'Monument for an Open Society' is an installation by ORG (Organization for Permanent Modernity) that will be presented just outside the Arsenale. A physical translation of the project 'Abattoir 2020', it is built using a consistent architectural language called ‘platonic panels’. 'Abattoir 2020' is the master plan for converting the Brussels meatpacking district of Kuregem into a mixed-use urban environment. Located just 2.5 km from the central train station, this vibrant and multi-cultural area is both economically depressed and lacking in formal public services.
The ‘Abattoir 2020’ plan seeks to renew the historical civic importance of the industrial quarter by energising the pre-existing meat-market industries, renovating the public square, reconnecting hitherto fragmented neighbourhoods, and creating space for further productive landscapes.
A team of professional urban planners, designers, technology specialists and financial experts from the Organization for Permanent Modernity have been guiding the redevelopment of the district for the past eight years. While designing the plan, the firm engaged with local residents in order to build consensus; created a ‘quality chamber’ to review on-going work; analysed and modelled the economic implications of the plans; applied for and obtained grants to support capital improvements; and developed a sequence of pilot projects in which each investment triggered the opening up of a subsequent site, thus allowing for a domino-effect of implementation.
Urban design matters when it gets built. The first market hall, ‘Foodmet’, was completed in June 2015. The project includes industrial meat production facilities, various rentable market stall options, logistical sites and parking paces, and a commercial rooftop farm (4,000 m2 / 43,000 ft2) with adjacent retail areas, including a farm-to-table restaurant.
The mixed-use market is built in a consistent architectural language called ‘platonic panels’, which create oversized porticos that can be combined in a number of different ways. By using them to create identical large-scale rooms, each of which interconnects with every other adjacent space, the architecture can accommodate almost any use. The result is a building that is generous, flexible, and monumental. Like Kazimir Malevich’s White on White, the spaces reflect the self-identity and pluralism of its inhabitants. Here, market life is celebrated and given a civic presence.
The ‘platonic panels’ were invented to accommodate the dynamic and mixed-use spaces that contemporary urban life demands. First built for ‘Foodmet’, the mixed-use market hall in Brussels (opened June 2015), this spatial enclosure system has been displayed in numerous international exhibitions including presentations at the Media Lab, MIT, Cambridge (2011) and the Art Institute of Chicago (2014-2015). It can now be viewed as part of the Belgian contribution to the Venice Architecture Biennale (May 2016).
The panels are made from a diverse set of simple post and lintel elements, which are cast flat in reinforced concrete, and lifted into place to form porticoes.
The designers call them ‘platonic panels’ because of the large, cut-out platonic forms that lend the concrete elements their identity. This operation changes the nature of the portico, which goes from being a post or beam structure (functional, engineering) to a set of simple abstract planes (poly-interpretable geometry, architectural). In other words, the abstract planes are open-ended: functionally and aesthetically indeterminate.
The open-endedness of use and interpretation is achieved by over-dimensioning the vertical and horizontal elements, and by choosing joint configurations that reinforce an abstract plane rather than its structural integrity, as is typical of the industrial warehouse. The panel dimensions can accommodate a single-storey, flexible-use zone with the option for two-storey infill slabs. Once programmed, the abstract plane becomes a fitting spatial enclosure for the dynamic and mixed-use activities that are associated with contemporary urban life.
The over-dimensioned porticos can create dozens of large and identical closed spaces or open grids, and can also be stacked vertically. As a result, they can accommodate almost any use. The defining idea is to combine the ‘platonic panels’ in such a way as to create contemporary urban warehouses – buildings that have a clear metropolitan form, but no predefined content.
As demonstrated by ‘Foodmet’, the ‘platonic panels’ create an environment with a civic presence. Market life is celebrated, becomes monumental, and is given generous new spaces.