MSA Stage 5 School of Architecture

William White-Howe (He/Him)

Designing the common-ground

Designing the common-ground

An inclusive approach to the exclusivity of the ‘creative district’ gentrification

The epistemology of the name ‘Brussels’ comes from the flemish ‘Brouscella’, meaning settlement in the marshes. Now made up of 184 different nationalities and 104 languages, Brussels is one of the most diverse and multicultural places in the world. Brussels was [and still is] a collection of people from different locations and backgrounds who are connected by a physical location.

The physical built environment and communities of people go hand in hand. Perhaps the oldest example of the synonymous nature of architecture and the collective is the church, an urban artefact designed to bring people together, face one another and socialise as a group. In turn, architecture and social life have a very strong connection. William Whyte’s analysis of public space showed how space brings people together, not only providing places for friends to meet and sit together but also for strangers to enjoy the company of the crowd. In short, architecture has the ability to foster or inhibit a community.

“Architecture can’t ‘force’ people to connect; it can only plan the crossing points, remove barriers, and make the meeting places useful and attractive” – Denise Scott Brown

For years architecture [whether for good or bad] has been used to dictate the way we interact with one another. Dwellings, streets and urban fabric have been manipulated to evoke connections and bring people together or alternatively create divides and oppress. Brussels has a lengthy history of utilising architecture to hide its ‘poorer, less desirable’ side, a phenomenon so akin to Brussels that it has become known as Brusselisation.

Once a district for the making and selling of fabrics, furniture and wines, the historic territory of Brussels has always been affiliated with the exchange of skills and craft. However, these once-accessible businesses, based on practical skills and open markets, are slowly being replaced by increasingly exclusive businesses and institutions. It is a community that is being threatened by the creep of the metropolitan city centre and the expansion of the middle class. Recent developments within the Marolles/Marollen district have further restricted the existing inclusive trade in favour of the exclusive. Workshops have been replaced with vintage stores on high streets. Alleyways of vernacular dwellings levelled in favour of planned, aesthetic social housing. Political graffiti is covered with sterile curated murals.

This thesis aims to create an architectural artefact which can sit on the boundary of these two communities and act as a mediating force. Connecting and blurring the boundaries between the two groups of people. Whilst also allowing the existing communities to access facilities the intervention will respond to the increasing demand for retail and exhibition, whilst reviving the workshops and markets conceded to capitalistic commerce.