acres of the district was condemned and scheduled for wholesale demolition, with 12,000 inhabitants expropriated from their homes to make way for futuristic high-rise business district. The city’s politicians and planners promised this would bring financial prosperity to Brussels, however by the 1990s only scattered parts of the masterplan was built and the district was a moonscape of empty derelict plots. In 2023 the Northern Quarter is a dislocated collection of under-used & semi-vacant high-rise office buildings and social housing blocks, burdened by the legacy of the dogmatic modernist urbanism imposed upon it.

Site Palimpsest Model

Site palimpsest study model, analysing the relationship between each layer of history

Site Palimpsest Model

Site palimpsest study model, analysing the relationship between each layer of history

Existing District

The existing modernist core of the Northern Quarter is at the centre on an ongoing debate in Brussels, as they continue to remain largely vacant, and represent a vast under-utilisation of resource. This thesis proposes to dismantle The Communication Centre North, Proximus Towers, WTCIII, and North Galaxy Towers, and reuse their components as historic artefacts in the construction of the new street. The tower structures are retained for adaptive reuse as renewable energy production & storage.

Urban Mining Disassembly

Axonometric drawing showing the existing modernist core of the Northern Quarter, and the disassembly of components from each building for reuse.

Urban Mining Schedule

Schedule of reclaimed components from the existing modernist district core

Structural Model

The street bridge is based on the concept of re-orientating the steel structure of the CCN building 90 degrees, and dropping it over the North-South railway emabankment as a bridge. In this way, the CCN is converted from a large obstacle that reinforces the separation between the Northern Quarter and Schaerbeek, into a bridge that enables reconnection.

Street Bridge Structural Model

Physical model of the street bridge, showing the reused CCN steelwork.

North Station Elevation

By reimagining the the CCN as a street bridge, the North Station is revealed once again, with its art deco elevation facing a new public square. The street bridge intersects the station’s main passenger hall at mezzanine level, through existing large window openings. The right wing of the station is then converted into a tiered streetscape, with a central block of shopfronts below a glazed arcade roof. A new public lift is installed within the station’s clock tower, restoring the station as a functional landmark.

Street Bridge Typology Model

Photograph of the street bridge model, showing typology 02, with principle facade clad with blonde stone reclaimed from Proximus Towers plinth, and upper level studio flat clad with black stone from North Galaxy Towers plinth.

Street Bridge Lifts

Axonometric drawing showing the street bridge’ lift and stair arrangements.

Street Bridge Visualisation

View of the street bridge, looking West towards the entrance North Station entrance

Street Bridge Technical Section

Drawing showing the technical plan, section and elevation of the street bridge.