Architecture Biennale of Venice / The Ambition of the Territory. Flanders as a European laboratory

Press release
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Exhibition by AWJGGRAUaDVVTAT in the Belgian pavilion at the 2012 Architecture Biennale

'The Ambition of the Territory' is a call for a radical overhaul of the practices of architecture, planning and politics in Flanders and Europe. Our current prosperity and welfare systems are founded on the consumption of finite resources and the wasteful use of land. Instead ‘The Ambition of the Territory’ proposes regional and trans-national systems of land use, production and dwelling that are both integrated and complementary. Shifting the focus from consumption to the organisational potential of this urbanised territory of Europe itself, the project explores how the various uses of space can become part of a spatial metabolism. The future of Europe will be imagined on the basis of its shared territory, founded on its Common Ground. Based on a close reading of the history of our productive landscape, ‘The Ambition of the Territory’ explores the conditions for a resilient society based on principles of self-reliance and responsibility.

A radically new vision on the development of Europe needs to be based on a productive relationship between an urban society and its territory: a territorial metabolism and shift from consumption to metabolisms, i.e. integrated systems of land use, production and dwelling. Similar to many European regions, Flanders is characterised by a history of horizontal occupation, in which urban cores and hinterland are mixed.

Decentralised urbanised territories such as Flanders, the Veneto region, the English midlands or the northern Rhineland show a form of metropolitan organisation hat simultaneously produces enormous wealth and problems of mobility and overdevelopment. ‘The Ambition of the Territory’ proposes to imagine the future of these urban regions by departing from their existing territory and exploring a horizontal, metabolic principle to develop these territories as metropolitan systems. Given its geographic location and historical settlement pattern, Flanders is put forward as an ideal laboratory for an integrated approach to organising the production and distribution of energy, food and water.

The exhibition in the Belgian pavilion presents a series of research projects and work that examine the possibility for a metabolism in a metropolitan territory: food production in a densely developed region, sustainable systems of distribution and logistics, or integrating new forms of industrial production in our living environment. Showing maps, models, images and stories depicting a polycentric metropolis, ‘The Ambition of the Territory’ presents us both with a fresh view on an existing landscape, and future perspectives for Flanders and Europe.


'The Ambition of the Territory' is a project of the temporary association AWJGGRAUaDVVTAT, consisting of Architecture Workroom Brussels (BE), designers Studio Joost Grootens (NL), planners and architects GRAU (F), architects De Vylder Vinck Taillieu (BE) and artists Ante Timmermans (BE).

The contribution of Studio Joost Grootens is a three-dimensional rendering of the Flemish territory, showing the intricate texture of individual houses and residential developments, of small-scale production sites, industrial farms, monuments and recreation facilities that characterise the densely populated landscape.

GRAU worked out strategies for the development of a rural area in southern Limburg and the highly urbanised Antwerp-Brussels corridor, linking together the need for housing, future-oriented farming activity, the increasing pressure exerted by recreational activities, and the question of biodiversity. The landscape becomes productive in two ways: as a producer of services that enables urban society to survive, and as an organising system for its further development towards a metropolitan territory.

Architects De Vylder Vinck Taillieu (aDVVT) challenge traditional dogmas of architecture and planning in their meticulous study of the ESTEE enterprise (an ensemble comprising an office building, industrial shed and house with garden alongside a motorway), drawing the analogy with a traditional square farmstead and thus identifying an unexplored potential of the combination of functions and the linkage of programmes to each other.

In his contribution Ante Timmermans discusses the position of human beings as individuals who – sometimes actively, but definitely sometimes passively too – see their environment and community in continuous motion as part of major global transitions. Timmermans shows us a territory that is dynamic and constantly moving. This shift in the conceptual framework from consumption to production is in this sense also a social and cultural transformation.

In the curatorial statement Architecture Workroom puts forward the sum of these drawings and models as way of viewing the territory as a productive basis and spatial framework for planning, administration and development moving towards a sustainable and balanced society.
AWJGGRAUaDVVTAT invited photographer Dieuwertje Komen to create a series of works capturing the urbanised Flemish landscape and enlisted students from ENSA Versailles to present their work on the cross-border metropolitan area of Lille-Kortrijk-Tourna